Over the last couple of years, we’ve been following with keen interest a lawsuit in Canada. The plaintiff was Decommodification, LLC – a private company the founders set up, which owns all the Intellectual Property assets of Burning Man and is paid royalties by the Burning Man Project for their use. The defendants were Napalm Dragon and Burn BC – a Vancouver-based arts
collective co-operative that has been participating in Burning Man and other burn events since the early 90’s.
Here is some of our previous coverage
Canada Draws Battle Lines for Burner Culture May 14
BURNILEAKS: Bullying the Burners Sep 14
Embattled Burners Ask for Support Sep 14
Help Canada Sep 14
South Bhak Oct 14
Quick Update from Canada Nov 14
Burn BC Admits Defeat in Battle for Public Domain Jan 15
The lawsuit saw some eye-brow raising moves from BMOrg, including a claim by founder Crimson Rose that she invented fire dancing.
A year ago, it seemed that BMOrg had won – Burn BC couldn’t raise enough money for a lawyer, and was forced into a default judgement.
Napalm Dragon explained how he was prevented from even mounting a defense in our Jan 2015 story Burn BC Admits Defeat:
A couple of months ago the Lawyers for Decommodification LLC (The new American Corporation that now owns the American Burning Man Trademark) blocked Burn BC from defending itself.
They would not allow the directors of Burn BC to submit a defence, suppressing a very lengthy defence I’d put together for the organisation.
(I was hospitalised with a major panic attack from the stress of dealing with this).
The judge gave 30 days for Burn BC to find a lawyer. If Burn BC could have found a lawyer, we have mountains of evidence that could have easily defended Burn BC.
So without a lawyer, the flimsy claims against Burn BC went to default judgement. Without a reasonable defence for Burn BC, the Judge was forced to rule based on weak claims by the plaintiff.
Decommodification LLC didn’t just stop at $10,000 plus $25,000, they also wanted the Burn BC website. There’s NO need for the website.
The Judge ruled $10,000 damages (based on one sided claims, and no defence), and turning over our Burn BC website to Decommodification LLC. I can’t blame the judge, he had limited information, and Burn BC was completely unable to defend itself.
The judge ordered them to cease using the trademark, they agreed – so BMOrg got what they want, right?
It seems this small victory wasn’t enough. Decommodification LLC – apparently using the Burning Man Project’s extensive legal resources – had to burn the villages too. They pursued Napalm Dragon personally for damages. No matter that the guy has no money, and they take in $32 million a year. He needed to be taught a lesson, publicly shamed, ruined. How dare he be throwing burns and contributing to the community for 20+ years! How dare he try to defend himself against outrageous claims and character attacks! Destroy! Exterminate! Humiliate!
Well, karma can be a bitch: it looks like this strategy backfired. Since Decommodification LLC was going directly after Napalm Dragon personally, he was able to represent himself in court without a lawyer, something which was not possible the way the original case had been structured. It seems the Court did what courts do, looked at the facts, looked at the history, heard the arguments from both sides, and made a ruling based on the law – resulting in a total defeat for the American Decommodification company, and vindication for Canadian Burn BC.
Here is Napalm Dragon’s initial report on his victory:
Burn BC Founder and Champion of Burner Rights, Bhak Jolicouer
The final paperwork came back today.
I ROASTED the lawyer, and he caved. He very literally cowered before the courts.
The Burn BC Arts Cooperative is alive and well, I am in the clear, and I forced Decommodification LLC to, not only back off of me, but to leave me alone and relinquish any attempted claims to otherwise very important sacred cultural domain I’ve been intimately involved with for over 20 years.
I briefly thought about going all the way with it; pushing “Burning Man” finally and completely (and undoubtedly) back into the Public Domain where it is and belongs (and could have without a lawyer). I was very literally one Court Motion away from doing it.
But, instead I roasted the Lawyer, and demanded respect, and demanded some clear terms, and got EXACTLY what I wanted and had declared for over a decade.
I was able to do this because Decommodification LLC was not satisfied with destroying Burn BC by forcing it into an undefended default judgement and just leaving me alone.
