Court of Appeals: Computer ignorance in child porn case is no excuse

A case from the Minnesota Court of Appeals today shows how technology is challenging the definitions of particular crimes.

The case involves a Plymouth man, who used a file sharing program –LimeWire — to download hundreds of pornographic movies, some of which involved minors. A Minneapolis police investigator traced the IP address to Timothy McCauley, who was later convicted of possession and dissemination of child pornography. The latter is a much more serious charge.

In the LimeWire program, anything downloaded to a private computer is automatically available to other users of the same file-sharing program. McCauley insisted he deleted any of his movies with children in it, but he was convicted of dissemination of the porn by virtue of the fact it was available on his computer for others to download. He was given an eight-year sentence.

Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the dissemination conviction despite McCauley’s claim that he didn’t intend to distribute his downloaded material.

In today’s decision, Judge Margaret Chutich wrote that Minnesota requires those convicted of disseminating child pornography to know that they are doing so, and McCauley should have known, even though McCauley claimed he was “computer ignorant.”


“LimeWire was widely billed as a “file-sharing” program, and McCauley had used the software for over three years, downloading hundreds of files. The entire reason LimeWire existed was to allow users to share files. The program’s default installation screens, which McCauley had to click through to download LimeWire, described LimeWire as ‘the most advanced file sharing program on the planet’ and clearly informed the user that ‘[f]iles you download will also be shared with other users running LimeWire.’ Further, to download a file after a search, McCauley had to either select each file he wanted or choose ‘select all.’ The program did not automatically download files–McCauley had to take affirmative action after reviewing his search results. As he admitted, many of the files retrieved through those searches had titles clearly suggesting they contained child pornography.

Judge Chutich said making the videos available via LimeWire “suggests a wholly different criminal objective” than possessing the videos, which is itself a crime.

The full opinion (available here) also carries another obvious lesson: Someone can always see what you’re downloading.

LimeWire was shut down by court order in October 2010.

  • Kevin Watterson

    There was an option in Limewire’s preferences that turned off automatic sharing of downloaded files.* The first thing you do whenever you install any software program is go through all of its preference options.

    *Knowledge of this does not constitute admission of using Limewire to download music ever.

  • john

    I think that it is time to waste time in child pornography cases, the law should be changed so that those downloading it get a fine like a parking ticket and we can move on with life.