LIB 2012 Report: Bigger and Better than Ever

Just recovering from an epic weekend in Southern California. The DoLab once again proved that they are King of All Festivals, with an excellent, extremely well organized event – the word on the grass was, a real contrast from the chaos of the previous weekend’s Burning Man rival, Symbiosis Gathering at Pyramid Lake. Everyone was blown away by the attention to detail. Don’t just take my word for it – here’s the Huffington Post concurring and telling Burning Man to wake up and take a lesson from the Do Lab.

The crowd was much larger than last year, and the event was totally sold out by Sunday. The Lucent Temple of Consciousness was outstanding, with some very interesting speakers. Hang out there and you get your mind expanded. They also had a market, and a large number of yoga and mediation enthusiasts. And once again, Lucent Dossier Experience killed it with an enthusiastically received set on the Lightning Stage.

Jan Hilmer Designs. We spotted Skrillex chilling on one of these robots

The markets were at least double the size of last year, I would estimate more than 100+ vendors. Some of the vendors must have done well last year, because they were back with larger stalls, domes, sound systems and light shows. The range and quality of merchandise on offer was fantastic, and a lot of people got their shopping in for Burning Man outfits.

There were still plenty of hippies, even though money was allowed. I couldn’t tell how the food and art vendors lowered the vibe of the party in any way. There was even the Hug Deli from Burning Man, which looked like it was piloted by Pink-Haired Playa Preacher Halcyon. In general, most of the people I spoke to knew of Burning Man or had been to it, but weren’t going this year, and weren’t very enthusiastic about it. Maybe a difference between an LA/Orange County crowd and the San Francisco crowd. At times LIB felt very much like Burning Man, with RVs and tents and domes everywhere, bikes and EL wire, half-naked body painted people, great music and atmosphere. It’s not the same without the art cars and flame throwers, and there’s something to be said for the “controlled chaos” of the Black Rock City experience. Having said that, there’s not that many other elements that were lacking. We certainly didn’t miss any of the 10 Principles. There were kids running around, there were even darktards – people camping on the dance floor in camo onesies.

Another great element of the festival was art. There were 24 art installations specifically set up by LIB, plus all the art that was created during the event, as well as many galleries with works on display. Some paintings were offered for more than $20,000, although to my own eyes there was better value and art skills available if you looked around a little.

The music, while often excellent, in general left a lot to be desired. Last year I thought the base sound of the event was dubstep, this year it was progressive house. Now don’t get me wrong – Nick Warren is great – but there is a time and a place for this kind of sound. Like, driving your car up to Lake Tahoe. Or, 2pm on Saturday afternoon, when you want to wake trippers up from their slumber in their tent or under a tree, and slowly coax them out in the direction of the dance floor. By the time the party is cranking and the dance areas are packed, we want to hear bass, vocals, and progression. Not chilled out deep tones, where you build up to a breakdown then fizzle into yet another techy riff.

If you MUST play progressive, then maybe have one stage dedicated to it. Same with dubstep.  Progressive on every stage, late at night, does not make a rocking party. Likewise all dubstep, all the time, is too much, even for the most ardent fans – there are just not that many songs! A party where every stage is a chillout zone, is not a rocking party either. You need beats, man, hard thumping beats. As well as all the other noises. Start slow, maybe 120 bpm, build it up, then bang it out relentlessly at 150+ once everyone gets cranking. Round off some hard beats with morning trance at sunrise. That has always seemed the winning formula to me, in 15 years or so of going to these parties around the world. It worked for the best gigs I’ve seen at Burning Man, Carl Cox – Christopher Lawrence – Dutch at Opulent Temple, or Paul Oakenfold’s 8 hour set to 50 people at the Stonehenge. All the best DJ’s in the world can’t be wrong!

There were a lot of acts at LIB with live instruments or performances (which is good), but in between setting the acts up they would stick the prog on. Perhaps they just cut to the Woogie stage each time, it did have its own FM station. Great that it left something to dance to, so the large crowds didn’t have to disperse from the main stage areas, but the end of the result was a lot of music everywhere that sounded the same without many highlights. We were always walking around looking for where the good music was – and in general, we did find it. They’d be better to pre-make a LIB Soundtrack album for each stage and have that playing in the breaks.

