Intermediary Liability and Animal Cruelty: Humane Society Sues Amazon
It seems that everyone wants to stop information that is allegedly bad. The present example: the NY Times reports that the Humane Society of America has sued Amazon for selling the cockfighting magazines The Feathered Warrior and The Gamecock (seriously, those are the names). The magazines carry ads “for blades that attach to birds’ legs” and the Society claims that in essence Amazon is selling a catalog for illegal goods. Amazon has offered the online cha-cha 1) censorship and 2) can’t ask us to police what we sell. As of next summer when Louisiana’s ban goes into effect, cockfighting is illegal in all states. Nonetheless, “possessing cockfighting paraphernalia is legal in 39 states, while possessing fighting birds is legal in 17.” Which might be why a lawyer for one of the magazine’s asserts that “federal law prohibit[s] promoting cockfighting or shipping birds or gear across state lines, [but] the advertisements themselves were aboveboard.”
I have no idea how one distinguishes between fighting birds and non-fighting birds. Furthermore I don’t think I want to know exactly what qualifies as paraphernalia as the oddities of blades or who knows what attached to animals for sport. Nonetheless, it seems that pinning down what qualifies as either is hard to do. As far as the claim that the Humane Society does not want to censor, the article notes that the Society’s president has named Amazon as facilitator of the activity stating in an op-ed “if ‘your passion in life is watching tormented birds tear each other to pieces, in a bloody pit,’ then “Amazon is the place to go.’” The tactic at issue seems to conflate information with people’s behavior. It forgets a key point about information.
Information is inanimate. It can of course enable one to do good or bad and can change how one looks at the world. Although I am not certain that claims that more information is always better than less, the fact that liberals, conservatives, and anyone in between seems willing to try and stop the flow of information reveals one thing. Information is powerful. Still trying to cut-off the flow of information is likely to fail. Reducing access to information about cockfighting may lessen the activity a bit, but the Internet will probably share that material faster and less expensively than Amazon’s book and magazine selling. Last, the Michael Vick debacle shows that people will engage in crazy and cruel behaviors. I doubt those involved with dog fighting or cockfighting would have said “Hey we can’t do this. We don’t have a book!” or would have not attached whatever bizarre paraphernalia they may use because they could not buy it. These folks would probably just make what they needed.