Arguing Over The Constitutionality Of Online Cockfighting Videos

from the chicken-on-chicken dept

Over the last year or so, the Humane Society's been threatening Amazon.com because a third-party merchant that used its e-commerce platform was selling magazines about cockfighting. The Humane Society contended that the magazines were illegal under the Animal Welfare Act, though Amazon disagreed -- but in any case, since Amazon wasn't the publisher, they didn't seem like the right people to sue. Cockfighting and free speech has come up again now, as a company that sells online cockfighting videos is challenging a federal law that makes it illegal to sell depictions of animal cruelty. The law was enacted in 1999 to combat the sales of "crush videos", which apparently depict women crushing animals to death in order to deliver some sort of sexual stimulation to the viewer. Then-President Clinton instructed the DOJ to enforce the law narrowly, to target such material, even though the law is worded much more broadly. The company says it operates from Puerto Rico, where cockfighting remains legal. It contends that the fights are an accepted part of the culture there, and appears to be claiming that because the fights themselves are legal in Puerto Rico, it should be able to sell videos of them over the internet to users in the rest of the country.

It's a complicated case, since generally, depictions of illegal activity aren't themselves illegal, and don't fall under the exceptions to free speech in the First Amendment. Should the law be upheld, it could establish an interesting precedent for the government being able to limit speech that depicts illegal activities and give the government a useful censorship tool. While it's unlikely it would seek to criminalize the broadcast of surveillance footage of bank robberies, gambling-related content would be a possible target, given the fervor with which online gambling has been attacked. Already, at least one state has tried to crack down on online gambling sites that don't offer gaming, just discussion and links. If this law is upheld, such efforts could receive a boost.

Filed Under: cockfighting
Companies: amazon


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  1. identicon
    The infamous Joe, 12 Jul 2007 @ 8:12am

    Freakin' hippies.

    They are suing because Amazon is distributing magazines that have advertisements that solicit crime, such as ads for cockfighting pits.

    No, a third party is using amazon as a storefront to sell magazines *about* cockfighting. This is another problem with local laws and a global marketplace. Cockfighting (it seems) is still legal in Louisiana (until next year) and in other parts of the world (like Mexico and Puerto Rico)-- so our laws don't apply to people in Mexico (or, hell, Louisiana) buying magazines about cockfighting.

    As for videos, the law clearly needs to be thrown out. Upon signing, President Clinton said something like 'Make sure you fellas only use this against sick animal killing porn.' and since then, it's been used against all forms of animal cruelty. So, if the law was only supposed to be against porn (protect the children and furry beasts!) but was worded against everything, then it needs to be rewritten, or revoted on as it is.

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