At LIB, the best music we caught was DJ Laura (one half of Lowriderz, with An-ten-nae) and DJ Minnesota on the Bamboo stage. Both played a great mix of hip-hop, electro, glitch, and dubstep. Every track had vocals. From what we hear DJ Laura’s sunrise set at the Temple on Monday morning was the piece de resistance of Lightning In A Bottle 2012.

Minnesota killed it with this dubstep remix of my favorite Biggie track, Juicy.

Bass Nectar rocked it as usual on the Lightning Stage, the amount of bass coming up through the dirt was quite phenomenal. Shpongle was good, but without the Shpongletron stage set up they had at last year’s Coachella, some of the impact of the show was lost.

Gooch Apparel Launch Party, Newport Beach

We may have been spoiled a bit for music after sneaking out of LIB on Saturday to go to the Gooch Apparel launch party in Newport Beach, followed by a tsunami of a VIP after party at Avalon nightclub in Hollywood: Wippenberg opening for a 4-hour live set from Cosmic Gate, featuring Emma Hewitt, Jes, and Cary Brothers . Cosmic Gate are on a world tour right now, and only did 3 gigs in the US with rising singing sensation Emma Hewitt from Melbourne, Australia. Cosmic Gate never disappoint, they are probably the best trance act in the world (sorry Tiesto and Armin!) There were no giant “Cosmic Gate” signs flying around everywhere behind them…the crowd knew exactly who they were there to see. Seeing them with 3 different live vocal acts, and a dance floor packed wall to wall with foam glowsticks was amazing. Wippenberg is certainly of a high enough standard to open for them, and they have done a number of awesome remixes together. One of the best concerts of my life. If there’s any chance you can get to Ayia Napa, Cyprus on July 7 you can see this show again, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can also catch Cosmic Gate at EDC Vegas. Thanks to Butch and Jesse at Gooch Apparel and RJ and McKenzie from Anderson Mobile Estates for sponsoring another Burners.Me LA adventure!

Burning Man Off-Playa: Commonwealth Club interviews Larry Harvey

Burning Man’s founder Larry Harvey speaks to the Commonwealth Club in 2011. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking interview. The interviewer knows how to offer the tiniest possible amount of prompting, to elicit great responses from Larry. The audience seem spellbound, and Larry’s on fire compared to his form in Washington.

Sure, at times this blog has been critical of the BMOrg. Hell, we have a whole category dedicated to snarky posts: our Complaints Department. This is not just complaints for their own sake, or to stir up Web traffic – we feel that improvement is unlikely to happen without continually re-testing the underlying assumptions. AKA “a squeaky wheel gets a greasing”.

Let it be said on record that we consider the founders of this event to be amazing people, who have contributed an enormous amount to the world, and deserve the  gratitude of all Burners. We extend that to all the founders, including all the Burners who made the art and made the experiences and created the party. Especially those who are not professional artists, but somehow this forum has encouraged them to express themselves artistically anyway. In a multi-disciplinary fashion, as Larry discusses here.

Watch this interview and you’ll realize that this is someone pretty special in the world.

Of course, giving BMOrg some props doesn’t mean that we have changed our position that Burning Man should embrace change, remix as times go on, and broaden the community, rather than “we innovated once, now let’s maintain the status quo forever and keep it small and exclusive for a hundred years”.

To me, the one thing that stood out the most from the whole interview was this (in discussion of BMOrg’s new Market St headquarters):

“We know something about making urban environments vital. We plan to do some radical things, and given the present political mood, people are open to new ideas. That’s true across the country. Burners are being invited to come into the centers of various cities right now. Of course, the usual pattern, the artists are invited in, then as soon as things get better, they are escorted out.”

