Burners Versus The Man

Last week we posted some aerial photos of Burning Man. The post was not very popular, being viewed only about 1300 times in total – most other posts here get ten times more views than that in a day. Perhaps Burners are all subscribers to Business Insider, and are reacting to the over-saturated coverage that rag has provided about our event.

Jim Urquhart

Jim Urquhart

The photos were taken by Jim Urquhart, a 3-time Burner who works under contract with Thomson Reuters. On August 8, 2012, Jim came to our Facebook page and said this about the cover photo we display (in which the Reuters copyright was acknowledged):

Jim Urquhart @sam bissell- I shot this pic last year while on assignment for Reuters. Here is a link to it.http://straylighteffect.com/2011/10/burning-man-2011/ I will be back again this year to cover the Burn.

The photos were published in Business Insider. We provided links to both publications, and credited the photos to both the photographer and Reuters. We quoted some of the words from Jim’s blog, and gave him some props. The links to the photos loaded them from the Business Insider site.

It seems this was not good enough. Reuters makes money selling their photos to magazines like Business Insider. And Burning Man’s photo policy is suddenly meaningless, just like how Google is allowed to make all the money they want off any Burning Man videos people post to their wholly-owned subsidiary YouTube.

That’s right Burners. Want to use a photo taken at Burning Man for your camp fundraiser? Want to use the words “Burning Man”? No way. Want to link to someone else’s YouTube video on your Art Car web site? No way. Want to take photos of the event we make, and sell them to anyone you can? That’s perfectly fine, as long as you’re a big corporation with a big legal department. Want to make a movie about Burning Man? That’s perfectly fine, as long as you pay BMOrg. Want to do a Vogue or Town and Country glamour shoot? That’s perfectly fine, as long as you pay BMOrg $150,000.

What’s the big deal? Are Reuters losing money from our free blog, which discusses stories published by others on the Internet? Don’t they have enough money already? How much do they really need to milk out of Burning Man – and how can Burners.Me promoting their coverage hurt that cash cow?

Who actually owns the Business Insider photos? Is it them, because they pay Reuters? Is it Burning Man, because their photo policy states that they own the copyright?

Jim Bourg

Jim Bourg

According to the Editor of Reuters, Burner Jim Bourg, it’s Thomson Reuters. They’re free to make as much money off Burning Man as they like from their photos.

He’s a fan of Burners.Me, but not so much that he wants to share photos with Burners. You’ll have to go to his customers for that.

I would expect that you have A LOT of options for free photos of the Burn. There are PLENTY of Burner photographers out there who would absolutely LOVE to see their pictures featured in Burners.me and be very very flattered by your using them. It is not that I do not appreciate your blog. I do. I read it all the time. It’s just that you have picked the wrong people to poach news pictures from by using Reuters pictures that you have no right to be publishing and just copying and pasting them into your blog and website. 

We messed with the wrong people, huh? What happened to Radical Inclusion, Burner Jim? What happened to Gifting? Decommodification? Civic Responsibility?

He lays down the law:

You are incorrect that the situation here is not as clear cut as any of the other photographs in our library. It is 100% clear cut. Thomson Reuters owns and retains 100% of the copyright in all of the pictures shot by our news photographers in all coverages and situations.
Yes, we have an agreement between Reuters and Burning Man. We retain 100% copyright to our Reuters images, just as we do in ALL of our news coverage around the globe. Reuters never assigns the copyright to our images to any other entity and this is just as true in this case as in all others worldwide. I have all the relevant facts of the case, as Thomson Reuters is very serious about the way we approach news coverage and intellectual property concerns. We make exceptions for no-one regarding the copyright of our images anywhere on any coverage.

The law, as in one law for the corporations making money off photos of our party. Another law for us Burners, spending our own money to make the party.

Money? Oh yes, Jim was quick to tell us that Reuters is getting paid beaucoup bucks for this:

it is entirely inappropriate and in fact totally against U.S. copyright laws for you to be copying and pasting our images and text from a news organization’s website who has paid properly to license them (Business Insider) and publishing them on your own blog without any licensing rights from Reuters.

