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Amazon slapped with cockfighting lawsuit

Bird-on-bird magazines ruffle feathers

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The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has slapped Amazon.com with a lawsuit aimed at preventing the online retailer punting cockfighting magazines and dogfighting videos, Computerworld reports.

The HSUS action - filed last week in Superior Court of the District of Columbia - specifically concerns "The Underground Pitbull Breeders Association, StreetHeatDVD.com, and the publishers of The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior. HSUS has also targeted DVDs Unleashed: The Realest Pitbull Action Caught on Tape and Hood Fights Vol. 2, The Art of the Pit, both "depicting illegal dogfighting".

The HSUS statement reads: "At issue in the case are four items which the HSUS has repeatedly asked Amazon.com to drop from its sales list because they depict and promote cruel dogfighting and cockfighting events in violation of federal law."

Cockfighting is indeed illegal across most of the US, except in Louisiana and New Mexico*.

HSUS continues: "Amazon.com is the sole retailer of subscriptions to the animal fighting magazines and the only outlet for animal fighters to obtain subscriptions over the internet. Similarly, Amazon.com is one of only three sellers of the dogfighting DVD and the easiest seller to locate on the web."

HSUS backs its case with specific examples which it claims constitute clear breaches of federal law:

An HSUS review of the last 12 months of The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior found that more than 90 per cent of the magazines' advertisements are nothing more than a solicitation to commit a crime. The HSUS has also uncovered evidence that such magazines are published for the express purpose of promoting unlawful animal fighting and are found at more than 75 per cent of the animal fighting operations that have been raided by law enforcement officers.

Regarding the DVDs, HSUS adds:

In the dogfighting DVD Unleashed, approximately 20 dogs are wounded, tortured, or killed during the making of the movie. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon's sale of the DVD violates a federal law that makes it a crime to create, possess or sell a depiction of animal cruelty for financial gain. Hood Fights Vol. 2 includes some of the same footage.

Amazon declined to comment on the accusations, but the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression's president Chris Finan weighed in with: "In its zeal to eradicate conduct that it abhors, the Humane Society is over-reaching by trying to suppress speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Speech that advocates hateful ideas is entitled to the same degree of First Amendment protection as speech advocating popular views.

"If the courts accepted the Humane Society's argument, we can only wonder what other kinds of controversial ideas in [books] and magazines would come under attack next. This is why the Supreme Court has declared that even the advocacy of illegal conduct is protected by the First Amendment."

The HSUS statement counters: "There is no First Amendment protection for speech that proposes unlawful commercial transactions - let alone speech that is on its face criminal because it promotes and incites criminal animal cruelty. Many legal experts agree that there is no First Amendment protection for the sale and distribution of the magazines."

It concludes: "It's hard to imagine the reasons behind Amazon's allegiance to these vehicles of animal cruelty in an era when most corporations make a concerted effort to dissociate themselves from animal abuse. But one thing remains clear: if it won't be swayed by simple ethics, Amazon.com may soon find itself being swayed by the courts." ®

Bootnote

*It's also prohibited in the UK, which last year led the Edinburgh Film festival to pull 1974 film Cockfighter from its schedule on the grounds that it contained too much cockfighting.

The British Board of Film Classification's Sue Clark explained at the time: "The film was never edited for classification in the UK because it's called Cockfighter. And if you take out all the cockfighting scenes there's not much left."

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