On Inauguration Day, Celebrate but Don’t Forget

As I write this, Joe Biden is less than an hour away from being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. I can’t say with honesty I feel tremendous relief so much as trepidation. Trepidation is a step up from existential dread, and I’ll take what I can get for now.

I’m not afraid of Biden per se. By all accounts he is honorable man who genuinely wants to do his best for his country. I also think he takes other opinions and, thank God, facts into account when making decisions. He’s imperfect but not irrational.

I’m afraid that people will forget what Trump and his followers and creators did. They saw the worst side of America and used it as a weapon to get their own agenda through. The sheer list of atrocities the soon-to-be-previous administration committed, from caging and starving scared children and deporting their parents, to removing crucial environmental regulations as global warming reaches a crisis point, to punishing people of color for daring to ask not to be murdered by police, to making record profits during an economic recession created by their own mishandling of a pandemic… I’m missing quite a lot of them from the first half of the administration because the horrors kept coming. It is too much to remember all at once, much less respond to.

Don’t forget. If you have to, narrow your focus, but fix your heart and fix your community so this can never happen again. They got their way by exploiting hatreds and fears that were already there—remove their leverage by fixing your heart. Zero tolerance for hatred in your home, your social circles, at work, and in your hometowns. Pay attention to legislation and demand your elected officials listen to you. Put stronger structures in place so fascists, racists, and bandits can never control the entire government again. Seek official punishment and justice for the criminals leaving power today.

Never forget—this was a harsh reminder of how fragile our society is, and how easy it is to lose. Never let this happen again, and never stop demanding a better world.

SISEA Is a Bad Bill

Content warning: pornography, revenge porn, exploitation

A number of my friends make part or all of their living creating art, some or all NSFW—we’ll call it porn for simplicity’s sake but trust me, some of it really is art. This post is for you, so you know what legislation is being put forward.


SISEA, or the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act, is a US Senate bill currently in committee. Purportedly, it will defend against pornographic material posted without the affirmative consent of those depicted, but the methods it takes to do are poorly thought out. The potential for damage will be far out of proportion to the good it accomplishes.

SISEA will place significant burdens on users and any online platform that hosts and makes available to the general public “pornographic images” (hereinafter “covered platforms”).

“Pornographic image” means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of “sexually explicit” conduct, i.e., actual or simulated—

(i) sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex; (ii) bestiality; (iii) masturbation; (iv) sadistic or masochistic abuse; or (v) lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person. 18 USC 2256.

If you make, upload, or host any of the above, pay attention, because this applies to you.

What’s SISEA about?

The stated goals of SISEA are to give people the ability to have pornographic images uploaded without their consent removed, and this certainly does that. Sex workers will actually be able to control distribution of their work across platforms, and people who don’t consent to distribution will have leverage to have images scrubbed from the internet.

Every platform is required to verify the age and identity of each user, and obtain a consent form for each individual depicted. The consent can limit the geographic area where the image can be distributed. The platform is also required to prohibit any image from being downloaded from the platform.

Platforms will also have to display a prominent banner with instructions to have an contested image removed, operate a 24-hour telephone hotline to receive removal requests, remove a contested image within two hours of a request, and block re-upload of any image removed under this act. Further, platforms will have to check each image uploaded against the Federal Trade Commission database created under this Act to host a list of individuals who do not consent to any upload of any pornographic image to any platform.

That’s good, right?

In theory, yeah. The thinking behind the bill is that it allows individuals depicted to control where their image can be displayed, and theoretically prevents viral spread of any nonconsensual images. That’s great.

I’m sensing a “but.

A big but. A mondo booty.

Prohibiting downloads is an issue to professionals who rely on downloads to fuel sales will lose an entire distribution method.

Platforms will have to track and limit geographic access for any limited consents provided, stretching already thinly-spread moderation staff even further.

The burden of operating a telephone hotline and responding within two hours to a removal request is unreasonable for smaller platforms, who would likely pull out of the pornography market rather than face FTC investigation for unfair or deceptive trade practices, which this Act will require.

The consents, though—did I read that right? They need consents for all images uploaded even before the Act?

Yeah, you read that right. Consents for any image, uploaded at any time before or after the Act is enacted, are required or the image has to be pulled down.

When asked for comment, the proprietor of prominent giant art site Macrophile.com had this to say:

I will just have to turn off Macrophile.com and dump a couple of decades of art… there’s no way I can research past art at all. Hell… I have explicit art there from people who have died, who I have kept running. So it will be an online death for those folks.

Is that all?

Nope. Most disturbingly, users and individuals will have to give the platform their personally identifiable information with their consents. Platforms will have to contain the above information and keep it secure, but accessible in case of FTC audit. The likelihood of that identifiable information being released or hacked should give any individual or platform pause—Pandora does not go back in that box once you let her out.

