Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss?

Haters gonna hate. Lovers gonna love. And BMOrg? Gonna justify their existence with an ever increasing pool of regulations.

charlie_dolman-300x215We welcome the new boss, Charlie Dolman. I’ve never been to his doof Secret Garden in the UK but everyone I know who has, describes it as the world’s best party. Personally, I’d give that to Burning Man, but they better watch their ass for Lightning in a Bottle because it is the world’s best outdoor rave. Others would beg to differ – Tomorrowland in Belgium was officially named the best party in the world at the Ultra Music Festival dance music awards in Miami this year. And a DJ friend from Australia, Stretch Papercranes recently posted some footage on Facebook of a party I really want to go to now, also in Belgium, Pukkelpop:

Charlie is a Burner, seems like he knows what’s up, maybe he can fill the void left by Opulent Temple with some of the World’s Top 100 DJs…or, more suitable to the San Francisco disco snob crowd (myself included of course), the World’s Top 100 Alternative DJs (thanks Scumfrog for posting this)

So, let him begin with the controversy. People are trying to smear Burning Man, others heralding its death; standards are being lowered, focus is being lost. Regionals are springing up, but BMOrg’s iron fist control of a brand they supposedly don’t monetize, is an impediment to the growth of this. Let alone the high cost of gasoline leading to increased costs to move art cars and art projects around the continent.

Let me show you the latest from the haters, and then I’ll follow up with some context and discussion:

How Gang Rape and Gonorrhea Came to Define the “Culture” of Burning Man

by Stephenson Billings – on Dec 3rd 2012 – 70 Comments
It started as an experiment in drugs and intellectual isolation. Out there in the Nevada desert, new age hippies gathered for a weeklong celebration. They were far away from the prying eyes of law enforcement. The values of family and community were easily discarded. Yet somewhere along the line the Burning Man festival took a far more sinister turn. It became a brutal, heinous exploration of the human psyche. Violent rape, disease and extreme perversion came to define the scene. With each passing year, new recruits traveled from all over the world to be indoctrinated in this profoundly reckless lifestyle. And now we need to acknowledge that these people are bringing their dangerous ideas and epidemic habits back into the real world. Quite simply, they’re putting normal Americans at risk.

I could devote a dozen articles to the reports of crimes committed at Burning Man. I could launch a thousand photo blogs chronicling its sickening and unsafe erotic escapades. All of that is a proven and well-known fact. What is even more troublesome today is the calculated effort by the legal team behind Burning Man to suppress the truth. They force every participant to sign over the rights to their life experiences during the weeklong festival. These people are even told they don’t own their own photographs or videos, a move that has been widely condemned as both illegal and obtuse by civil rights groups. Is this truly an intellectually defensible position to take in the internet age?

The aggressive posturing behind the Burning Man’s thin-skinned and morally bankrupt legal team reveals some interesting questions. Is this organization simply staffed by greedy shysters aiming to profit from drug-induced rapes? Do they care nothing about the spread of deadly disease that they encourage under their watch? Has hucksterism and selfishness won the day at Burning Man? Or could it be something far more despicable? Could the people behind Burning Man actually enjoy the spread of things like genital warts and gonorrhea, herpes and cervical cancer? Are they doing this intentionally, and even participating in the rapes themselves, in order to undermine the very fabric of morality in America?

Whatever the case, it’s becoming increasingly clear that no one should allow Burning Man to continue. No counties or states should give this organization permits to operate. No artists or musical acts should contribute if they honestly believe in decency and morality. No parents should ever allow their children to attend this event if they truly love them. No adults should seek out such a scene for the simple reason of their health, both mental and physical.

And finally, all effort should be made to put the Burning Man legal team and everyone else involved in this organization’s structure behind bars. Their values are not our values. Their hatred of freedom and justice and individual liberty is not just ignorant, it’s a violation of the very idea of the United States of America.

So please, next time you idiotic Burning Man lawyers send me a takedown notice for images you have no legal rights over, please keep this in mind. I could care less about your nasty hippie rape festival. 

Some have pointed out that the site is snarky to the point of sarcasm; witness their more recent post, “10 Terrible Secrets Behind the Burning Man Festival that Sodomites and Socialists Don’t Want You To Know“). However, if you read the comments, the author insists that he is being authentic. The issues raised may be exaggerated, but they do exist.

We’ve written about sexual assaults and gang violence before. They seem to be getting worse, as BMOrg tries to mutate the crowd into their own mysterious concoction. This is an area where community education is desperately needed, let’s try to prevent crime rather than hush it up.

We’ve also covered the economic restrictiveness before. BMOrg is archaicly threatening their community with lawyers – about as far to the opposite of 21st Century business thinking like “crowd-sourcing” as you can get. There is a whole economy out there – a real economy, not a magical made up “gift” economy where people with nothing mooch off wealthier people who can afford to give things of value away to strangers. This real economy of Burners should be supported by the Burning Man powers that be. Not sued by them.