Downtowns were destroyed. Ghettoized. Crack was sent in, thugs and hookers started appearing on street corners. Windows were smashed, then barred, then smashed again. Graffiti was tagged over graffiti, trash piled up in the streets. Then, slowly, over decades, the derelict ghettos were rebuilt. Artists came in, and with them, the gays. The warehouses became lofts, the crackhouses became bath houses. The gays brought the hot girls. Models, stylists, waitresses, clubbers. The advertising and magazine industry. Art begets fashion, which begets “edgy” wealthy patrons. The gays have more money (and better drugs), the art patrons have more money, all this attracted the hot young talent wanting to be in the “scene”. The presence of these ingredients brought the cool straights, the pioneers not afraid to venture out into alien territory on the hunt for strange prey. The more popular the scene became, the more cool these straights thought they were. They boasted to their friends, of a fairy land of art and models. “In the ghetto?” their friends retorted, only to learn the ghetto was changing. It was now the Place To Be. The straights brought other straights, pioneers and early adopters for the mainstream. The newspapers started writing about it. It started to get mentioned in newspapers in other towns, in travel guides. Slowly, the area crossed the chasm and then sports stars and Reality TV “celebrities” were sighted there. Most of the artists and queens moved on, just as the crackheads and bums had before them. Real estate values changed from the lowest per square foot, to encroaching on the highest. Gentrification was complete.

This has been occuring over the last few decades in the Downtown LA Theater District, New York’s meat packing district, Detroit; in San Francisco, it has happened in SOMA, you can see it going on in the Mission, and Burning Man and the Mayor are trying to do it in the Tenderloin. Their new offices are at 8th and Market – historically, not a great part of town, but transforming rapidly under Chinese Mayor Ed Lee.

We’re not knocking gentrification – at Burners.Me we are all for evolution and continuous improvement. We’ll take the arty gay scene full of models over the ghetto full of crackheads, any day. If Burning Man is the thing to transform a ghetto into hipster utopia, we’re all for it.

Interviewer: “Are you getting the Twitter deal?”

Larry: “Yes we are. We’ve founded a new non-profit, the Burning Man project”

The 10-story skyscraper he mentioned was Vertical Camp. B*A*D* A*S*S.

I want to camp with these guys! Dust storms and Category 3 winds be damned. If you’ve never experienced the view of Burning Man from altitude, I highly recommend it. To me the coolest Art Car ever was this one:

photo by SeraphimC

Although I have to say Dancetronauts gives them a red hot run for their money with their scissor-lift spaceship with thumping sound system/sexy dancers trailer pod…
Back to highlights from the hour with Larry:
“At a certain point in a community when everyone is giving, people begin to have experiences that are simply revelatory, they begin to feel that their life is filled with meaning. They begin to feel that they’re in touch with that unconditional reality which perhaps in their youth they identified as life’s goal, when they thought the world might be like their family, and then later discovered it wasn’t.
It creates this world which is saturated with meaningful encounter. And it seems to have been contagious because people now for years have left our event and they’ve gone back to the world and they weren’t willing to stop being that way, they continued to do those activities; they didn’t go to a festival and sate their appetite, they went to a festival and came back trying to change the world. And that’s why we started this Burning Man Project, we think there’s a lot we can do together.
…Try living for 8 days without buying or selling or listening to an ad. And then tell yourself ‘I’m going to give things to people’. See what that’s like, it’s quite remarkable the effect it has. “

The guy is a sage, that’s for sure. And he speaks pretty humbly, all things considered.

[if] we’re gonna to moderate the appetite of the consumer society, which is going to destroy us, then we have to find satisfactions in life that don’t require high levels of consumption…and then there’s what Coco Chanel said: the best things in life are priceless, but the next best things cost a lot of money”

The interviewer hits him straight away with “yes, but…coffee and ice”. I would also say “yes but, RV service, tow trucks, charter flights, Temple Burn seating“. Not to mention camp dues. Larry’s response:

“The ice is obvious, it’s a public health issue, there’s no refrigeration, you need to preserve foodstuffs. [umm, potable water in the desert isn’t a public health issue?]

“the coffee, we needed a civic plaza, we looked for an attractant”. [umm, free coffee, water and ice would be a great attractant.]

“We’re not doing it to make money, we lose money. We did it for the sake of public interaction and to create a civic environment that led to communal feelings”. [I call bullshit. Check out the lines at Center Camp, coffees are $5.25 and staff are volunteers. The official BMOrg position is that they feed their crew with the coffee profits and donate the ice profits to local villages]

…We sell it, radical self reliance is one of the values.”

(yes but, we’ve used this image a few times!)

