BurnBC, the non-profit collective of (some) Canadian Burners who is being sued by BMOrg for $40,000 for daring to have a legally registered trademark in their own country that they’ve been using for 20 years, has asked for our help. They’re trying to raise the modest sum of $2500 to cover the costs of appearing in court to defend themselves against a $30-million a year behemoth which spends more than $100,000 every month on lawyering.
If you want to help spread culture around the world, a donation to BMOrg will lead to more lawsuits, and a donation to BurnBC will help them have their day in Court. Let’s let the law decide, instead of one party with more resources being able to bully a weaker one. According to BMOrg, this is all in the name of charity and making the world a better place – but there are very few non-profits that go around suing other non-profits. It’s kind of against the point of the whole thing – unless the point of the whole thing is a tax-free way for 6 people to earn royalties off the efforts of Burners, rather than the stated aims about Principles, values, and cultural expansion.
Please help their Gofundme if you can, they’re not asking us for much so even a small donation helps.
For some of the history of the case, including how Burning Man’s US trademark was in widespread public use for many years before corporations took it over in this country, see:
In the current lawsuit between “non-profit” BMOrg, and non-profit BurnBC, a Canadian arts collective, BurnBC claim that “Burning Man culture” was something that arose in Canada independently of how the US Burning Man culture developed and was seized by corporate interests.
Certainly, TTITD was not called “Burning Man” for many years. The first trip by the Cacophony society in 1990 was called “Zone Trip # 4”. Their first permit was issued in 1991 – it is not clear to whom, or if the permit mentioned Burning Man at all. By 1992, they were marketing the Cacophony Society event with the words “Burning Man” and asking for donations of $25. The first ticket sales were in 1995. In 1997, they formed a corporation “Paperman LLC” and registered the trademark. Larry Harvey let the corporation’s registration lapse, and the trademark was filed again in the US in 2003. The trademark has now been transferred from “The LLC” (Black Rock City, LLC, which puts on the Nevada event, and this year was sold to The Burning Man Project), to “Decommodification, LLC” (a private, secretive company created by Burning Man’s founders in 2010 to own and monetize the intellectual property assets).
We can date this flyer to 1987 because that’s when June 20 was on a Saturday. The )'( logo was probably added later
the Cacophony Society’s 1990 flyer mentions “the Burning Man” and “Burning Man committee”
Cacophony Society and Burning Man founder John Law says that the Cacophony Society came up with the name Burning Man, and used it to describe the Baker Beach burn in 1989. This is in direct conflict with Burning Man’s trademark filing, which claims the mark was first used on June 1, 1986. To put that in perspective, their first Solstice burn (with a wooden dog effigy also) happened on June 21, 1986. Either they called it Burning Man before they ever built and burned a man, and had a vision for it being a money-spinner from the get-go, many years before they first sold tickets; or someone is being fast and loose with the truth. Here’s Larry Harvey saying the event began in 1985, a claim that is not supported anywhere else:
Note that the capture and deliberate incarnation of a spirit is the stated purpose of the event.
Burning Man’s trademark application was filed in 2003, and approved in 2010. It claims that the mark’s first use anywhere was 6/1/1986 and its first use in commerce was 6/1/1987.
International class code 41, and US classifications 100, 101, and 107: “Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities”
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
According to Wikipedia, the first ticket sales were in 1995 ($35). It’s hard to see how the mark was used in commerce before then, although Larry’s friend Flash used to sell t-shirts: “I had my concessions. I was the only one who made money, every single time” (This is Burning Man, Brian Doherty, p 111)
“In 1997, the claimant, Michael Mikel, formed a Limited Liability Company with respondents Larry Harvey and John Law. That company is known as Paperman, LLC…[it] owns one asset – the federally registered mark BURNING MAN – and Paper Man has one business activity, to license the mark BURNING MAN to its licensed operators of the desert arts festival that uses that name… Ever since its creation in 1999, Paper Man LLC has licensed the mark Burning Man to Black Rock City LLC for its use in connection with the desert arts festival
…on May 14, 2000, Paper Man LLC and Black Rock City LLC entered into a re-stated license agreement…[that] gave Black Rock City a non-exclusive, non-asssignable license to use the service mark for a period of 7 months…at a license fee of $1800
….in 2004, however, Black Rock City LLC announced that it would no longer be bound by the written agreement. Instead, Black Rock City demanded that Paer Man sign a one paragraph document that granted Black Rock City an exclusive license but failed to include any terms for quality control or maintenance of Paper Man’s right to police the mark. Paper Man, nonetheless, has continued [to] exert control over the mark, despite Black Rock City’s regular protests
…Michael Mikel learned, under established principles of trademark law, the type of “naked license” that Black Rock City demanded from Paper Man can be worse than no license at all…it would be possible that the designation BURNING MAN, and thereby the event itself, could fall into the hands of a corporate owner, in direct contrvention of every principle of which the BURNING MAN festival was founded
…Larry Harvey presumed to act for Paper Man LLC, and then used that position to obtain a benefit for himself in his capacity as Director of Black Rock City LLC…His action was simply the latest in a series of efforts to seize control of the BURNING MAN mark, to exclude other members of Paper Man LLC from participation in the comapny’s operations and control of its assets, and ultimately to divert ownership of the mark from Paper Man LLC to Black Rock City. These actions, undertaken in secret and in complete contravention of Paper Man LLC’s interests, constitute a breach of the fiduciary duty…Larry Harvey’s conduct over the past several years towards Paper Man LLC and its other members demonstrates his on-going disregard of – indeed, contempt for – the obligations of utmost good faith and loyalty that he owes them.