In response to Jim’s email, we asked Reuters if we could license the photos. The contact Jim provided was on vacation, and the contact her auto-responder provided us didn’t get back to us. So it seems that this is maybe not even about money – it’s about power, and the need for Reuters to flex their muscles against the little guy. I hope the two Jims enjoyed kicking Burners.Me, and I hope in the future when they come again to exploit our efforts for their own financial benefit, the Burner community welcomes them with open arms.

It’s great to see that capitalism is still alive and well in this country, and Burning Man continues to take it to new extremes of hypocrisy. “Decommodification” and “Gifting” are just rules for Burners to obey, they’re not actually valuable principles to the Burning Man organization. Not something they look for in their business partners. “We own the intellectual property”, and “we can sell our intellectual property to anyone we want and stop everyone else using it” are the principles of Burning Man. “Burners pay, and volunteer, so we can pay ourselves” is the over-arching principle of BMOrg.

The ridiculousness of these rules has been protested by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who accused Burning Man of “snatching our rights“. It was well described by the San Francisco Chronicle:

Picture for a moment being in Europe and pulling into a quaint mountain village called Schwarzefelsenstadt, which has particularly photogenic people and attractions. But there’s a gate, and a guard tells you that before you enter you have to sign a waiver in which you agree to:

1) Surrender all rights to your photos and video to the town. 

2) Only show your photos to friends and family (no blogs, no Twitter, no Facebook beyond friends and family).

3) If you intend to show the pictures to anyone beyond friends and family — “any situation where the photos will be shown in public” — you have to register first for a license and get written approval from the bureaucrats of Schwarzefelsenstadt for each of the pictures you want to show people BEFORE you show them, not just now, but for eternity.

4) Never take a candid photo or video shot because you always have to ask permission first of each person in the photo, and get signed model release forms.

5) Not take pictures of any of the fabulous works of art or stunning architecture unless you first get written permission from the artist.

6) Immediately register with city bureaucrats ANY camera that can perform even the briefest of video functions which, in essence, is EVERY point-and-shoot and (wait for it) smart phone on the market.

While I’m not aware of any real city outside of North Korea that has these rules, this is exactly what participants agree to when they go to Burning Man at Black Rock City this week. This isn’t opinion; all of these rules are clearly stated in some 2,000 words of fine print at the event’s corporate website.

So it seems if you’re a huge fan of freedom of expression (except for photography and videography), a carefree community, a celebration of creativity, astoundingly talented artists (except for photographers), a generally high level of nudity and, possibly, substances that might or might not cure glaucoma, then Burning Man is an epic, potentially life-changing event.

From a photographer’s standpoint, Black Rock City is about as close to a fascist regime you can findAnd while I fully understand there are those photographers and videographers who tried to exploit and profit from the, er, um, free-wheeling dress code at Burning Man (thank you, “Girls Gone Wild”), this is about control.

The rationale of “protecting the people” has often been used to restrict and control information so that the public sees and hears only what officials want them to see and hear — although, frankly, that particular tool has nearly always been associated in history with swell folks such as Stalin, Pinochet and the Khmer Rouge. Interesting role models.

If having a corporation (Black Rock City LLC) tell you what you can and cannot do with pictures and video doesn’t bother you, go and have a great time. If you’re a photographer who loves to travel and share images of other places and other cultures, you’re better off almost anywhere else.

31 comments on “Burners Versus The Man

  1. Pingback: Burning the Cyber Man | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

      • If you publish a picture on your website by copying it from another website and publishing it on your blog or website you have STOLEN it just as much as if you stole someone’s wallet by pulling it out of their pocket without permission on the street. You have legally STOLEN those photos That is basic International AND U.S. copyright law. Want some citations to the U.S. Code or U.S. federal court cases that affirm this? Actually it is very easy to find them yourself with Google. There is no need for me to provide them.

  2. Good discussion here.

    All photos taken at Burning Man should be FREE. Please review the 10 Principles. If a professional needs to get paid to support his equipment and lifestyle, he should go shoot somewhere else. If an organization wants a professional to shoot photos for their publication, they should pay the photographer for his time. The images should always be free to the community, because the people of Burning Man contributed more than the photographer who took the shot.

