15 November 2010

Should Amazon sell how-to guides for animal abuse? PETA says no

Dogfighting. A contest in which two dogs are placed in a pit to fight each other for the spectators' entertainment and gambling.  The injuries inflicted and sustained by dogs participating in dogfights are frequently severe, even fatal. Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states and a felony offense in almost every state.

Cockfighting. A blood sport in which two or more specially bred birds are placed in an enclosure to fight, for the primary purposes of gambling and entertainment. A cockfight usually results in the death of one or both birds. Cockfighting is illegal in every state, but is a felony offense in only 39 states.

Amazon.com, the largest online retailer in the United States, sells books such as The Art of Cockfighting and The Dog Pit: Or How to Select, Breed, Train and Manage Fighting Dogs. (For the record, Amazon also sells Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf as well as books on how to smuggle cocaine.)

The animal rights organization PETA, buoyed by the recent public outrage that lead Amazon to pull from its shelves a self-published book on pedophilia, sent a letter to Amazon.com president Jeffrey P. Bezos, asking him to pull products from the site that promote animal cruelty.

In the letter to Bezos, PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman states, "Animals, like children, depend on us to protect them and put their best interests above profits. Please, don't be complicit in cruelty to animals. Do the right thing and stop selling products that promote criminal violence against living beings."

In 2007, following a civil lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Amazon.com refused to discontinue selling magazines about cockfighting, arguing that "the customer is the best judge of what's appropriate".

In the wake of the pedophile incident and now PETA's letter, a debate is raging about the right to freedom of expression, and the responsibility of corporations with regard to that freedom. Does freedom of speech stop at the point where the speech condones cruelty? Should retailers of speech and expression uphold responsible citizenship and make what some might deem socially responsible choices, which others would call censorship? Is the choice best left to the individual consumer?

It's clear that there is no simple answer to a debate which has only just begun, especially with the proliferation of self-publishing and e-retailing. Someone posting a comment on a PC World article perhaps put it best when he writes, referring to the uproar over the pedophile book, "Intellectually, something tells me we're at the beginning of a high-stakes fight that's going to last for quite some time."

Bonnie Shulman | @veganbonnie
Bonnie has been a vegan for four years and supports vegan advocacy organizations such as Vegan Outreach and Farm Sanctuary, as well as animal rights groups around the world. She is particularly nuts about ducks, as you can see from her flickr site. Feel free to add Bonnie as a friend on Facebook.

Photo credit: screen capture amazon.com


  1. There's a lot of stuff going on with Amazon's stock... and I think no matter the content, whether it is about building bombs, pedophilia, animal abuse, or whatever, Amazon should be able to sell it. I don't agree with any of it, but that really isn't grounds for it to not be allowed to be written down and sold. I'm of the belief that just because someone is reading something, does not mean that they will do what it says... just like violence in video games and listening to Marilyn Manson does not mean that the gamer or the listener are going to become crazy, sociopaths. By that logic, I'd have killed millions of people and might even be in jail by now.

    There's nothing on Amazon that you can't find by a simple search on the internet. When we ban books, how-to manuals or not, we're telling each other what we can and can't read. Is our world really turning into 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World? I see it that way and it's incredibly disturbing to realize it.

  2. Sorry - but arguing like that would really mean that Amazon should henceforth also be allowed to sell material and "how to" manuals about sexual child abuse, and in extension: child-pornographic material - which is forbidden, and with a very good reason.
    There must be some limits imposed, even if that, by some, is considered restrictng freedom of speech. That is too bad, but necessary. Animal abuse is on par with child abuse, because it has the same source, the same root. Allowing one to be publicly indulged is really an argument FOR allowing and tolerating the other too. Amazon is walking a very fine line here, and should be very very careful about tripping over its own feet.

  3. Dog fighting is illegal. Cock fighting is illegal. Arguing that Amazon should be allowed to sell "How to" books for either activity is like arguing that they should be allowed to sell books on how to commit other crimes - burglary, rape, murder, terrorism. A crime is a crime and the business selling books that help criminals commit the crime can be considered an assessory to the crime. Freedom of speech does NOT cover criminal activity.