The database is the biggest deal, though.

And what’s this about a database?

Glad you asked. The Act establishes an FTC database where individuals can opt in to protection from any uploads of pornographic material whatsoever, anywhere on the internet. The protection is significant, because platforms will be fined up to $1,000 per day that an offending image is uploaded.

It’s all or nothing, though—anyone with a professional or amateur porn image on the internet will have to remove it to get this level of protection.

A single mistake on the part of a small platform can prove incredibly costly. Platforms, again, especially smaller platforms, would probably rather pull out of pornography altogether than face this level of exposure.

So this really doesn’t do what it set out to?

Nope. Call and write your senators, because this can’t make it out of committee. Hopefully Georgia flips the Senate and this bill dies ignominiously, and legislators take a smarter approach to porn regulation.

Sit, stay, speak. Good dog.

2020 Fat Bear Week Charity Drive

Every year, Katmai National Park & Preserve hosts Fat Bear Week, a single-elimination bracket event to determine which bear in the park packed on the most pounds preparing for winter. It’s a fun event to get involved with and vote on.

I got together with some artist friends, and we decided to get a seat at the fat bear table. We’ve come up with our own bears, and starting Wednesday, September 30, you can feed them by donating money through this link. Include a note saying which Bear you want to feed!

Every dollar you donate feeds the bears more, and I want to see them fat and happy for the winter! On Tuesday, March 6, we’ll announce the charity results and present our bears at the size you’ve fed them to!

Funds will go to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. You can donate directly here.

Hugo models and enjoys swimming, sushi, and big hugs, and no, those weren’t skinny jeans when he bought them! Art by me!

Hugo is a black bear wearing brown slacks. He is leaning against a pillar with a poster that reads

Duke is a drummer from Nashville soaking up the last of beach weather before things get cold. He’s friendly, easygoing and always up for trying new recipes. Art by Ray BossFrogg!

Bruno lets his mouth do the talking for him—he’s hungry to win, even if he has to get up off the couch! Art by Toner Husk!

I’ll add art to this post as other contestants make themselves known! Thanks in advance, and sit! Stay! Speak!

Agent Peter Dumac in: Ex Marks the Spot

Cool cats, this is a bit different from my usual posts; this is a piece of flash spy fiction I wrote earlier this year.

For their double-oh-seventh year in operation, FurtheMore 2019‘s theme was spies. Their conbook was open for fiction submissions. I’d just listened to Ian Fleming’s Moonraker on audiobook, so I had the scent and wanted to chase.

I found out the morning submissions were due, so I had less than a day to write a thousand words on spies. (Oh, and go to work.) To simplify the writing process and keep the story under a thousand words, I made some decisions early on: (1) It would use third-person limited narration, meaning little if any inner monologue, keeping the narration crisp and concrete. (2) It would be almost all physical action, but the action would externalize an inner conflict within our protagonist. (3) It would be about a romance, because it’s an easy way to establish relatable stakes, because my audience of furries like romance, and so I could write a romance I’d want to read about in spy fiction.

I really enjoyed working on this, and I’d like to revisit the world of Peter Dumac, secret agent. I hope you enjoy.

* * *

Peter Dumac felt his tail bristle almost before he heard the storefront window shatter. He whirled around and caught a glimpse of black leather and a motorcycle helmet before getting shoulder-checked in the stomach. He hit the ground hard.

The figure on him purred with satisfaction. A gloved paw rifled through Peter’s suit jacket. It took Peter’s gun from his shoulder holster, then found the hidden pocket sewn into his jacket and removed a little nondescript box. The figure watched Peter’s chest rise and fall, then stuffed the small box into its jacket pocket and ambled back the way it came.

Moments later, Peter awoke to the sound of sirens. Mustn’t get held up. Peter patted himself down. His suit was in bad shape. Glass sticking out everywhere. His Beretta was gone. Wallet and keys were there, but—

The cheetah stopped cold. His shaking fingers groped for the pocket hidden in the lining of his coat—empty. Damn, damn, damn.

He clambered over the shattered storefront, crunching glass as he landed on the sidewalk. A tire track on the road showed a motorcyclist had sped off. He jogged over to his car and sprung the door. He tapped his smartwatch and hit the first speed dial. “Red! I was just knocked out by an unknown assailant. They made off with my gun and the box.”

“Say again, Spots? Someone got the drop on you?”

“I wasn’t expecting a tail. I tagged the box. Can you track it?”

“Of course. Pulling up the program now. Get moving—police band shows multiple cruisers coming your way. Any idea who you’re after?”

Peter slammed the car into gear and let the engine roar ahead. “None. Which way?”

“Left at the light.”

Peter growled softly to himself. He’d be lying if he didn’t admit his tail was bouncing as he whipped around the turn, and his heart was racing as he closed in on his quarry. The chase satisfied his ancestors, and a toothy grin slid onto his face as a sign of respect and solidarity.