…WTF – Larry you’re losing me with this argument. If you care about the safety and well-being of the community, then meet the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You should sell water, food, lights, condoms, blankets, sunblock, and yurts. Oh, and toilet paper and hand sanitizer – anyone ever been in a Portapotty on Sunday, when everything has gone?

Meet the most basic needs of the community. Provide somewhere that people can go to in the case of emergency, or that the darktards can visit without feeling foolish. Maybe in the Burner Strike dungeon. The problem with line drawing is it’s a slippery slope – who draws the lines, and if you’re excluded, what can you do to be included? If you draw the line, then turn a blind eye when your colleagues and friends cross it,  it will breed resentment in the people towards the hypocrisy of their leaders.

Does “radical self reliance” mean it’s fine to be a darktard, as long as you survive? Methinks, not. “Lift your game, dickhead!” would be the Burners.Me suggestion. We prefer radical inclusion, find a way to embrace what the diverse factions within the community want, instead of playing whack-a-mole chasing sinners against the cult. But if they’re acting in a less than optimal way, there should be some social conventions, perhaps even a camp or two, where we can give them a chance to learn and choose to remake themselves as a true Burner, cognizant of the consequences of their actions. They can be reformed as a Former Darktard, and spread the light to Virgins.

“What did Emerson say? A specious consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.


…”To the extent that Art has spiritual work, it contemplates the unknown. TV shows, sitcoms, ads, look for the unknown you won’t find it. Art is about what is unknown, what must emerge from us, and what must be found by us, and discovered. So art is a wonderful breeder of that, because often times people are doing things that in fact are on a frontier of some kind, no-one ever did this, they go well beyond any industry standard you can think of. There’s something about the culture we’ve originated that’s radically cross-disciplinary”.

Boom! Larry on fine form. He also has insightful things to say about the “one-upmanship” of the neighbors that Burning Man encourages, something acutely rife amongst wealthy egotistical tech nerds. In a healthy, positive way – as I wrote that last sentence, I was visualizing this amazing art car (I think from 2007’s The Green Man):

Towards the end of the interview, it all starts to go a bit fuzzy. Larry brings in a Citizen Kane self-reference. Is he saying there’s a Freudian reason for Burning Man – he did it all to get laid? That motivation for innovation seems to have worked pretty well for Mark Zuckerberg (anyone know if is he a Burner?)

…”My partners and I are thinking beyond our lifetimes, it is a bit of a legacy project…if you do that it makes you think differently about the present. What will make something that durable? What will keep it alive that long?… It doesn’t sound like hubris to imagine an entire century at all. And now we’re in a position of founding an institution that will house and generate culture and function as a community, and wondering how we can ensure that it won’t be perverted and it won’t be subject to internal divisions…it won’t perish”

Simpsons creators play tuba on the Playa

Great challenge. I mean it – a truly cutting edge, intellectual and sociological challenge. An historical challenge, even. So why not use the technology of the 21st Century that San Francisco  leads the world in – such as Social Media, crowdsourcing, big data, advanced mathematics, Creative Commons – to tap into the intellect of the 350,000 strong Burner community, which includes pretty much all the people who created those technologies? The Burner community includes people like Matt Groening and George Meyer, Elon Musk, Google, and David Chiu. You want to really leave a legacy? Make the phenomenal idea you had (or should I say, “inherited” from the Cacophony Society) your legacy: “the people make the party”. For sure, you created the context, you took the risks and managed the logistics and you got the authorities on side. You fought the legal battles and the Law Enforcement Officers, you lobbied the politicans and created innovative ticketing systems and doled out some Art Grants along the way. But don’t discount the contributions of tens, even hundreds of thousands of Burners over 25+ years. They had to do many of those things too. OK, we get that you made the party by picking the themes, creating the context, banking the money. Finding the insurance company to underwrite this – I’m sure no easy task.

So after all that, you’re going to make the legacy too. Fair enough – it’s your right, as founder and owner of “That Thing In The Desert” – but we encourage you to consider the bigger picture, the highest realization of your Self, a selfless legacy that truly Gives. The gift (to Burners, to Art, to humanity) that keeps on giving.

