HSUS -vs- Amazon.com

  
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Barked: Thu Jun 21, '07 3:03pm PST 
Just an FYI gang...mom says she isn't going to shop there anymore!

June 6, 2007

Internet Retailer Defends Cockfighting, Seeks to Gut Animal Welfare Act

WASHINGTON – Today, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed an amended complaint in federal court in the District of Columbia against Amazon.com, asserting that the online retailer's sale of two cockfighting magazines -- The Feathered Warrior and The Gamecock -- violates a new federal law that strengthens the Animal Welfare Act by making certain animal fighting activities a felony.

The suit, which was filed in February, originally alleged that Amazon.com's sale of the magazines, which are mail-order catalogs for illegal cockfighting weapons and fighting birds -- violates state law and the misdemeanor provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, which is the nation's core animal protection law. In response, Amazon.com has filed papers arguing it has a constitutional right to sell animal fighting paraphernalia.

"Amazon's decision to peddle illegal animal fighting paraphernalia is bad enough, but its decision to disobey and attempt to nullify a key provision of the federal Animal Welfare Act is patently outrageous," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "There is no constitutional right to engage in criminal activity, and Amazon should stop being the exclusive online vendor for an industry that perpetrates such blatant animal cruelty."

On May 3, President Bush signed the federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007, which makes it a felony to use "any interstate instrumentality for commercial speech for purposes of promoting or in any other manner furthering an animal fighting venture." The law also makes it a felony to buy or sell cockfighting weapons such as gaffs and knives, which are widely advertised in the publications.

The Internet seller's defiance of the federal animal protection law, and its defense of two trade publications that sell fighting birds, fighting dogs, blood-clotting drugs, and weapons designed exclusively for illegal cockfighting, has confounded consumers, animal protection advocates, and legal scholars nationwide.

In recent court filings, Amazon.com and other animal fighting proponents have claimed:

* Animal fighting is only "allege[dly]…cruelty to animals."
* Advertisements for animals sold to fight and die in the ring -- including one whose seller bragged that he impaled his opponent "through [the] neck and kill[ed] [him] outright" -- are, in Amazon.com's own words, "at worst, ambiguous…[and] innocuous."
* Amazon.com should be permitted to sell animal fighting materials because "cockfighting existed long before the dawn of the Internet."
* Ice pick-like gaffs, razor-sharp knives, and spurs offered for sale in the magazines "could be used for lawful purposes."

Although Amazon.com told the Court that it has stopped selling the dogfighting videos "Unleashed" and "Hood Fights," it nonetheless claims a legal right to sell these videos, which feature brutal dogfighting matches staged for the sole purpose of profiting from animal cruelty.

The HSUS is represented in the case by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP, which is providing pro bono legal services, and lawyers with The HSUS' animal protection litigation section.

Facts:

* A review of 11 issues of The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior found that more than 90 percent of the magazines' advertisements contain solicitations to commit a crime.
* Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states. Cockfighting is illegal in 49 states. Only Louisiana lacks a statewide ban on cockfighting. Lawmakers there are considering several proposals to outlaw the activity and are expected to pass legislation this year.
* The Animal Welfare Act prohibits the use of the U.S. mail to promote animal fighting.
* The First Amendment does not protect speech that proposes unlawful commercial transactions. Many legal experts agree there is no First Amendment protection for the sale of animal fighting magazines.
* Amazon.com has stopped selling materials for a number of reasons, including images that would simply offend or disturb customers. For a list of items voluntarily removed by Amazon.com -- including many items that do not violate federal law -- go to humanesociety.org/amazon

Timeline:

* May 19, 2007 – Federal and state law enforcement officers arrest 80 people at cockfighting raid in Van Buren, Ark., including a regular advertiser in The Gamecock who was selling illegal cockfighting paraphernalia at a pit-side concessions booth – the same materials he advertises every month in The Gamecock magazine.
* May 15, 2007 – Louisiana Senate passes cockfighting ban by a vote of 34-4.
* May 9, 2007 – Louisiana House of Representatives votes 101-1 to outlaw cockfighting.
* May 3, 2007 – President Bush signs the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007.
* March 13, 2007 – New Mexico becomes the 49th state to criminalize cockfighting statewide.
* February 8, 2007 – The HSUS sues Amazon.com and several publishers and distributors for selling materials that depict and promote cruel dogfighting and cockfighting events in violation of federal and state laws.
* February 3, 2007 – HSUS investigators visit an illegal cockfighting pit in Kentucky and document a massive cockfighting enterprise. The derby drew 400 people and involved as many as 500 fighting birds. A half-million dollar per week illegal gambling enterprise was housed on the site, which was advertised for sale in The Gamecock.
* July 2006 – The HSUS notifies Amazon.com of its intent to file a lawsuit against the company for its sales of illegal animal fighting materials.
* July 2005 – The HSUS writes to Amazon.com President and CEO Jeffrey Bezos asking him to stop selling The Feathered Warrior and The Gamecock.

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