But if he didn’t get that box back—well, what was the rest of this for? He frowned and stepped on the accelerator.

“You drive like a maniac, Spots.”

“Left or right?”

“Right, then straight two blocks. I might remind you how long it took to build that car—”

The car thundered between a bus and a family minivan, causing gasps and screams in both, and a compressed epithet from Peter’s smartwatch.

“—I’m glad I’m not out there with you. I intend to retire in one piece, fat and happy.”

Peter saw a powerful motorcycle in chrome and carbon fiber, with a familiar rider, weaving between crowded lanes. “Found them.”

“Confirmed, Peter, that’s the target ahead. Be careful.”

Peter slammed into the next lane and thundered forward. The motorcyclist saw him and swung around, daring him onward. A semi truck started across the intersection between them.

“Red, the seats in this car fold all the way back?”

“Now’s hardly the—oh. Spots, you’ll never make it.”

Peter gunned the engine and leaned his seat as far back as it would go.

The car charged. It rammed under the semi. The roof crumpled in a thunderous crash of metal, but the car plowed on. It fishtailed as the roof tore off. Peter pulled himself up. The target was right there—the target was stopped!

He slammed the brakes and skidded just short of the motorcyclist. He smashed into the steering wheel. He wasn’t missing teeth, but he was bleeding from his snout. Both his eyes would be blackened. His watch face was cracked.

Leather creaked as the motorcyclist dropped into the seat next to him. Peter couldn’t recognize their scent through the heavy smell of blood. There was a metal glint, and his own walnut-and-nickel Beretta was pointed at his heart.

Peter spit a mouthful of blood over what was left of the doorframe. “I want that box.”

“What happens if you don’t get it back?”

Peter looked into the blank faceplate before him. “The world ends.”

“I don’t think so. I think that you want to let me keep it. The world could be ours.” The cyclist pulled the gun off Peter to lift off the helmet.

Of course. Crystal.

The rabbit shook her head and pulled her ears out of the helmet. Her diamond-white fur shimmered in the moonlight. Her smile was deadly. A cold blue stone glistened where a right eye should be. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten our time together, Mr. Dumac.”

“I haven’t either. I still have scars.”

She pulled his face closer. “You and I were so close. You loved me.”

He could almost taste her over the blood in his mouth. “I thought I did. I was wrong.”

She stopped short of kissing him. “You mean it.”


She growled and slowly scratched his face, splitting the skin and digging a deep furrow into his cheek.

He cried out.

“There’s nothing better than this. You’re a predator. You want me. To chase me around the world, for as long as we last.”

“The world’s so much bigger than I knew—I never realized… how small you are. How small we both were.” Peter’s paw snaked back out of Crystal’s pocket. He had it. “And that makes it much easier to say goodbye.” He tapped a button on the dash.

The passenger seat ejected, rocketing Crystal into the air.

Peter shifted the car into gear and trundled off.

* * *

Inside the restaurant, Anthony could see maitre ds fussing at the front door. A tow truck seemed to be hauling away half a sports car. Anthony was an accountant. He never went to restaurants like this. It seemed unusual.

At the front, a cheetah in a ripped white dinner jacket drenched in blood staggered in and shouldered past a throng of busboys.

Anthony gasped. Peter…?

Peter silently stood before Anthony. He put a box in Anthony’s paw and dropped to one knee.

How to Give Meaningful Critique

Cats and kittens, one thing I’d like to discuss is how to give a meaningful critique. In this wide, weird, wonderful internet of ours, the bar to making creative works for an audience is lower than ever, and the number of editors hasn’t yet met the demand, so until we each get that book deal and a personal editor, we have to rely on each other to give constructive feedback.

Who are you to be lecturing us?

I’m a practicing attorney, which means that in law school and since, I’ve been critiqued to shreds and reconstructed to not embarrass my professors, partners, and clients 1 which ought to qualify me by itself. However, I’ve also been an art teacher and a proposal writer for a staffing agency, so I have extensive experience giving and receiving critiques on a professional level. I have received unhelpful and helpful critiques both, and I know what works for me. 2

Okay, okay. Why are you telling us how to give critique? I can already tell when something is bad.

Picture this: you ask someone to read a manuscript you wrote, or look at a painting you spent hours on, and you’ve put a lot of time, thought, and energy in. They tell you it sucks. …First, ouch. Second, what about it sucks? Is there anything that can be improved for next time?

You as the critic owe the creator and the work a duty to give thoughtful, useful critique. It doesn’t always have to be “rip me to shreds” criticism, but you owe them the chance to improve based on your insight.

Heavy-handed. Okay, how do I make sure my critique is useful?