Maybe at this point I’m losing some of you who’ve managed to read this far. Well, from about 50:00 into this interview, Larry’s lost me. WTF, again. Is this the voice of a prophet, and my own ignorance prevents me from following along with his train of thought? Maybe I’ve just had one too many noisy art cars parked next to me while sleeping on the Playa. The raver’s curse…

The Law of the Desert

With all this talk of law suits we thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the legal history of Burning Man.

The issues the community is dealing with today, have come up before. Most significantly, in 2007, one of the original founders of Burning Man, a man appropriately named John Law, sued to make the Burning Man trademark open source and free for Burners to use under a Creative Commons Copyleft License.

Now 48, the former Cacophony Society leader who used to host dance parties in Laundromats, scale the Golden Gate Bridge at night and crash the Chronicle holiday party with a posse of 100 Santas now wants the name Burning Man and its logo released to the public so anybody can use it.

If that’s not possible, Law wants to collect on the creative capital he put into Burning Man — whatever a judge determines it’s worth.

“If Burning Man is really a movement, the name should belong to everyone, not three guys who don’t get along anymore,” Law said.

Read more:

The BMOrg’s response? Fight back. Hard. In court and on the Internet. Retain control of the trademark at all costs. Squeeze this guy out with nothing.

This is the Burning Man trademark today:

US Trademark 78215401, Registration # 2813051

On Saturday, February 15, 2003, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for BURNING MAN by BLACK ROCK CITY, LLC, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94124. The USPTO has given the BURNING MAN trademark serial number of 78215401. The current federal status of this trademark filing is SECTION 8-ACCEPTED. The correspondent listed for BURNING MAN is Terry Gross of Gross Belsky Alonso LLP, 180 Montgomery Street, Suite 2200, San Francisco CA 94104 . The BURNING MAN trademark is filed in the category of Education and Entertainment Services . The description provided to the USPTO for BURNING MAN is ORGANIZING COMMUNITY FESTIVALS FEATURING A VARIETY OF ACTIVITIES, NAMELY, LIVE MUSIC, ART DISPLAYS, AND PARTICIPATORY GAMES; CONDUCTING ENTERTAINMENT EXHIBITIONS IN THE NATURE OF ART FESTIVALS; AND ENTERTAINMENT IN THE NATURE OF ART FESTIVALS.

So unless you’re organizing a community art festival, you’re not in violation of their trademark if you use the words “Burning Man” somewhere. You can even use the words in the context of a community festival, because there’s such a thing as fair use.

BRC though, might think differently, and might sue yo’ ass:

In an international lawsuit BRC was also victorious. In 2008 a European company applied for and received a French trademark called “Burning Man” that it used to market clothing. Although different industries can have the same trademark there are certain requirements when doing so. One such requirement is that a trademark cannot be used if a reasonable consumer would be misled into thinking that the two trademarks are indeed one in the same

Then again, if you’re the Google guys, they might turn a blind eye.

In 2009, Burning Man was chastized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for legal sleight of hand in their Terms and Conditions, which force you to give many rights up to them:

Those Terms and Conditions include a remarkable bit of legal sleight-of-hand: as soon as “any third party displays or disseminates” your photos or videos in a manner that the Burning Man Organization (BMO) doesn’t like, those photos or videos become the property of the BMO. This “we automatically own all your stuff” magic appears to be creative lawyering intended to allow the BMO to use the streamlined “notice and takedown” process enshrined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to quickly remove photos from the Internet.

The BMO also limits your own rights to use your own photos and videos on any public websites, (1) obliging you to take down any photos to which BMO objects, for any reason; and (2) forbidding you from allowing anyone else to reuse your photos (i.e., no licensing your work no matter what is depicted, including Creative Commons licensing, and no option to donate your work to the public domain).

Moreover, the Burning Man Terms and Conditions also strip attendees of their trademark fair use rights. The ticket terms forbid any use of Burning Man trademarks on any website, which means that ticket-holders can’t label their photos “Burning Man 2009” or even use the words “Burning Man” on their Facebook walls or Twitter updates.

