Intermediary Liability and Animal Cruelty: Humane Society Sues Amazon

Deven Desai

Deven Desai is an associate professor of law and ethics at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also the first, and to date, only Academic Research Counsel at Google, Inc., and a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. He is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and the Yale Law School. Professor Desai’s scholarship examines how business interests, new technology, and economic theories shape privacy and intellectual property law and where those arguments explain productivity or where they fail to capture society’s interest in the free flow of information and development. His work has appeared in leading law reviews and journals including the Georgetown Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, and U.C. Davis Law Review.

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2 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:


    But if Amazon agreed to refuse to market these magazines, knowing to what purposes they are put, does not that help to publicize a social norm against cockfighting (and by implication, other such ‘sports’)? Sure, folks hell bent on reading such material will always find it, but why make it easy for them? Why not make it that much more difficult for them to pursue their ugly hobby. It’s about furthering the expressive properties of the law, or about entrenching social norms against dog fighting and cockfighting. It tells those on the margins, those perhaps contemplating whether or not to participate in such things that not only is it illegal, it meets with widespread social disapproval. Perhaps a social norm to that effect makes it that much easier for them to refuse to engage in such behavior. It contributes to a different social ethos. No one imagines that removing the magazines plays a direct causal role in the diminution of cockfighting, but it does contribute to solidifying social norms against same, and these, in conjunction with legal sanctions, could, over time, along with other changes in how we regard and treat non-human animals, lead to a real decline in the number of people who participate in such activities (e.g., I suspect a social norm against ‘drinking and driving,’ even if it in some sense grew out of the law, has helped make the law against drinking and driving that much more effective, as people find social acceptance if not encouragement for refusing to drink and drive, or warning or helping others not to do so). In any case, I suspect there are social norms about the treatment of animals that would (or should) trump any arguments by Amazon. Yes, people will and do engage in crazy and cruel behaviors, as history and sociology will attest. And that same history tells us that crazy and cruel behaviors can be stopped (female genital mutilation, footbinding, blood feuds, child labor, etc.). We can exploit such knowledge in an effort to end or reduce such crazy and cruel behavior as is very much a part of our world, perhaps even in subcultures in which routine violation of social norms has itself become something of (if not) a norm. We need not entertain the belief that we can end all forms of crazy and cruel behavior to contemplate the possibility that we might have an ethical and social obligation to at least make knowledgeable and concerted efforts in that direction.

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