If you follow this or any of the other two or three websites that cover America’s adult industry, you know that it is naive to say that all pornographers are the same. But one thing possessed by most people who work in the fleshly fields is a healthy skepticism of authority.
Today I talk with Attorney J.D. Obenberger about the relaunch of his excellent and educational site, XXXLaw.
Like people who find religion in prison, it is rare that anyone getting into porn does so to become a First Amendment Patriot. People like Larry Flynt, Reuben Sturman, and Russ Hampshire recognized those free speech rights most acutely only when they were being taken away.
“Liberty means keeping people safe from the government,” says Chicago-based attorney J.D. Obenberger, whose XXXLaw is an excellent repository of First Amendment cases around the country, many—if not all—of which have a bearing on the legal issues faced by the adult business. “Especially when the government becomes interested in personal choices.”
Obenberger grew up in Wisconsin in the 1950s and ’60s. His Sicilian-American grandmother, he says wistfully, “was one of the last anonymous people in the United States. She never signed up for Social Security; the government didn’t know she existed except to deliver her mail.”
Today his practice fights against a government that knows too much.
“I’m a former member of the Teenage Republicans. [At the height of the Vietnam War} I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison on an ROTC scholarship. I've prosecuted for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in Germany," Obenberger says. "But it's our right that the government and the defense be on an equal playing field, [and] the only thing that separates a defendant from the force, power, and might of the U.S. government is a lawyer.”
Obenberger comes equipped with the ego of a trial lawyer. He compares a closing argument to “making a banked turn at 65 in a high-performance vehicle” and that he believes “trying jury cases are why God put me on Earth.”
No one gets into any of porn’s attendant businesses—the technical, sales, administrative aspects of the industry—without having some interest in the women at the very center of it.
So it was with Obenberger, who took the case of some strippers who had been filmed against their will in a show organized by a Chicago disc jockey.
“They were people I knew,” says Obenberger of the strippers. “They had refused to sign [filming] releases for this mud-wrestling event at the Admiral Theater, but they were filmed anyway. It was Intellectual Property, and the radio station wasn’t budging. But we were able to force the issue with some coverage in the Chicago Sun-Times.”
Obenberger was off and running. His practice takes him to cases around the country, as well as Porn Valley.
The porn business has a small army of lawyers: some of the more well-known are Obenberger, Paul Cambria, Louis Sirkin, Allen Gelbard, Jeffery Douglas, and Reed Lee, to name a few. And Obenberger says that the counselors don’t always agree with one another.
“…and that is to be expected,” he says. “The vast bulk of people who seek out this type of work have a defiant streak in them.”
(And are equally passionate about their work: Allen Gelbard has the First Amendment tattooed on his arm.)
Obenberger acknowledges that most adult industry personnel do not retain a lawyer, “but that you should have one on speed-dial.” His site offers a wealth of case law, information pertinent to pornographers like “Every Webmaster’s Primer on Section 2257,” and essays illuminating the Libertarian streak that courses through all pornographers, among them “Reflections from the Twilight Zone of Liberty.”
The Safe-for-Work website is designed as a tool for his clients, a digital business card, and (“Don’t laugh,” Obenberger warns—) a resource for high school and college students.
“People were put in jail for you to have the freedom to read that Hustler in the privacy of your own home,” he says.
I ask if his colleagues think he’s sharing monetizable information.
“I am occasionally subjected to gentle prodding that I’m giving away too much,” he says. “But what I’m hoping is that people realize that it is so complex that it gets to a point where you need a professional.”
I ask about John Stagliano’s trial, which was dismissed to the ridicule of the government. Did the government not bring its A Game because it believes porn does not possess an A Game?
“The Task Force made a substantial misread of what it was,” he said. “It was a task force that couldn’t shoot straight. The prosecutors in the Max Hardcore case, however, did their job with a high degree of competence.”
As the L.A. City Council’s submission to the agenda of AIDS Healthcare in the recent condom mandate proves, we live in a country where porn is a safe scapegoat; defending pornographers is a political minefield. But porn is inconveniently a test kitchen of the freedoms every American enjoys, so it must be defended.
“I begin a lot of sentences with ‘Like the 40 million people who watched porn last year…” to drive home the idea that porn is basic to our freedom and culture,” says Obenberger. “What I do is fight the changes that repress freedom.”
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: In “Fighters,” the real star is the Fathers; Labor Day in Porn Valley; Michael Ninn—two trucks, three years, “The Four”; Stagliano trial—outporning Porn
See also: XXXLaw