Glad you asked. There are five questions to consider when critiquing a piece:

  1. Who is this for?
  2. What are the audience’s expectations?
  3. What is the creator going for?
  4. What doesn’t work and why?
  5. What works and why?


Well, the first three questions give you context you need before your critique can be meaningful. Once you know the audience, their expectations, and whether the creator intends to subvert, comment upon, confound, or simply fulfill the intended audience’s expectations, then you have your metrics for whether or not the work is successful.

A concrete example: I didn’t like Mad Max: Fury Road, but I thought it was a successful work. 3 It was a technically gorgeous movie that effectively invoked and defied its genre expectations to tell a story about gender roles. I wasn’t the target audience, though, so the fact that it didn’t grab me doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. A critique saying it failed as a movie because it didn’t appeal to me specifically when it wasn’t meant to isn’t a helpful critique.

A different example: If you’re submitting a contract proposal to a government agency, you’d better damn well keep audience expectations in mind—a choice not to meet them isn’t an artistic choice, it’s simply a failure, because you will lose the contract bid, possibly your security clearance, and probably your job. A critique pointing this out is useful.

What doesn’t work and why?

I see your eyes light up, you hyenas. This is what you thought of first when you were asked to critique someone’s work.

The key here is to keep your critique helpful. Absent a professional reason otherwise, how in-depth you go should be defined by the creator, and if they didn’t tell you, ask. If you’re nitpicking and they needed to know about the big picture, you’re not helping.

Professionals obviously need more in-depth critiques, because incomes and livelihoods depend on a work being good. This is where things can get heated, but it should never get savage or personal. If a critique is or can be mistaken for an attack on the creator instead of a comment on the work, it’s not helpful—not only does it not help improve the work, it damages the relationship with the creator. For professionals, this can be deadly; for hobbyists, this can lose friends.

The best thing to do is keep the critique about the work. This is why I phrased this section as “What doesn’t work and why?” It keeps my commentary solely to the work, and includes the presumption that the problem can be fixed. Just focus on the work and what choices are confusing or counterproductive to the creator’s intent.

What works and why? Wait, I thought I just had to tell them what sucked!

You owe the creator and the work an honest critique, and that means recognizing when things work, too. This not only makes swallowing critique easier for the creator—and therefore easier for you!—it gives the creator the objective outside perspective they can’t have. Creators tend to be harsh self-critics, and often have been working with a piece for so long they take what works for granted, minimize it, or miss it entirely. Your honest critique could give them a new focus and direction as they re-center a piece around what works.

If you keep these in mind and structure your critiques accordingly, you’ll be a useful and constructive resource for your fellow creators. They’ll probably ask you for more critiques! And return the favor, of course. This is how artists improve—you scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours.

For example, I got a good critique on this post by Sparf, who coincidentally has a podcast on this very subject, for you cats interested in further on the topic. Sparf is an author, editor, and podcaster at Independent Claws, in addition to being vice president of Fur the More. Check out his podcast on critique at Independent Claws.

Speaking of back scratching, I have a flea bath with my name on it, so until next time, sit. Stay. Speak. Good dog.

Stripping Clubs of Their Rights—Zoning, Liquor Licenses, Adult Businesses, and the First Amendment, Part Two

Puppers and doggos, welcome to the second part of our dive into strip clubs and the First Amendment. Last week we talked about Flashers, a strip club in Sandy Springs, GA, which was shut down after challenging a city ordinance all the way to not one, but two Supreme Courts.


We have two cases, federal and state, which the strip club Flashers and its cohorts brought against the City of Sandy Springs, claiming that its ordinance against sale of alcohol at adult establishments was an unconstitutional restriction of the First Amendment right of free speech.


Yeah, seriously. This is Part Two of Two, so you should know this already. Go read Part One here and come back.

…ready? Okay. Let’s take a look at these two cases.

The state court case is Maxim Cabaret, Inc. d/b/a Maxim Cabaret et al. v. City of Sandy Springs, Georgia, No. S18A0496 (Ga. June 18, 2018). The federal case is FLANIGAN’S ENTERPRISES, INC. OF GEORGIA, d.b.a. Mardi Gras, FANTASTIC VISUALS, LLC, d.b.a. Inserection, 6420 ROSWELL RD., INC., d.b.a. Flashers, and MARSHALL G. HENRY, et al. v. CITY OF SANDY SPRINGS, GEORGIA, No. 16-14428 (11th Cir. August 14, 2017).

The Fulton County Superior Court granted summary judgment to the City of Sandy Springs, ruling that Flashers (herein referred to by its parent company’s name, Maxim Cabaret) lacked standing to challenge Sandy Springs’ alcohol licensing regulations on a constitutional basis. Simply, the court thought Flashers had no valid legal argument to make, and Sandy Springs won. The same thing happened in federal court.