The Rule of Law is something imposed on everyone in the Default World, by Courts. It is different from the 10 Principles of Burning Man, particularly “Decommodification”, which tries to keep the Burning Man name sacred to preserve Gifting. This is why it’s hard for Burning Man to punish Krug – they didn’t break any laws in the Default World. That’s why Playa Pranking is a more appropriate and feasible response.

Burning Man’s current Registered Trademark superseded an earlier service mark, owned by Paperman, LLC. This was allowed to lapse, registered again, allowed to lapse again. A real mess.

John Law filed suit in 2007 to protect the mark for the community. According to his defenders, he was forced to do this, because he was named in a dispute between Larry Harvey and Michael Mikel (who now goes by the name Danger Ranger).

John himself tried to pass it off as somewhere between a Cacophony Society prank, and a movement for freedom:

Burning Man was built by misfits who spent more time mocking old traditions than building new ones. In years past, Law has joined fake protests against the movie Fantasia, dressed up as a clown to ride San Francisco buses, and hopped on a cable car naked. Law’s suit, he claims, is a challenge to anyone who would take Burning Man seriously. “That’s my prank; that’s my gift,” he says. “They need to poke some fun at themselves.”

To his detractors, he was just after the money, and using community ownership of the mark as a distraction. Some argued that community ownership of the mark would be bad for the community – this is the “only Big Brother BMOrg knows what’s good for you” argument.

From LaughingSquid:

Here’s the original Burning Man service mark that was owned by Larry Harvey, John Law, and Michael Mikel. It was filed in August 1994,  registered on September 12, 1995, canceled on July 20, 2002 and then later assigned to Paper Man LLC in 1997.

Burning Man service mark

Here’s the current Burning Man service mark that was assigned to Paper Man, allowed to expire then re-filed in February 2003, and registered again to Paper Man, LLC on February 10, 2004.

Burning Man service mark

For more background on John Law’s involvement with Burning Man, check out Brian Doherty’s excellent book “This Is Burning Man”. It provides some great insight on what really went down during the volatile 1996 event and it’s aftermath, which lead to John leaving the organization.

FactoryJoe has a great piece where he compares this to issues facing Open Source software communities.

What’s so interesting and didactic about this controversy is that it embodies, on a grand scale, the kind of micro-controversies that open source communities have faced for a long time around intellectual property and trademark matters.

On the one hand, you have the folks from , the ones who put on the event, fearing corruption and abuse by commercial interests:

…about the idea raised in the lawsuit of putting the Burning Man name and image in the public domain. While the concept is interesting, the reality is that we’ve been fighting attempts by corporations to exploit the Burning Man name almost since the first day we set foot on the playa. Making Burning Man freely available to individuals who would only use it to make money would go against everything all of us have worked for over the years. We will not let that happen.

On the other side, you’ve got folks, like John Law who filed the lawsuit, willing to embrace the chaos, as we often say, and let the market and — more importantly — the community — decide the brand’s fate (given certain conditions):

Burning Man belongs to everyone.

Burning Man is the sum of the efforts of the tens of thousands of people who have contributed to making Burning Man what it is.

The name Burning Man and all attendant trademarks, logos and trade dress do not belong to Larry Harvey alone or to Black Rock City LLC.

If they don’t belong to anyone, they belong to the public domain. If they are in the public domain, the event can still go on and the trademarks, logos and trade dress can still be used. But the event organizers don’t own those things and each and every one of the event participants are free to use these things as they want without permission or interference from the event organizers. There’s nothing to stop the party from being as big and wild as ever.

Then, of course, there are the corporate and commercial interests, who see a huge opportunity to capitalize on the value, reputation and attention-getting that the brand has generated over the years, who, according to reporter Steven T. Jones, envision MTV coverage, a burner clothing line from the Gap, Girls Gone Wild at Burning Man, billboards with Hummers driving past the Man, and other co-optations by corporations looking for a little countercultural cachet.

From Tribe

A lawyer and burner who actually read through Law’s filing pointed out that his filing contradicts his public statement. The legal filing would essentially allow Law to make money off of BM. 

