Should Amazon sell how-to guides for animal abuse?

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., 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 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, 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.”

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