There are two laws at play: (1) Sandy Springs Adult Licensing Code section 26-21(25), restricting the “commercial combination of live nudity and alcohol,” and (2) the good ol’ First Amendment.

The Adult Licensing Code section reads:

The city council further finds that public nudity (either partial or total) under certain circumstances, particularly circumstances related to the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in establishments offering live nude entertainment or “adult entertainment,” whether such alcoholic beverages are sold on the premises or not, begets criminal behavior and tends to create undesirable community conditions. In the same manner, establishments offering cinematographic or videographic adult entertainment have the same deleterious effects on the community. Among the acts of criminal behavior found to be associated with the commercial combination of live nudity and alcohol consumption or sale, live commercial nudity in general, and cinematographic or videographic adult entertainment are disorderly conduct, prostitution, public solicitation, public indecency, fighting, battery, assaults, drug use and drug trafficking. [Citations omitted.]

In its entirety, the First Amendment to the Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We’re focusing on the “free speech” element of the First Amendment. That’s right, nude dancing is considered free speech as a form of expressive conduct under the First Amendment. 1


Bad news, folks, they can—where, when, and how you exercise your free speech can have reasonable limitations placed on them. 2


Yes, but SCOTUS has your back with definitions here. When the government restricts rights guaranteed by the Constitution, what’s “reasonable” falls into three categories, based on the right being restricted. 3 They are, in order of increasing severity:

  • Rational basis review—A heck of a lot is reasonable. If a law is rationally related to a legitimate government interest, it’s constitutional.
  • Intermediate scrutiny—If a law furthers an important government interest, by means which are substantially related to that interest, it’s constitutional.
  • Strict scrutiny—If a law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, and uses the least restrictive means to do so, it’s constitutional. Not a lot of laws survive strict scrutiny.


I bet I’ll tell you. Flashers said that strict scrutiny applied, but they would, wouldn’t they? Too bad for them this is settled case law. If the law is content-neutral, i.e., it doesn’t seek to limit freedom of expression based on the content of the speech, then only intermediate scrutiny applies. 4 That law survives intermediate scrutiny if it furthers important government interest unrelated to the suppression of speech, and the incidental restriction of protected speech is no greater than necessary to further that interest. 5

What that means is that the government can’t ban speech entirely, just in certain forms, in certain locations, and/or at certain times. This is the rationale behind such limiting legislation as requiring parade permits or not allowing flag burning near schools. The speech isn’t the target of the legislation in these cases, the secondary effects are—like traffic congestion or damage to school grounds and/or children.

To bring it back around to our case, the government can pass legislation limiting free speech as, ahem, embodied by adult entertainment, but only as much as necessary to target the negative secondary effects of such businesses. You know, like prostitution, drug sales, drunk driving, people leaving their underwear around. 6

Sure, preventing the sale of alcohol means that business will dry up with the booze, but the ordinance targets alcohol, not nude dancing—the dancers are still “free to express themselves as they wish through dance or otherwise.” 7 The ordinance is therefore content-neutral, so intermediate scrutiny applies. Since the dancers are still able to dance, the restriction on freedom of expression is minimal at most, and the government’s important interest in not finding abandoned underwear in the parking lot is served, therefore the ordinance passes intermediate scrutiny and is constitutional.


Me too. I’m a model of restraint.


None with booze, anyway. Hope you have an unlimited data plan as you walk to the package store.

Till next time, readers, there’s no law that says I can’t express myself freely in the comfort of my own home with the curtains drawn. You can draw your own conclusions.

Sit. Stay. Speak.

Stripping Clubs of Their Rights—Zoning, Liquor Licenses, Adult Businesses, and the First Amendment, Part One

Last time was a nice, gentle toe into the warm, shallow waters of law. Get your swim caps and flippers on, because this time, we’re diving into the deep end with strip clubs and the First Amendment.

1. She Getting Crunk in the Club, I Mean She Work.

Strip clubs are great–they’re Petri dishes for Constitutional arguments. They take what would ordinarily be a straightforward case of municipal zoning ordinance appeal and turn it into a twelve-year web of intertwined First Amendment lawsuits. That’s right–adult entertainment is and has been the vanguard of your right to freedom of expression. Think about that next time you decide how much to tip.

Let’s get concrete. This is Flashers, an adult entertainment facility.

Flashers is closed.

Let’s take a look at some reviews:

“Very small intimate, a lot of variety!”

“If you must go, do not buy drinks or anything else with a credit card.”

“The employees were having there [sic] own conversation and didn’t even acknowledge us.”

Quality of experience aside, Flashers is important as one of four adult businesses targeted by the City of Sandy Springs, GA. The others were the strip clubs Mardi Gras and Main Stage/The Coronet Club, and Inserection, an adult bookstore and novelty item emporium. These four businesses took their fight to both the Georgia and United States Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds, lost, and face closure. Let’s look at how we got here.