This nastiness people feel towards BMOrg over copyright is nothing new, and the article makes some good points. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, founded by Mitch Kapor and John Perry Barlow, is a non-profit I support. They are like an ACLU for the digital world. You’d think Burning Man would co-operate them, instead somehow through their hippy Doctor Seuss machine of a decision making process, they came up with a policy so unique and restrictive that the EFF actually had to come out against them. If you live in the rest of the world, you might not realize the significance of a thing like this in the tech community in San Francisco. I mean, this is a small town, despite the (mostly hidden) money and global reach. Everyone’s on social networking, everyone’s plugged in, everyone knows everyone. At least half of Burners are from San Francisco and at least half either work in a technology related job or are personally tech-savvy. Burning Man has been built by the tech industry, it would be a sadly different thing without it. Burning Man listened – a bit – to the EFF, but they still impose a digital rights management policy far in excess of any other event.

I think Burners have a great opportunity to use the spread of our network to help the world make the right decisions about these issues. Who owns ideas? If I make a Burning Man logo out of duct tape and stick it to my trailer, have I really robbed from Burning Man? Have I really hurt them, in any way? Aren’t I actually giving them free advertising? What is real and what is virtual, and should they be treated the same or differently? These are important issues of our times, and Burners are plugged into the industries that are most affected by them. This is like a white collar version of the #Occupy movement. And there’s more at stake than just Burning Man – the entire regulatory environment of cyberspace, and hence the freedom of speech of the Internet, is at risk from 20th century views about copyrights.

Here’s Burner Cory Doctorow, a hero to hackers, writing at Boing Boing about the biggest thing going on in computing right now (open source hardware and manufacturing), with one of the most eloquent technology op-eds I’ve ever read in my 20+ year career in tech:

cory doctorow aliensIn the beginning, we had packaged software and we had sneakernet. We had floppy disks in ziplock bags, in cardboard boxes, hung on pegs in shops, and sold like candy bars and magazines. They were eminently susceptible to duplication, were duplicated quickly, and widely, and this was to the great chagrin of people who made and sold software.

Enter Digital Rights Management in its most primitive forms: let’s call it DRM 0.96. They introduced physical indicia which the software checked for—deliberate damage, dongles, hidden sectors—and challenge-response protocols that required possession of large, unwieldy manuals that were difficult to copy.

These failed for two reasons. First, they were commercially unpopular, because they reduced the usefulness of the software to the legitimate purchasers. Honest buyers resented the non-functionality of their backups, they hated the loss of scarce ports to the authentication dongles, and they chafed at the inconvenience of having to lug around large manuals when they wanted to run their software. Second, these didn’t stop pirates, who found it trivial to patch the software and bypass authentication. People who took the software without paying for it were untouched.

guns outlawed wonkaIn the same way, BMOrg’s rabid defense of their brand, has not led to any less promiscuous use of it by Burners and unscrupulous merchants who see an opportunity to sell to 61,000 people, but fail to understand the “sacredness” of the 10 Principles. Just like the ban on feathers has not reduced the amount of MOOP generated in Black Rock City or dumped on the sides of the highways leading out of the event; and indeed, it’s arguable whether it has had any impact on the amount of people rocking out with their feathers out on the Playa. If feathers are outlawed, then only outlaws will have feathers. And if only Burning Man can use the Burning Man logo and name for anything, how do they expect Burner culture to spring up everywhere and grow independently?

BMOrg could be more like the Borg, from Star Trek. “We will assimilate you”. This was Microsoft’s growth strategy, “embrace and extend”, usually accompanied by their marketing strategy to sow “fear, uncertainty and doubt”. Worked a treat. Some start up party trying to use the Burning Man logo in Hungary, to attract Burners? Partner with them, charge them a license fee, promote them on your web site, get their database. Not “we’re a jellyfishnon-profit, and we’re going to spend all the money donated to us on lawyers and lawsuits so we remain in control”. Can’t you see, BMOrg? These strategies of restrictions, punishments, banishment, “shunning”, all the negatives you employ, are not working. They’re not making the party better. Somehow despite overwhelming apparent demand for tickets, the party is shrinking.

Cory makes a good point about “one size fits all regulation”. If MOOP came from a car, should we ban cars? If MOOP came from a feather, should we ban feathers? Look, there’s a beer can on the Playa – better ban beer cans!

The important tests of whether or not a regulation is fit for a purpose are first whether it will work, and second whether or not it will, in the course of doing its work, have effects on everything else. If I wanted Congress, Parliament, or the E.U. to regulate a wheel, it’s unlikely I’d succeed. If I turned up, pointed out that bank robbers always make their escape on wheeled vehicles, and asked, “Can’t we do something about this?”, the answer would be “No”. This is because we don’t know how to make a wheel that is still generally useful for legitimate wheel applications, but useless to bad guys. We can all see that the general benefits of wheels are so profound that we’d be foolish to risk changing them in a foolish errand to stop bank robberies. Even if there were an epidemic of bank robberies—even if society were on the verge of collapse thanks to bank robberies—no-one would think that wheels were the right place to start solving our problems.