    • Exactly. It’s not even “we want to make money off photos of Burning Man”. It’s that, AND “no Burners may use our photos anywhere for any reason, even if they’re in them, even if they’re not making money from them”. How does this relate to the Ten Principles? It seems to be the opposite.

  3. Do people really think that the value of beautiful professionally shot pictures of Burning Man posted on the web is only 30 cents a picture? Burners.XXX, the editor of this site, just said that above. Professional photographers, who produce beautiful professional pictures, deserve to be compensated for their work whether that work is shot at Burning Man or anywhere else. The people who have posted about intellectual property above are right. Theft is theft. Stealing other people’s pictures and putting them on your website without permission in advance is theft.

    I have met a Reuters photographer out on the playa and he was a true professional who was very respectful of the concept of consent. The Reuters photographers explain who they work for and where their photos are going and ask permission of everyone in the pictures that they shoot at BRC before publishing the photos. They are not paparazzi and don’t act like that. They also shoot some of the most lovely pictures out there. I don’t think that we should all support their work being stolen for free by anyone. This is not about de-commodification. It is about artists and professionals who show us respect deserving respect themselves. Don’t steal their work without permission whether they work for Reuters or just themselves.

    • I fail to see how this is “stealing”. Reuters still own the photo, if anything they’ve stolen it from Burning Man due to their exceptional contract terms. Reuters still make money from the photo, Burners.me isn’t restricting that. Their photos are all over the Internet, as images.google.com will show you, it’s not like we’re getting some scoop. They’ve lost nothing, we’ve gained nothing, where’s the theft? The photographer got paid to take pictures at Burning Man. Nice work if you can get it. How did we stop him making money? We promoted his photographic career, for free. Maybe he should be paying us. Or did we steal his name too, by using it?

  4. I have been to bm13 this year. Brought some professional camera equipment all over from europe. Risc the equipment because of the dust and made some pictures. I fully understand that tje magic is created by all those people and artists that pruduces art and costumes and look and fashion. Just to press the button on a cameramight in some rare cases art but in most it is not even a contribution of what you see. It is a kind of stealing the art from the producer of the art. This is the problem! The reuters and so on are right if they posess pictures to protect th. This is not the problem. The problem is the dealer who makes a copy of the art at bm without having the permission, without copyright, asking people and if they allow is a gifting from the burners and please respect this gifting and gift back and don’t dare to sell this stuff to reuter …
    If you ruin your camera then this might be your gift the same way as other share cocktails or build an art for several thousand bucks. If you don’t like this, stay away.
    Infully understand why this blog just use the pics and please continue with this approach as much as possible.

  5. I’m afraid that Burning Man is not as free as it once was. I know how hard it is be a journalist in a restrictive country (China), and I consider Burning Man’s photo policy disgusting. Photographers are artists who should retain ownership of their work. If they create something valuable for their job, then they should be paid for it. It’s just like when I write an article. As a journalist, I expect to be asked, paid (sometimes), and notified when it comes to using my work. The people I sell articles to might have their own rules about using those articles, and I might have to negotiate with them. I’m dealing with an issue involving this now. Intellectual property rights are tricky. I completely understand Reuters enforcing its copyright for the sake of precedent. It sucks, but they own the photo. I’d argue that they should let you use it because you don’t intend to profit from it, but that’s not my choice. What if
    organizations like Business Insider complained about the use of the image? I can see why they can’t give the photo away to one site and charge another for it.

    • Hope, you state that the photographer is the artist who should retain the ownership of their work, but in the end, if they are photographing an artist’ art piece, then should the artist of the piece then really be the one to own the image, since it was s/he who created it, and by your word be then paid for it? What is frustrating to people is the double standard that is being portrayed. Think of the artist who cannot market or profit from his own work, but the photographer who took the photos can? I wish I never started reading all of the blog posts about the commodification camps and such. It really has tainted my thoughts on what I wanted to believe what Burning Man is all about. Sadly, Ignorance really is Bliss.

  6. Hey, I was at that event with the ‘artiste’ and 3000 gallons of North Carolina mud? What a hoot that was. We stormed his bus after he wasted half a day yelling confusing instructions across the playa to people slow roasting in their mud shells. Nice pictures though.

