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The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that it would decide whether a federal law that makes it a crime to sell videos of animals being tortured or killed violates constitutional free-speech rights.

The high court agreed to hear a U.S. Justice Department appeal defending the 1999 animal cruelty law after it was struck down for infringing free-speech protections.

A U.S. appeals court declared the law unconstitutional and overturned the conviction of a Virginia man, Robert Stevens, who sold three videos of pit bulls fighting each other and attacking hogs and wild boars.

His conviction in 2005 was the first in the country under the law. Stevens had been sentenced to 37 months in prison.

By a 10-3 vote, the appeals court rejected the government's argument that, for the first time in more than 25 years, there was a new category of speech not covered by constitutional free-speech protections. Usually, videos and other depictions are protected as free speech, even if they show abhorrent conduct.

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