However, if I were to show up in that same body to say that I had absolute proof that hands-free phones were making cars dangerous, and I requested a law prohibiting hands-free phones in cars, the regulator might say “Yeah, I’d take your point, we’d do that.”

We might disagree about whether or not this is a good idea, or whether or not my evidence made sense, but very few of us would say that once you take the hands-free phones out of the car, they stop being cars.

Burning Man’s harsh and restrictive intellectual property ownership position, does not seem to bring them any benefits, and in a broader context, is an extension of the tyrannical cyber-rule that is being constructed all around us by the Man. Burners should be on the frontlines fighting against it, not rolling over and accepting it – or worse, gobbling up all the BMOrg propaganda and promoting it.

…So, our regulators go off, they blithely pass these laws, and they become part of the reality of our technological world. There are, suddenly, numbers that we aren’t allowed to write down on the Internet, programs we’re not allowed to publish, and all it takes to make legitimate material disappear from the Internet is the mere accusation of copyright infringement. It fails to attain the goal of the regulation, because it doesn’t stop people from violating copyright, but it bears a kind of superficial resemblance to copyright enforcement—it satisfies the security syllogism: “something must be done, I am doing something, something has been done.” As a result, any failures that arise can be blamed on the idea that the regulation doesn’t go far enough, rather than the idea that it was flawed from the outset.

Laws for the sake of laws, change for the sake of change. Our party was founded on anarchy; the idea of the remote desert location always suggested a sense of freedom and adventure.

So Charlie, new event director, new senior figure in the BMOrg, we call on you to loosen the reins a little and embrace and extend and empower the Burners. Let’s have real, meaningful change – new policies moving in the right direction, not just more and more rules every year. This small battle over copyright and who owns the photos we take or pose in, is a microcosm of one of the most important ones in history. As Cory Doctorow says:

We haven’t lost yet, but we have to win the copyright war first if we want to keep the Internet and the PC free and open. Freedom in the future will require us to have the capacity to monitor our devices and set meaningful policies for them; to examine and terminate the software processes that runs on them; and to maintain them as honest servants to our will, not as traitors and spies working for criminals, thugs, and control freaks.

13 comments on “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss?

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  6. There are haters, sure, but your article quotes the spoof site (maybe more accurately Snark Site) Another of their priceless headlines: ““Did You Stick This Up Your Butt?” – 7 Questions Every Parent Needs to Ask Teens.” It’s snark, not commentary. Say, did you know Kim Jong Il was voted Sexiest Man Alive?

  7. Respectfully, you don’t seem to be in possession of all the facts with respect to the Burning Man name and brand as it applies to regional events. There really aren’t that many caveats attached to an event becoming a regional burn, and those that are required aren’t that onerous. Very common sense things like have insurance, have permits, have a safety plan, adhere to the ten principles, demonstrate that you have your shit together, etc. Those events that have sought official status and that have demonstrated the appropriate level of responsibility have been given it. Events that I am personally aware of that have had the intellectual property hammer dropped in them – and it is rare – were using the Burning Man name to market to a captive audience and promoting extremely rather dodgy events.

    Full disclosure – I am a regional contact. However, I have no vested interest in blindly defending the Org or setting up a Kool-Aid™ stand, nor am I currently seeking official status for an event in my regional area.

    Rev. Zed

    • burning man used to be an extremely rather dodgy event. but thanks to our new overlords everything is safe and secure and all the risks of danger have been removed.

    • Seriously, what the hell are you talking about burnersxxx? The photo policy sucks, but the logo policy ( is not the photo policy. Read the Trademarks and Gifting section especially. Putting a duct tape logo on your vehicle is fine. Printing items (for gifting) with the logo is fine. Using the phrase or logo on your camp’s website is fine. The only restriction I could see causing problems for people is using the logo in conjunction with a camp fundraiser (which IS commercial activity). My local regional group prints beer coozies, T-shirts and stickers for gifting with our logo on them (our logo incorporates the Man). The stickers are intended for “marketing”. We use our logo on our website ( Maybe we’re in violation of BMORG policy. Are you going to turn us in?

      Cite some real cases where BMORG has sued people for logo usage. I don’t think there are any (where usage wasn’t blatatly commercial). Getting official status for a regional isn’t a big deal, and BMORG won’t stop you if you want to throw a burn without seeking official status (OK, maybe you’ll have problems if you organize a for-profit Burnapaloozastock). I can think of at least 3 groups that throw several multi-day burn events a year, where only one is an “official” regional burn. Transformus lost official status for awhile, but BMORG didn’t shut down the event.

      For all their faults, BMORG is not putting up huge barriers to the growth of the regionals.

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