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.