Simply looking at child pornography isn’t a crime, the New York Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, according to a report by MSNBC.

The question arose while the court considered the case of James D. Kent, a college professor whose work computer was found to have hundreds of images of child porn in its browsing history. The court found viewing child porn to be a completely different act from possessing it.

"[T]he purposeful viewing of child pornography on the internet is now legal in New York," Judge Victoria A. Graffeo wrote in a concurring opinion on the case.

According to article 263 of New York’s penal code, it’s illegal to create, promote, possess, or distribute child porn, but it isn’t illegal to view it. Senior Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote for the majority opinion—four of the six judges—that they would uphold this statute.

Ciparick wrote that today’s laws had yet to determine the legality of images automatically stored on a computer’s browser cache. She wrote that viewing, unlike downloading, was not possession, especially since Kent wasn’t aware the browser stored his viewing history in the first place.

"Merely viewing Web images of child pornography does not, absent other proof, constitute either possession or procurement within the meaning of our Penal Law," Ciparick wrote.

The court ruled that Kent will still be sentenced, just not for his “legal” viewing of child porn. Instead, the professor will be penalized for the porn stored on the computer’s hard drive, an act which the court ruled as child porn possession.

Though the cached files were not considered in the ruling, Kent still had 13,000 saved images of girls who appeared to be eight or nine years old.

According to Kent’s testimony and to emails found on his computer, the professor of public administration was collecting the images for a research project on the regulation of child porn.

Photo by Bill Bradford