2. ATL Sorry, Done Disrespect It.

Flashers was issued a liquor license by Fulton County prior to the City of Sandy Springs forming in 2005. Upon its formation, Sandy Springs quickly surveilled the adult businesses within its city limits, and found evidence of prostitution and, perhaps less surprisingly, public lewdness and intoxication. After these findings, Sandy Springs issued ordinances banning the sale of alcohol at adult establishments and limiting the areas in which adult businesses could operate.

Some of you reading are shaking your heads knowingly at this point, but for the rest of you, liquor is what makes strip clubs work. Without it, money doesn’t exchange hands. There’s this thing called the internet, it turns out, and you can find just about any specific point of appeal for free within minutes, so to get people to spend money on titillation takes some judicious application of lubricant in the form of liquor. Taking away a strip club’s liquor license kills the strip club.

Obviously, Flashers took these ordinances as an attack, and did what any adult business would do–allied with other adult businesses and filed lawsuits in state and federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinances as attacks on the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. And truly, Mardi Gras, Main Stage/The Coronet Club, and Inserection stood tall and proud as allies in a long, stiff fight.

3. To the Window, To the Wall, To the Supreme Court.

By December 2011, neither the federal nor state court cases had reached a conclusion, and Sandy Springs was losing its patience. Sandy Springs filed a civil suit against each of the four adult businesses for habitual violations of the city’s vice ordinances. The city made its intentions clear by seeking an injunction to shut down each business for another violation. It was, as they say, on, but far from over.

Five years later, the federal suit ended with a ruling in Sandy Springs’ favor, upholding the ordinances and declaring them constitutional. The appeal affirmed the judgment. 1 Flashers and their colleagues appealed again to the Supreme Court of the United States, which declined to hear the case.

Meanwhile, the state court was singing the same song. The case was appealed all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court. 2 The city ordinances were upheld.

4. Get Low.

Inserection managed to stay open–in a related and somewhat intertwined case, Inserection managed to have a city ordinance banning the sale of sex toys overturned. 3 They are, as of this writing, still in business, and their shopping center has a new liquor store to complement Inserection’s services. So there’s that.

However, the clubs fared worse. By September 2018, the clubs had exhausted their appeals, and were forced to comply with the city ordinances after twelve years. Unable to serve alcohol, management decided that the clubs were no longer able to turn a profit and shut down. Flashers filed a federal suit against Sandy Springs for an allegedly illegal 2016 search and shutdown, but given that the club has closed, the case is academic.

Speaking of academic, now that you have the history of this case, next week we’ll go into what exactly the courts decided, and how zoning and alcohol ordinances affect First Amendment rights. Until then, sit. Stay. Speak. Good dog.

Further reading:

  1. CITY OF RENTON ET AL.v. PLAYTIME THEATRES, INC., ET AL., 475 U.S. 41 (1986) and CITY OF LOS ANGELES v. ALAMEDA BOOKS, INC., et al., 535 U.S. 425 (2002). My Property Law class managed to discuss these similar zoning-of-adult-business cases entirely in euphemisms and double entendre to protect the innocence of my classmate’s young daughter, of whom he had custody that evening.
  2. Christian Boone, “Sandy Springs suit puts strip clubs ‘on notice,'” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 15, 2011, https://www.ajc.com/news/local/sandy-springs-suit-puts-strip-clubs-notice/2nst56bD85FVFQ81Wy3o8J/.
  3. Arielle Kass, “Georgia Supreme Court hears Sandy Springs strip club case,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 05, 2018, https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/georgia-supreme-court-hears-sandy-springs-strip-club-case/o57MvFBXZARziqABTBlyuI/.
  4. Bill Rankin, “Court: Sandy Springs can ban alcohol sales at strip clubs,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 18, 2018, https://www.ajc.com/news/crime–law/court-sandy-springs-can-ban-alcohol-sales-strip-clubs/vw6x8W2ng8SrbkRtcp3SrK/.
  5. Arielle Kass, “Three strip clubs close in Sandy Springs after 12-year legal battle,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 14, 2018, https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/three-strip-clubs-close-sandy-springs-after-year-legal-battle/NBtbgdypc2AhvY3KEGBpGP/.
  6. Arielle Kass, “DEEPER FINDINGS: With nude dancing shuttered in Sandy Springs, one club fights back,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 21, 2018, https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/with-nude-dancing-shuttered-sandy-springs-one-club-fights-back/W1BPvjY7E6sfUQ4eOXqwkK/.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Law—United States Sources of Law

Hello, my wee pups, and join me for a breakdown of what I mean when I say “the law.”

We’re just covering United States federal law here, for simplicity’s sake. 1 This is purely for informational purposes and shouldn’t be construed as legal advice, and it’s an introduction at the most. They have entire grad schools just for explaining this stuff in enough depth to do anything with it.

