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Tag: sporting dog journal

Dogfighting videos: Should they be illegal?

Should it be a crime to sell, own or distribute videos portraying dog fighting or other acts of animal cruelty?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up that question, the Baltimore Sun reports.

While all 50 states have laws against animal cruelty — and while Congress 10 years ago made it illegal to sell or possess photos or videos of animals being maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed — the question has arisen again because of an appeals court ruling last year.

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia declared then that the rarely used law was unconstitutional on the grounds it violated free speech. The judges said the First Amendment protects depictions of illegal activity with only few exceptions, child pornography being one.

The ruling overturned the conviction of Robert J. Stevens, a Virginia man who was serving three years in prison for selling videos of pit bulls fighting and viciously attacking other animals. Stevens advertised the videos in Sporting Dog Journal,  an underground journal that reports on illegal dog fights.

Stevens sold the videos to federal agents in Pittsburgh in 2003, and his prosecution was the first under the federal law that made it a crime to sell such videos.

Government lawyers appealed, urging the Supreme Court  to revive the law. “Graphic depictions of torture and maiming of animals … have little or no expressive content or redeeming societal value, and Congress has compelling reasons for prohibiting them,” they said in their appeal. Animal cruelty has “no place in a civilized society,” and the law should punish those who profit from it, they said.

There are only a few exceptions to this rule, the judges noted. One is child pornography. It is always illegal to sell or own pornography that features children. The appeals court said it was unwilling to create a new category of expression that is unprotected by the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court voted to hear the government’s appeal this fall.