IPSWICH — The accusations were startling: a North Shore firm that produces educational databases used in schools throughout the United States was purportedly seeding its product with links to hard-core pornography. 

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, a group of Colorado parents calling themselves "Pornography Is Not Education," couldn't offer any explanation as to why an internationally-known firm would intentionally do such a thing. 

But it didn't stop them from filing suit against Ipswich-based EBSCO Information Services and the Colorado Library Consortium, accusing the two entities of doing just that, and claiming damages for alleged violation of consumer protection laws and conspiracy to violate state and federal laws concerning transmitting obscene material to minors. 

The suit received national attention and brought attention to the parent group and an organization once known as "Morality in Media," now known as the "National Center on Sexual Exploitation," which produced an explicit video purporting to show proof that the materials were accessible to children.

But this week, attorneys for the parents' group dropped their lawsuit. 

In a statement, the organization blamed their action on a "technicality" and continued to maintain that the lawsuit forced EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium to "clean up their act." 

In court filings, however, lawyers for EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium argued that there were no legal grounds for the suit. 

"We asked librarians, 'Please, try to validate, try to replicate these claims,' and to date, we've not had a librarian come back to us and say 'Oh yeah, we found it,'" said Jim Duncan, director of the Colorado Library Consortium. "We end up scratching our heads and saying 'What was this all about?'" 

But it cost the consortium, which receives approximately 90 percent of its funding from taxpayers, $35,000 in legal fees to defend against the suit. 

That's enough to fund new acquisitions for a small library for seven years, or pay the salary of a library aide, said Duncan. 

"They got a lot of mileage from all of this," said Duncan. 

Jessica Holmes, communications director for EBSCO, said in a written statement that the firm was "pleased" to be able to say the suit has been dropped, with a provision that it cannot be re-filed. 

"This ensures the group is unable to reintroduce another lawsuit based on these claims," said Holmes. 

EBSCO is one of a handful of companies around the country that compile and sell databases to schools and libraries. 

"EBSCO does not license pornographic titles," said Holmes in a written statement. "These databases are a collection of existing content from mainstream publishers, curated by subject matter experts. Part of the role that we play for our library customers is that of a content curator to ensure and enable that each database has the best materials to support the particular audience as applicable."

EBSCO also enables individual libraries and school districts to control the content they provide and to remove titles, issues, articles, books, or specific subject-related content from EBSCO databases.

Holmes said the firm will continue to monitor their databases and keep up with ever-evolving search terms. 

Duncan said he fears that even if unsuccessful, such lawsuits can have a chilling effect. For instance, a parents group in Utah convinced officials there to shut down access to EBSCO for a month after the Colorado lawsuit. And similar efforts have been made in Indiana. 

"It was frivolous," said Duncan. "When you look at what libraries and schools do, not only Colorado but across the country, they select materials for students and patrons. They don't select pornography."

For its part, the Thomas More Society, despite dropping the suit, continues to stand by its accusations, claiming EBSCO "knowingly has imbedded (sic) pornography in databases it markets for use by unsuspecting school children in grades K-12," in a statement from Thomas Ciesielka, a spokesman for the group. 

"The parents’ voluntary dismissal has nothing to do with the merits of the lawsuit against EBSCO and the Library Consortium," he said in his statement. "They stand behind the allegations in the lawsuit entirely."

Ciesielka said the parents did not want to take the risk, however, of losing their case and then, due to what he called "peculiar and harsh" rules in Colorado, having to pay EBSCO and the consortium's legal fees.  

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.