“However in the relief section of his legal complaint he asks the 
court to transfer ownership of the Burning Man trademarks from Burning 
Man LLC to a Limited partnership of which he’d own 1/3. He then asks 
that BM LLC have to pay “fair market license fee” to continue to use 
the name and his “share of fair market licensing fee for all past *un 
compensated and under-compensated* uses of the terms “Burning Man” 
Decompession” “Blck Rock City” and “Flambe Lounge” “. Which, it seems 
to me means he wants BM LLC to pay him a fee based on what they *could 
have charged* for Use of the BM name. (by his estimation 300,000 to 
$100,000,000 for the 2006 burn alone)” 

Whatever the reasons, Law is trying to get paid. He has filed for financial relief for the percieved damages which are probably well in excess of whatever he put into it.

Law himself, to the Guardian:

If it’s a real fucking movement, they can give up control of the name, Law told the Guardian in the first interview he has given about Burning Man in years. If it’s going to be a movement, great. Or if it’s going to be a business, then it can be a business. But I own a part of that.

He maybe did get paid in the end: they settled out of court, for an undisclosed sum. Here’s the summation from Afterburn 2008:

The John Law lawsuit was settled in 2008. While all involved parties agreed that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential, as is common in settlement agreements, suffice to say that the court agreed with BRC and dismissed John Law’s complaint for failure to state a valid claim.

Here’s that dismissal.

More from the 2007 Afterburn report:

The arrangement was a bit awkward, what with PaperMan owning the trademark and Black Rock City producing the event—especially since Harvey and Mikel were on the boards of both organizations. Law was only on the PaperMan board. Other Black Rock City board members had no ownership interests in the Burning Man trademark. The arrangement met its purpose in ensuring that the Man burned each year, but the awkwardness eventually spawned the aforementioned lawsuit.

The first phase of the litigation resulted in the Court disqualifying Law’s attorney for having a conflict of interest, since he had represented both Harvey and Mikel back when they had been in a partnership with Law. In the next phase, the court granted Black Rock City, LLC’s Motion to Dismiss Law’s complaint, since the allegations showed no proof that Black Rock City, LLC had done anything wrong since it had a legal right to use the trademark. That still left the litigation against PaperMan, Harvey and Mikel, as well as the awkward arrangement that brought everyone to court in the first place. The final phase resulted in a confidential settlement between all parties, whereby Black Rock City bought the Burning Man trademark from PaperMan, in exchange for Law dropping his claims against the other parties.

Another key lawsuit was when a Burner fell into the main fire. Perhaps he wanted to be a Burner just a little bit too much for his own good? Rather than regretting his stupidity, or merely being glad to be alive, he decided to sue Burning Man:

Anthony Beninati, a real estate manager from Los Angeles, was badly burned at the September 2005 event in Black Rock City, Nev. He was making his third visit to the weeklong festival, which ends with the torching of a 60-foot wood sculpture.

Once the Burning Man topples, some participants throw objects into the bonfire. Beninati approached with the photo of a friend who had recently died in a motorcycle accident. He walked 7 to 10 feet into the burning embers, with flames on either side of him, threw in the photo, took a few more steps forward, then tripped – over a hidden obstacle, he said – and fell into the fire. He was badly burned on his hands and legs and was airlifted to a hospital.

Beninati’s suit accused Black Rock City LLC, the San Francisco-based promoter, of negligently allowing people to approach the fire without safe pathways.

He lost his case, and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court…who kicked it out, unanimously:

In a June 30 ruling, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said anyone who takes part in an event with obvious dangers – downhill skiing, mountain climbing or walking up to a bonfire – knowingly risks injury.

“The risk of falling and being burned by the flames or hot ash was inherent, obvious and necessary to the event,” the court said in a 3-0 decision that upheld a judge’s dismissal of the suit.

Read more:

The 2009 Afterburn report says that this case established an important legal precedent, that the disclaimer on Burning Man’s tickets works to absolve them of responsibility for anything that happens on the Playa:

The Beninati decision is now established precedent that the notorious waiver on the back of Burning Man tickets holds up in court, “YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISK OF PROPERTY LOSS, PERSONAL INJURY, SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH, WHICH MAY OCCUR BY ATTENDING BURNING MAN.” And the law is in line with the “Ten Principles of Burning Man.” Radical Self-Reliance encourages participants to take personal responsibility for their individual choices. Not only is this a foundational pillar of our community, it’s the law.