In the United States, law comes from four primary sources: the Constitution, statutes, administrative law, and case law/common law. I’ll explain each briefly and where each party making these laws gets the right to do so, and I’ll link places you can find these laws to read for yourself.

1. The Constitution

First is the Constitution. It lays out the fundamental explicit powers of each branch of federal government and leaves the groundwork for implicit powers, as interpreted by the Supreme Court (see the section on case law below). Broadly speaking, if a government actor wants to take an action, e.g., pass a law, they have to derive the authority to do so from the Constitution, either explicitly or implicitly. In practice, this means that broadly speaking, if the Constitution or SCOTUS don’t say the federal government can do something, they can’t do it. There’s quite a lot of argument over the last two centuries over SCOTUS’ takes on implicit powers, so federal power has varied wildly over the course of its existence. The trend since the Civil War and the Great Depression has been to interpret the Constitution to allow the federal government more authority.

2. Statutes

The second body of law are statutes, as enacted by Congress. Established in Article I of the Constitution, Congress has its explicit powers did noted in article 1, section 8. I mentioned federal authority has greatly expanded as SCOTUS’s interpretation of the Constitution evolves—the understanding of what falls under the heading of “interstate commerce” and “tax” especially have expanded. 2

Federal legislation, once passed by Congress and signed or veto–overridden, is sent to the Office of the Federal Register, numbered, and published as slip law. 3 Slips are compiled at the end of each Congressional session and published as session law in the Statutes at Large. Slip and session laws are numbered and arranged chronologically in order of enactment.

Every six years, the House of Representatives’ Office of the Law Revision Counsel compiles general and permanent session law, organizes it by subject, and amends or revises the relevant Title of the United States Code. The USC is currently divided into 54 Titles by subject (with Title 53 reserved). Supplements are released annually between new additions. Not all slip and session laws are codified; private laws (as opposed to public laws) and time-limited legislation like annual budgets are not included in the USC. The United States Code is available online at uscode.house.gov or at www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text.

3. Administrative Law

Third is administrative law and regulation, as promulgated by the executive branch under the president. 4

Administrative law is the body of rules and regulations set up by an administrative body, plus any executive orders or proclamations of the president. This all comes from the executive branch, which, if you remember your Constitution, doesn’t explicitly have the ability to pass law, so they get the authority to do so either by exercising a Constitutional power granted to the president and executive branch, or through a statutory grant of the authority by Congress in what’s called an “enabling act.” 5

Once an administrative body like the EPA gets the authority to pass regulations, it does so according to the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, a statute found at 5 USC § 551–559. Part of the requirements include a notice period where proposed regulations are presented to the public to allow commentary and discussion by the people to be affected by the proposed regulation. 6

Proposed and final regulations are published for public viewing in the Federal Register, a daily publication of governmental rules, regulations, and rulings. 7

Regulations are compiled annually from the Federal Register into the Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR. 8 The CFR basically stands as the equivalent to the United States Code, but for admin law instead of statute.

Executive orders, proclamations, and Executive Office of the President regulations are also published in the Federal Register and CFR. 9

More information on a specific administrative body, including internal structure, points of contact, how to make freedom of information act request, and other information can be found through the United States Government Manual. 10 Think of it like your car’s owner’s manual—if you see certain lights or alarms going off, it should tell you who to contact to get it taken care of.

4. Case Law

The fourth source of law is case law.

Case law and common law set precedent for enforcement and interpretation of statute and administrative law through the principle of stare decisis, or standing “by that which is already decided.” 11 12

All Supreme Court precedent is mandatory for inferior courts; Court of Appeals precedent is mandatory in its own circuit and merely persuasive in another circuits. District Courts are the federal-level trial court—the entry point into the court system—and set precedent only within their own jurisdiction. All other jurisdictions may find a persuasive but not mandatory.

There are federal and state level courts, and courts of varying jurisdiction on every level, so this is extremely cursory. Case law is constantly being updated because criminal and civil courts are always full, and there are a metric truckload of courts. I’ll revisit the topic of courts, because they’re a rich topic that I can’t cover in a quarter of a post.

There are a number of paid and free sources for keeping up with case law, and holy wars have broken out among lawyers over which of the paid services is the One True Source of Case Law. 13 For everyone else, Google Scholar keeps a relatively up-to-date, free to search and view legal database. I wouldn’t trust my life to it being totally up-to-date, But for preliminary research, it’s helpful.

I threw a lot of information at you today, and there’s a lot of reading you can do after this. My goal here was not to exhaustively explain every aspect of government, but to point you in a direction where you could find out from more on your own. 14 A responsible citizen is an informed citizen.

Until next time, sit. Stay. Speak. Good dog.

Copyright Holders Can’t Tell Me What to Do!—Some Limits on the Exclusive Rights of Copyright Holders

My dogs, I return with a law post. Thanks to Sam Castree III (@indiegamelawyer on Twitter) for help researching this one.

