Amazon: Cocks!

So, “Amazon Won’t Drop Cockfighting Magazines” even after pressure from The Humane Society. I suppose this post is less about “the animals issue” than the questionable appeal to free-speech that Amazon use to defend themselves, but firstly, and briefly (as it’s boring), the legal side of things. The Humane Society are claiming that what Amazon are doing, in carrying these rags, is flatly illegal – here’s the law they reference:

“[The federal Animal Welfare Act strictly prohibits any person from] knowingly use[ing] the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service or any interstate instrumentality for purposes of promoting or in any other manner furthering an animal fighting venture.”

Seattle-based Amazon.com said the magazines are legal and would continue to be sold on its Web site.

I’d say that both Amazon and the magazines in question would be in breech of that one, but I’m no lawyer, so I can’t really say. Amazon, on the other hand, are sure that what they’re doing is perfectly legal, but they don’t say why – they just assert it. But anyway, for the sake or argument, let’s assume it’s technically legal. So, secondly, to the free-speech/moral angle:

Refusing to sell books or magazines simply because their messages may offend is censorship, spokeswoman Patty Smith said. “The customer is the best judge of what is and isn’t appropriate for their reading habits”

Now, I happen to agree with moral and legal philosopher Joel Fienberg when he said that offence alone could never serve as satisfactory grounds on which to suppress free-speech. But, of course, the issue is not that Amazon should refuse to sell books or magazines simply because their messages may offend; nor is anyone making claims about customers’ abilities to choose appropriate reading material themselves. Amazon, whether by hook or by crook, seem to be framing this issue as if the claim is that, due to the offence it causes, it is wrong or illegal to carry publications that support cockfighting and express that view in print. But that’s something of a straw man as that’s not it at all. The problem is that Amazon are allowing themselves to be, albeit indirectly, instrumental in and party to the continuation of a cruel and barbaric practise.

So, the views expressed in these magazines, offensive or not, are beside the point. It’s the fact that they carry adverts for stuff like “the knives that [are] affixed to roosters’ heels, stimulants such as ‘Pure Aggression’ and even a cockfight pit itself in Kentucky, where cockfighting is illegal” that starts to raise eyebrows. And perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think these are the sorts of things John Stuart Mill had in mind. They’re not views at all for one thing. Nor are they arguments, ideas to be tested or anything remotely like them – they’re simply methods of profiting from and propagating a nasty, sadistic little racket. Besides, I imagine it could be fairly compellingly argued that this sort of thing causes harm.

Moreover, Amazon seem to be implying that these magazines, as a corollary of their rights of free-speech, not only have a right to print whatever they want to print, but also have a right to be sold on Amazon – which, of course, they do not. Amazon is by no means duty-bound to carry unpleasant publications that promote and enable animal cruelty but, instead, are merely choosing to do so. In fact, they’ve already shown as much by dropping other unsavoury materials in the past. So, throwing the term “censorship” around like some kind of rhetorical hand-wave without making any attempt to actually qualify what is meant by it seems at best confused and at worst thoroughly disingenuous.

Of course I could be mistaken about all this and Amazon’s attitude is simply something along the lines of “promoting and enabling animal cruelty or not – it’s technically legal so there’s nothing anyone can do to stop us”, but I doubt they’re going to admit that quite so candidly.

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2 Responses to “Amazon: Cocks!”


  1. 1 Samantha February 13, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Amazon.com is wrong no matter how you look at it:

    – Magazines do NOT have a first amendment right to advertise their mag on Amazon.com. Amazon is not a state actor!
    – If the first amendment requires or allows Amazon.com to advertise illegal activities (which it certainly doesn’t…advocacy of illegal action is not protected by the first amendment), then newspapers could be compelled to print classified ads for the sale of illegal drugs.
    – Amazon claims that it doesn’t choose what its customers should have access to, but they have removed products for violating the law or upsetting customers before. I’m sure there’s a market for child porn and beastiality magazines, but Amazon doesn’t seem to offer those mags.

  2. 2 Ed February 13, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    Hi, and thanks for the comment Samantha. You seem to have summed the issue up rather more succinctly than I was able!


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