John Law then got involved in the suit, arguing that BURNING MAN should be in the public domain. The case was settled out of court.
If Burning Man is really a movement, the name should belong to everyone, not three guys who don’t get along anymore,” Law said.
a crucial point is Law’s contention that it was the Cacophony Society that came up with the name “Burning Man.” His suit claims that the term was coined in a 1989 Cacophony newsletter. Law claims he and the Cacophony Society also played a critical role in moving the event to the Desert. Harvey was “completely defeated and dejected” when police blocked the 1990 Burn in San Francisco, but Law says he suggested burning the Man at an already-planned Cacophony trip to Nevada. The Nevada Burn was successful, although Law claims Harvey “did not participate at all other than to arrive at the event as a spectator after it was completely set up.”
John Law: “I was sleeping in Golden Gate Park in 1976, after hitch-hiking here with an arrest warrant out for myself in some central state…then I met all these weird people and it’s been ongoing ever since”
This film from 1994 shows the term BURNING MAN being used at the event’s gate, and on t-shirts.
In 1994, Australia’s government TV channel ABC aired this documentary from Journeyman pictures. Check out the drive-by shooting range, including bicycle drive-bys.
Larry considered himself a “social engineer” even way back then, and Satanic (death of god) religious values were very much a part of it: “it’s like a religion that you make up as you go along”…”the camp was divided into Heaven and Hell, with angels and demons competing for lost souls”…”Bill Smythe is known in Hell as the father of devil spawn”…”this is just a big slumber party for Boy Scouts from Hell”.
One of the more astonishing claims in this video is that “the Monks from Heaven” were recording video of Burning Man and uploading it to the Internet at $9/minute via a satellite phone. This was before the first advertising appeared on the Internet. In 1994, it had only recently become possible to view color graphics on the World Wide Web. There was no standardized digital format for video files, there were no browser plug-ins to play video – there were barely even any browsers. Stanford spin-off Yahoo was a document you downloaded with a list of web sites, not a search engine. The first YouTube uploaded was in 2005. This demonstrates that as early as 1994, Burning Man’s attendees had access to the world’s most advanced technology, very probably military-grade.
The first video footage ever shown over the Internet was probably a live feed of a June 24, 1993 performance by Severe Tire Damage, a garage band consisting of employees of DEC Systems Research Center, Xerox PARC (company), and Apple Computer. The footage was broadcast on the Internet just a few months before researchers at the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge created the first webcam by broadcasting static footage of the Trojan Room coffee pot on the Internet in November 1993…conditions were so primitive by today’s standards that broadcasting the video of Severe Time Damage into cyberspace required hogging almost half of the bandwidth of the entire Internet.
The first image posted on the World Wide Web, July 1992
A random bunch of hippies could use half the entire Internet for their desert festival? Who the Hell was watching?
The UK’s Telegraph has an article comparing Burning Man with the rise of the social media network Ello (I’m @zos). It seems social media has become full of squares and obsessed with monetization; so the cool kids are looking for something new.
Last year, two square, but great, friends of mine announced they were going to the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock desert.
Aerial view of Afrika Burn, 2013
Of course they were entitled to do so, but my first thoughts were that if people like that were going, then Burning Man was over as a out-there festival. Not only was it time to turn to the infinitely more interesting AfrikaBurn in South Africa’s Tankwa Karoo, but it also minded me of other people’s adoption of social media, especially Twitter.
It was only a matter of time before all the early day Cassandras and piss-takers finally joined Twitter, but now that they’ve done so along with most reasonably educated people, perhaps it is time to turn to the AfrikaBurn equivalent of Twitter’s Burning Man and find another medium to operate within.
That potential decision is being replicated by many others who’ve been on social networks for the past five years or so. We probably weren’t the earliest of adopters, but call us the middle-class adopters, those who catch a fire, not ignite the flame…
The recent emergence of trending, invitation-only, ad-free and minimalist social network Ello is a case in point. Its founder Paul Budnitz pulls no punches in his company’s attitude towards a network such as Facebook. “We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate – but a place to connect, create and celebrate life,” he says.
…Twitter needs to monetise and the recent announcement by its CFO Anthony Noto at a financial conference that it will introduce a Facebook-style feed filtered algorithmically because Twitter believes it KNOWS what is important to you, does not augur well. Twitter’s desperation to monetise means that existing Twitter lovers will feel that adoration slowly dribble away. New users, such as past-it-Burning-Man-attendees won’t care about this; people like us will. It’s like being a mobile operator customer for a decade and then finding out new subscribers are receiving deals you were never offered and never dreamt about.
…The same goes for brands on Facebook. The much-derided ‘Likes’ metric may have had its day, but even so brands still need to have a minimum of ‘Likes’ to feel authentic in front of a social audience. Even so, there appears to be on Facebook a ‘10,000 rule’, rather like the so-called 10,000 hours that must be practised before somebody becomes sufficiently accomplished at a craft.
…“Our graphs show that not only does reach decline after 10,000 likes, but the bottom line is that even though you could put in significant efforts to grow your Facebook ‘status’, an algorithm change on Facebook’s side could wipe out your efforts anyway”, he says.
…Twitter [launched] The Dots, a ‘LinkedIn for creatives’, so the Social Media 2.0 bandwagon is continuing to attract new caravanners as much as the aforesaid Burning Man festival is losing the cool factor.
Ello and Dots are just the beginning. Whether they are the new Facebook or Twitter remains to be seen, but the one thing that is certain that I’ll be at AfrikaBurn in South Africa next April.
Maybe I’ll invite my square mates along and send them an invitation to Ello at the same time. Thus the circle will be squared.