  7. One minor point here. The aerial view was NOT taken “at” Burning Man. While it may be that he took off from 88nv to take that photo, truth is anybody in a plane can fly to the desert and take such a photo, without a ticket, without any agreement with the Borg, etc. So while it’s good to have a discussion about the control and use of photos taken at Burning Man, you should do it about a photo taken at Burning Man, not from outside it.

      • There you could have some controversy. The person clicking the shutter is at Burning Man in a drone photo, and the drone is just a few feet above the city. For planes, they fly outside the borders of the city (it’s part of the airport rules, though they will just get angry at you if you break them.) If you’re in a plane, you left the city (you need a wristband to get in) and you are on your own, and as noted, need not have ever been in the city or bought a ticket. This is not to say the discussion here isn’t real, but the particular photo in question doesn’t trigger the issues a photo taken IN BRC would.

  8. One fine sunny morning in October 2,000, one of my Burning Man camp mates called and suggested that I immediately lay hands on that week’s copy of Time Magazine. So I sought it out on my lunch hour at my local Thai restaurant. I was very pleased to see that it contained an article about Larry Harvey and Burning Man.

    Very much enjoying the article over my Pad Thai noodles, I turned the page and to my horror see a photo montage and the very top photo was one of me, buck ass naked, applying black mud to a naked woman! The first thing that flashed through my mind was “my parents subscribe to this magazine” and the second thought was “so does my boss”. This was not something that folks associate with their accountant.

    Yup, there I was, naked to the world, in a widely circulated national magazine.

    While at Burning Man that year I had been involved in a photo shoot with a fairly well known professional photographer doing a photo shoot whilst covered in black mud against the stark whiteness of the playa. He had my permission as this was an artistic venture and I did not anticipate the photos to end up anywhere other than a gallery. What I did not know was that a “news” photographer happened by while we were preparing for the photo shoot and took a few photos which he evidently sold to Time Magazine.

    Needless to say, I contacted Time Magazine and while they were unable to recall the magazines in circulation, they did take down the photo in their web version.

    So, if you wonder why Burning Man might want to have some control over the images that flow from the event and allows personal use, this is one of many examples. Yes, there is, and should be, a line between what may be personal use and publication for profit. “Decommodification” IS one of the Ten Principles. Is a personal blog for profit? Probably not. A news agency? Most assuredly.

  9. @burnersxxx I really appreciate your bringing attention to some of the issues with the org’s photo policy. I personally believe that in trying to “protect” certain aspects of the festival, they’re actually making these aspects disappear since fewer and fewer people know about them each year (especially as many community members who would continue these traditions can’t get tickets with the lottery)

    Having said that, what would you think if I said I think there may be something overlooked in the discussion about Reuters?

    Would any one of us expect to copy an article from the LA Times, or any major newspaper verbatim on our websites? What is it about photography produced for a news source that would make it feel different than copying a writer’s work produced for a news source?

    One of the hardest things right now for photographers is that people are so used to sharing photos, that they believe photos can, and should, be shared without any compensation, and photographs, as internet content are not as easily protected as things in a format like video. In a way this promotes that there is no intrinsic value for photos.

    For example, would it seem right to go onto netflix, rip a movie, then think it was ok to distribute freely on other blogs? Why would it be OK to do the same thing with photos that also took time and money to produce?

    Would I surprise you if I said that for photographers (like me) it’s often jobs like these that pay for the gear we use to take and distribute images for free?

    Also, for Reuters do you have to go through an editor to get an account? I think that may be the slowdown… I think all that’s needed is to go to http://pictures.reuters.com and register an account to purchase images. Does that help?

    (and thanks again about starting the conversation about the restrictive photo policy, I really do think there are unthought aspects of it which are hurting the community, especially now)

    • Thanks for responding Josh. Every photo of yours we ever used was watermarked and we credited it to
      You and provided links back to the original publication. We try not to copy complete posts or photosets, just highlight the ones most relevant to our post.

      What more would you have us do? I’m interested because I know you have the respect of your peers and contribute more of yourself to the scene than just your (amazing) photos.