I was asked on Twitter whether a copyright holder can keep you from selling copies of works that you bought. Basically, if you don’t own the copyright on a textbook, can the holder stop you from selling your copy?

Before we get started, my usual disclaimer applies: this is not legal advice; it’s basic information provided for an educational purpose, so I better not hear anyone relying on this post and solely this post when making any big decisions. Pay a lawyer, get specific and tailored legal advice.

That said, the Copyright Act limits a copyright holder’s exclusive rights to six specific points, enumerated in section 106. Copyright holders have the exclusive right:

  1. to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
    to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  2. to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  3. in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  4. in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  5. in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

17 U.S.C. § 106.

That’s why YouTube demonetizes videos with music and why Twitch will mute streams with music playing. If you want to broadcast a song you don’t own, you need a license. Since YouTube and Twitch don’t want to be sued for hosting your unlicensed work, they’ll shut you down proactively. Same requirement of a license applies if you want to perform a script publicly; likewise, fanfiction is out without the copyright holder’s consent.

How this plays out practically can vary wildly. Copyrights are only enforced insofar as the holder brings action to enforce them. This can range from the copyright holder sending a cease-and-desist to hiring the copyright infringer to work on the original IP.

“But Buddy, that doesn’t answer my question! I sold my old video games and textbooks—can the copyright holder stop me?”

Good thought—always question power until you find its limits. 106(3) above says that selling copies of a copyrighted work is an exclusive right of the copyright holder, right?

Actually, no. Copyright holders can’t restrict a secondary market based on copyright1.

Assuming you acquired your copy of a copyrighted work legally—you did, didn’t you?—you are allowed to sell or dispose of that copy. This is called the first-sale doctrine, codified in Section 109 of the Copyright Act; after the copyright holder transfers a copy of a work to you, they don’t have the right to prevent you from selling, donating, destroying, or otherwise desecrating that copy2. So sell your old games and textbooks, there’s nothing to stop you if you got them legally. You aren’t selling anything more than the copy you legally own3.

Incidentally, I used to work in a university bookstore, and I was one of the people working textbook returns. The company stocking the bookstore makes decisions based on advance sales for next year, new edition publication schedules, and a complex batch of local and regional sales data to determine what they’ll take back and what they won’t. The person at the desk has literally no control and no more information than you, and no ability to appeal for you. So chill. Rent ‘em if you don’t want the risk of keeping them.

If you have any questions about the law or just want to say hi, feel free to reach out on Twitter or email. Until then, sit. Stay. Speak. Good dog.

Talking Up a Blue Streak About Character Design

Buddy Goodboy here with the old art teacher hat on. I saw the poster for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie yesterday, and reaction so far has been universally negative. I’ve never seen the Sonic fandom so unanimous. The design, among its other sins—of which there are many—is busy and has a weird, off-putting silhouette.

As an exercise in concept artistry and to demonstrate the importance of a good silhouette, let’s see if we can’t do better. For the purposes of this exercise, I pretended I didn’t eat Sonic-brand Spaghetti-Os, and asked the ever-charming Boozy Badger Chat to describe Sonic for me:

  • He’s a hedgehog, and he goes really fast.
  • blue
  • And collects golden rings
  • He’s like what you get if you crossed an anime character with the American flag.
  • Or the French tricolor.
  • Cartoony
  • Very much cartoony, born of the early 90’s ATTITUDE era
  • He really doesn’t resemble a hedgehog, but still more than knuckles resembles an enchidna

Based on this feedback, I started to design a Sonic. The foundation for a really solid cartoon character is a good silhouette, so I started with a bunch of really sketchy blobs.

Some are always going to be better than others; that’s why you draw a lot. I picked four and did quick value passes to start pulling out some of the details. For a value pass, quoting my industrial design professor, “Contrast is king!” and “I want to be able to read this from across the room!” Areas of high contrast will draw the eye, allow the design to read easily, and reinforce the sense of energy we’re going for. I tried not to get lost in detail here and instead just focused on large blocks of value.

I picked two I liked best and started refining the values. Again, I sharpened the details, but the important thing is that the entire body reads well, so I bounced around from spot to spot, checking the body as a whole frequently to see how it read.

The point of this process is to show how you can get a refined design from a silhouette. The Sonic team didn’t, I don’t think, and the design reduced back to silhouette looks weird as a result.

Process video here:

My process here was based on a tutorial by the talented Merekat, Kristen Perry, of merekatcreations.com. I can’t find it online anywhere; I’ve had it saved on my hard drive since around 2009. Her Process Boot Camp is available on the Internet Archive, and I definitely recommend reading it.

Till next time, I want to be able to read those drawings from across the room! Keep drawing and sit. Stay. Speak.