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FC: FBI investigates bonsaikitten.com, sends subpoena to MIT
From: Declan McCullagh <declan () well com>
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 2001 13:24:14 -0500

Background on depictions-of-animal-mutilation law:
Recap of story prior to FBI investigation:

   FBI Goes After Bonsaikitten.com
   by Declan McCullagh (declan () wired com)

   10:10 a.m. Feb. 9, 2001 PST
   WASHINGTON -- A website devoted to squishing kittens into Mason jars
   is one of two things: A trenchant parody designed to provoke, or a
   nefarious kitty-mutilation scheme that must be stopped, and probably
   Count the FBI among the many visitors to bonsaikitten.com who are
   anything but amused at the descriptions of how to use muscle relaxant,
   feeding tubes and Klein bottles to shape a perfect Bonsai Cat.

   FBI agents in the Boston field office have launched an investigation
   into the site. They also have served MIT with a grand jury subpoena
   asking for "any and all subscriber information" about the site, which
   was initially hosted in a campus dormitory but has since moved to a
   commercial provider.
   MIT said in a letter to bonsaikitten.com's pseudonymous webmaster, a
   graduate student using the alias Dr. Michael Wong Chang, that it will
   wait until Sunday to turn over records that would identify him by
   "I was surprised," Chang said. "I really thought that the FBI had
   better things to do. That's your tax dollars at work."
   Bonsaikitten.com is, of course, a joke devised by prankster MIT
   students -- who else would talk about "rectilinear kittens?" -- to
   provoke owners of kittens, an adorably fuzzy topic that's usually
   beyond parody.
   Bonsaikitten.com offers to sell visitors a custom-shaped kitten -- the
   site says "typical wait time for a fully shaped Bonsai Kitten is 3 to
   4 months" -- but the site does not list prices or a mailing address
   for where to send money orders. It does, however, occasionally receive
   requests for more information.
   It also has sparked tens of thousands of hate-mail messages,
   anti-Bonsai Kitten groups on Yahoo, and even a blistering denunciation
   from the venerable Humane Society of the United States.
   For the site's fans, watching e-mail nastygrams arrive has become a
   kind of spectator sport: There's even a mailing list that lets
   bonsaikitten.com aficionados view any mail sent to the site's
   webmaster. A typical message: "This site is horrible! You should go in
   a mental hospital! You son of a bitch! I'll do my best to shut down
   this site and your disgusting hobby!"
   In December 1999, President Clinton signed a law that makes it a
   federal felony to possess "a depiction of animal cruelty" with the
   intent to distribute across state lines -- such as on the Internet.
   During a floor debate, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) claimed that
   "sick criminals are taking advantage of the loopholes in the local law
   and the lack of federal law on animal cruelty videos."
   The law, which observers at the time said probably violated the First
   Amendment, only applies to images, videos, and sound recordings that
   are distributed "for commercial gain" -- and bonsaikitten.com's
   tongue-in-cheek descriptions of mail-order cats in bottles appears to
   have given the FBI sufficient justification for an investigation.


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