Humane Society sues Amazon.com over cockfighting magazines
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle-based Amazon.com's policy of stocking the widest possible selection of publications came under attack on Thursday from the Humane Society of the United States, which accused the Internet retailer of violating federal law for selling publications that glorify animal fighting.
The Humane Society sued Amazon in the District of Columbia for selling two cockfighting magazines and two graphic videos of dogfights, and it asked King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng to pursue civil proceedings.
The actions cap 19 months of talks between Amazon and the Humane Society over publications the animal-rights group considers illegal promotions of animal fighting. Last summer, Amazon removed one dog fighting video, but it later reappeared on the Web site.
Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith said the two dog fighting videos cited by the Humane Society would be removed because they clearly depicted illegal acts. But the company's right to continue selling "The Feathered Warrior" and "Gamecock" magazines was protected by the First Amendment, she said.
With 90,000 magazine titles in stock, Amazon sells publications some may find offensive, she said. But there is a difference between selling a publication that discusses an illegal act and engaging in the act itself, she said.
"Free speech is designed to protect ugly speech. Beautiful speech doesn't need protection." she said. "As a retailer, you don't want us picking what we think is appropriate for you to read."
But Humane Society attorney Ethan Eddy said the magazines are the "glue that holds the illegal cockfighting world together," and they do far more than merely discuss illegal fighting. Among the advertisements in November 2006 edition of the "The Feathered Warrior" are those for cockfighting knives, a poultry stimulant called "Pure Aggression," and even a cockfighting game club in Kentucky, where cockfighting is illegal.
The suit, which also names the magazines' publishers and distributors, accuses Amazon of violating a federal law prohibiting the mailing of publications that promote animal fighting. It is a felony in Washington to promote, participate or watch a cock- or dog-fight.
Eddy said Amazon is the only Internet retailer of the monthly magazines, which have about 9,000 subscribers each. "By asking them [Amazon] to stop shipping the magazines, we're not cracking down on free speech," he said. "We're cracking down on conduct. The shipment is what's illegal."
Stewart Jay, a University of Washington constitutional law professor, said Amazon likely has a strong First Amendment defense. He compared the suit to a landmark 1959 case in which New York tried to ban the movie version of "Lady Chatterly's Lover" because it allegedly promoted adultery, which was then illegal.
"You have the constitutional right to contend that things that are illegal or immoral are not, or should not be," said Jay.
Cockfights, which continue to live on in Washington, is a blood sport in which roosters, affixed with knives or hooks, battle each other, often to the death. It is banned in 48 states, but thrives in immigrant communities from countries, including Mexico and the Philippines, where it is legal.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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