Intermediary Liability and Animal Cruelty: Humane Society Sues Amazon

rooster2.JPGIt 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.

You may also like...

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.

  2. F. Gosler says:

    I’ve been looking around for articles similar to this but never found one that actually was valuable such as this. Glad I found this place!