Hawker, digger, long-dogger and outdoors writer Teddy Moritz forwarded this news of a case to be heard by the Supreme Court. It regards the editor and seller of a hunting dog video who was convicted on federal law prohibiting “depictions of animal cruelty;” his conviction was later overturned on 1st Amendment grounds, but US prosecutors are taking the case to the highest court for a ruling. From the summary:
“The Third Circuit struck down a federal law banning “depictions of animal cruelty.” 18 USC 48. The statute does not ban acts of animal cruelty themselves (and so this case is not about such actions). It bans images of animals being hurt, wounded or killed if the depicted conduct is illegal under federal law or illegal under the state law either (i) where the creation of the depiction occurs, or (ii) where the depiction is sold or possessed.”
The video depicts “catch dog” training, featuring pit-bull type dogs hunting wild hogs and also domestic pigs, and it includes historical video of Japanese dog fighting. The product was edited from pre-existing footage (no new footage shot) with a voiceover to illustrate training points. So the subject matter is certainly controversial, and I’m sure the visuals are rough. But we are talking here about a depiction, not an action.
The charges are based on an existing law passed to prohibit the sale of videos depicting the torture of animals in a sexual context (evidently there’s a market for that). The prosecution is inviting the court to add “depictions of animal cruelty” (defined more broadly than the above context) to the very short list of unprotected classes of speech, as is the case with child pornography. With the opportunity to reference dog fighting, hog hunting, torture videos and child pornography laws all in one case, prosecutors have a lot to work with here.
At stake may be the freedom and livelihood of everyone involved in hunting and trapping media, every state game agency, retail outlet, publishing house, hook and bullet writer, etc., to include myself as author of two books in print full of text and photographs of active falconry. In fact, the existing law may already apply to many media products, if their content includes depictions of activities “illegal under federal law or illegal under the state law either where the creation of the depiction occurs, or where the depiction is sold or possessed.”
For example: one of my books contains a picture of the use of a classic falconry noose trap (a bal-chatri), a humane and practical device for the legal live-trapping of raptors for falconry. Such traps were temporarily outlawed in Washington State when a broadly-written anti-trapping law was passed there a few years ago. An exception to the law had to be included to permit trapping for falconry.
Although falconry traps are obviously not intended to “hurt, wound or kill” birds, falconry itself entails killing animals; it is hunting! Commercial falconry videos certainly exist. I own several and have shot my own footage, plus photos for personal use and for sale. The difference (in terms of its elements and visual impact in a video depiction) between catch dogs holding a wild hog and, say, Harris hawks catching a jack rabbit, is probably negligible to the non-hunter.
Here’s an interesting question: While hog hunting with dogs is legal in Hawaii, falconry is not (it’s the only non-falconry US state, having no suitable native raptors and strict environmental law for imports). For all I know, someone in the Aloha State has a copy of one of my books, purchased online from my Wyoming publisher and sent via US Mail. Could that fact lead federal prosecutors to his door? Or to mine?