Can U.S. v Stevens Bite Back?

Irina Knopp

barking_cartoon_dogI am currently working on a paper that looks at the case, arguments for and possible consequences of U.S. v Stevens. Recently, I’ve found several articles online suggesting that the statute in the case thought to promote animal rights in America could possibly hurt animal rights groups.

Rory Eastburg, author of the article “High Court to Consider Categorical Ban on Cruelty Images,” warns that animal rights groups should be very careful what they wish for because such groups often use film and images to expose the animal abuses that go on and the vague exemption for serious content in 18 U.S.C. § 48 may get them in trouble.

He states, “Many if not all films made by such groups falls squarely within the terms of the statute because they are recording unlawful treatment of animals.” Eastburg fails to explain how animal rights group videos/images would fall under the interstate commerce element of 18 U.S.C. § 48.

Julie Hilden, author of “Does the Federal Anti-Animal-Cruelty-Depiction Statute Violate the First Amendment? Part One,” makes a similar observation, citing PETA, a group in which she is a member, as an example.  PETA often photographs and films animal abuse in factories and laboratories and receives such content from outside sources. Hilden suggests that would cover the “create” and “possess” elements of 18 U.S.C. §48. The harder part would be to prove that the group putting the images or videos into interstate commerce for commercial gain. Hilden argues that a prosecutor could possibly satisfy that element if PETA membership fees or donations provided access to such videos or images. She, unlike Eastburg, finds hope in the serious exemption clause under categories including education, scientific and political.

The thought that 18 U.S.C. § 48 would or could be used to prosecute animal rights groups seems far fetched to me.  However, with the ever-increasing labeling of animal rights activists as “terrorists” and the greatest terrorist threat within our borders under Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, one never knows how low our government can go.

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