An earlier case occurred when the makers of Girls Gone Wild style videos made 12 videos at Burning Man. A lot of innocently naked hotties, suddenly found themselves accidental porn stars. Did any of them sign releases? Or assist with releases? These are the questions I would bring to the likes of Christopher Ligori & Associates, if I was a hot girl that suddenly became an actress of the night, without me knowing.

From CNN:

This self-expression takes the form of art, song, dance, theater — and nudity. And where there’s public nudity, there are bound to be cameras. 

Enter Voyeur Video. For the past three years, the company has been filming nude women at the festival and selling the videotapes on its Web site. The organizers of Burning Man call this trespassing, trademark infringement and invasion of privacy, among other offenses, and they’re suing the company. They accuse Voyeur of distributing “pornography and sexually explicit videos” while saying that Burning Man is a “social and spiritual event,” according to court documents.

Voyeur’s president, however, sees no harm in what his company does and does not consider it pornography.

“We just shoot what goes on. Just a bunch of happy naked videos,” said the president, Jim O’Brien, a 40-year-old Los Angeles resident and self-described nudist. “Consider us a news company.”

Voyeur Video, which O’Brien founded in 1989, currently offers 12 Burning Man videos at $29.95 each. The tapes — sold on Voyeur’s Web site alongside such titles as “Kinky Nude Beach Day” and “Springbreak Stripoffs” — show naked women being painted, dancing and taking group showers, while the cameramen make comments like “Man, this is like Playboy,” according to the suit.

This SFWeekly article looks into Burning Man’s legal issues in some depth. Although it’s almost 10 years old, it’s still just as relevant today – highlighting how little things change at Burning Man.

For Burning Man organizers, not wanting the event to be widely portrayed as a rave or Mardi Gras is hardly a matter of aesthetics; stories that paint Burning Man as a big party scene jeopardize its hard-won, cordial relationship with local Nevada government and law enforcement officials — and, therefore, its very existence. Though Burning Man brings cash into Reno and the tiny towns of Gerlach and Empire that sit on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, the festival is still viewed suspiciously by many locals.

“These people, they look different. The onus is on them to, you know, they’re going to be scrutinized,” says Joanne Bond, a county commissioner for Washoe County, through which participants drive and shop on their way to Burning Man. “You can’t have purple hair and not stand out.”

“I have people make comments all the time about Burning Man, and their perception is driven by media coverage,” says Sheriff Ron Skinner of Pershing County, where the event is held. “I think the media has focused on the party atmosphere of Burning Man rather than the art aspects of it. And I think that those people looking to that type of atmosphere have flocked to Burning Man.”

Although they might have won the lawsuits, BMOrg haven’t solved any of these underlying  problems. The bigger the city gets, the more these types of issues will crop up. Especially if every year, 40% of the crowd are Virgins. What can we learn from the legal problems of the past, to take with us into the future?

Black Rock City, LLC is in the process of passing the reins of control and ownership of the party to a new, non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation – the Burning Man Project.

It would be easy for them to raise money by taxing Plug-n-Play camping. And by licensing their mark for off-Playa use in approved events (such as the Regionals. How do you spread Burner culture via Regional events, if they’re not allowed to use the name “Burning Man” at Community Events? There needs to be a mechanism. Maybe Fertility 2.0 means 2 worlds, but one is outside the Playa, and one in the Playa. In the Playa, no brand names. Outside the Playa, it’s OK to see the Burning Man logo at a Regional. Or on the side of someone’s car. Or even (gasp!) on a t-shirt or at a camp fundraiser.

If the non-profit helps the world, then this behavior helps the world because it provides the funds to keep the non-profit Gifting its profits away. It even supports a bloated staff on the payroll of the non-profit, doing who knows what for the 51 weeks of the year that aren’t Burning Man. Paying lawyers from a charity, and keeping everything “exclusive”, helps no-one. Indeed, the world is in desperate need of warriors for justice.

Embrace it, and everyone can benefit and profit from it. Resist it, and you will be fighting more in the future, not less. More Regionals, more Virgins, more media, more problems. How much of the non-profit’s donations will go towards legal fees defending their marks in an increasingly desparate game of whack-a-mole is something we will find out in the future.