  10. JUST SAY NO! To Professional photogs. Fuck those guys! They are a nuisance. BM for us by us right? We build all this for us, not for free content for BM or reuters. We are not a fucking fish bowl for Reuters or any of those asshole paparazzi photogs to exploit. SAY NO you CAN’T take my photo! Don’t pose like morons and then complain about it later. If you see a photo with more than a point and shoot camera, say no or give them the finger at least ask them who they are and where the photos will be used. Tell them you are not there to be exploited and give them some grief, throw sparkle pony shit on their cameras! GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER FUCKYOU! Assholes all of them.


    • I first saw paparazzi at BM in 2004. They thought Paris Hilton was there, they were waiting outside my trailer. All I had for them was topless girls with pasties. True story.

    • Wow, CW! So much for radical inclusion!!! What the FUCK?

      I am a retired photojournalist and burner who brings my “professional” camera equipment to the playa each year to document my experience and to SHARE and GIFT my photos with the amazing and beautiful burners I meet there.

      I prefer to capture the best images I can, (and yes, some of them are even taken with my point and shoot). I do not photograph anyone who does not want to be photographed and I love to share these wonderful images with like-minded burners.

      So, I will not be sharing any of them with your “INNER FUCKYOU!”

      Signed, one of the, “Assholes all of them.”

  11. I don’t have a problem trying to restrict businessmen from making a profit off of taking photos at burning Man. Why does BMorg allow that? For me the issue is hypocrisy, punishing the weakest, least connected, while rewarding the most aggressive, driven by naked greed, masked by feel-goodism and hippie talk.

  12. As a professional photographer I’m afraid I need to chime in here and say that this is hardly a Burning Man issue, its much broader than that. Intellectual property rights violations are rampant these days and creative producers like photographers, graphic designers, musicians and others are getting fleeced.

    Jim Urquhart would be out of a job if Reuters didn’t buy his images, and they’d be out of business if they didn’t enforce their copyright over those images. I love gifting and sharing and I have problems with copyright, but I also have problems like paying rent and paying for food and cameras and the rest of it. Every time someone steals an image its reducing my ability to make a living.

    This is something we’re working through right now as a culture. How do we value the creative contributions of our citizens while at the same time allowing those contributions to be used and shared for the benefit of everyone? Its an awful mess, but Burning Man is no more responsible for it than the web designer who steals an image for a background or the person who uses mp3s they stole off the Internet at a wedding reception or the newspaper that sues a photographer for selling an image they shot using the paper’s camera to a gallery. Its a muddled, confusing mess and it needs to be fixed.

    I didn’t go to Burning Man this year because I couldn’t afford to. Why? In part because I can’t get clients to pay me as much as they used to, because they can just grab things from Google image search for free.

    Its complicated.

  13. You have to understand how important precedent is to copywrite law. If Reuter’s were to say “in this case it’s okay” they would lose the right to protect their business in the future. Their business is providing primary source content for news organizations. That is an important funtion and if they don’t protect their content their business will fail. I’m sure nobedy actually cares if you published that content but if they don’t send a cease and desist letter they can lose the right to say “Hey New York Times, you have to pay us for that content” in the future.

      • Would it surprise you if I said most burners I know who contribute to media are burners first, contribute stories because they love the event and want it perceived right, and that the compensation most media receives is barely enough to cover even the gas to the event (much less the thousands in other costs including the ticket)?

      • No that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest because I know many of those artists too. Everyone’s in the same boat together – we’re the ones putting our hearts and souls into it, we do it for love, even for those who’ve found ways to get paid a bit for it, burning man still ends up costing them money. It’s worth it for the magic we create as a community.
        I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a rising tide lifts all boats. Come on BMORg, get with the times, it’s not the 1980s any more we’re nearly halfway through the Teenies. Open source and the sharing economy rule the day. Help brilliant artists like Josh get a fair reward from the time and effort and love they put into Burning Man. You don’t even have to share the money you’re making, just stop hoarding all the opportunities to
        Yourselves and your big business buddies. BMOrg, the more you encourage the burner economy, the more Burners associate benefits and positive things with you, instead of
        Rules and greed; and the more they’ll
        contribute. Set the Burners free, if they come back to you, they’re yours forever.

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