No, the vengeance of one greedy sadistic and highly duplicitous and domineering woman, and her asinine arrogance, nearly led to her complete downfall by one punk from Canada and his little prank.
[Metaphorically speaking] I had her, and her entire plot by the balls, I squeezed tightly to get her attention, then said “Leave me the F**K alone, I am free to do and say what I please, and if you push me any further you lose every exaggerated claim”.
When Decommodification LLC came after me personally they screwed up. They gave me the opportunity to finally defend myself; and when this finally came before the courts, I completely ROASTED the lawyer. He was very literally cowering before the “judge”, and went pale.
All the egregious demands disappeared.
I then turned it around and said (metaphorically) “This is what’s going to happen, and this is what you are going to do.”
So now it’s done and I’m moving on, and I am free to do and say what I please; as has ALWAYS been my right, as an Artist, Prankster, Empresario, and Sacred Clown.
F**** You!!!…and your Burning Man too.
Keep that dead lie far away from me, and anyone I love.
Now I can finally get back to what I really want to do before this giant stinking pile of bull dung distracted me.
BMOrg have not had their Propaganda-spun statements tested in a court very often. There were a couple of big cases in 2007. Founder John Law tried to keep the Burning Man name in the public domain for all Burners to use, saying “If Burning Man is really a movement, the name should belong to everyone, not three guys who don’t get along anymore”. Although the case got a lot of media attention, and raised the hopes of many Burners, it was settled for an undisclosed sum before going to trial. In the Paul Addis arson trial, BMOrg controversially provided muddled information that ensured a mischievous prank in the Cacophonist spirit was treated as a terrible, malicious felony. Addis got jail time, lost his legal career, then became yet another Burner whose exit from this “movement” was a horrific public suicide.
I asked Napalm Dragon if he had any further comments for Burners.me readers. He said:
I want nothing to do with Marian Goodell or her “Contractually Obliged Brand Cult”.
Anyone who “volunteers” for any project, group, or event, “controlled directly or indirectly by Decommodification LLC” through the use of the so called trademark “Burning Man™” is being taken for a ride by a private American corporation that wants to join the Billionaires Club on the backs of the wide eyed and naive, lost in a labyrinth of past relevance.
The last Great Cultural Emergence of the 20th Century is moving on, leaving behind an empty calcified echo of a spectacle.
The culture created Burning Man; “Burning Man™” did not create the culture.
There is no longer a home for the culture under this so called trademark “Burning Man™”.
When it comes to Burners.me, know that I forced Decommodification LLC to agree to make no claim to “The Burn”. SO the culture has a place to go, freely, and of its own free will and accord, and it’s beyond the reach of Decommodification LLC. (IN WRITING).
Fuck “Burning Man™”, that term missed its opportunity to have a profound, respectful, and positive relationship with relevance, and instead chose to suffocate an agonising and slow retreat into obscurity.
When Decommodification LLC went after me personally, the lawyers could not block me from defending myself (like they did with Burn BC)
I waited for someone who understood the significance of this to hand me a lawyer, and when it didn’t materialise. I played my cards wisely.
Unable to block me from defending myself, I decided to turn it in my favour and completely roasted the lawyer before the Canadian Federal Courts. All the egregious demands faded in the presence of the courts.
I protected some sacred terms, protected Burn BC, and protected myself.
I’m bowing out of this stinking saga with this last prank; and letting Marian Goodell and her American Corporation Decommodification LLC fester in the pursuit of a meaningless trademark in Canada.
Anyone is free to oppose the application with CIPO, I will not be participating in any opposition.
I’ve lost interest. I have nothing but disdain for Decommodification LLC and the words “Burning Man™”.
I’m now going to take some time to consider the most epic prank of my life, and think about the love of my son, and the love of my wife, and our rights to be the creative people we are; unfettered by the looming shadow of a “Contractually Obliged Brand Cult”, or the American Corporation that claims to control it.
I was right all along, and I feel at peace with a clear conscience.
I hope this prank offers some peace to Paul Addis, Caleb Schaber, and Howler (Rest well in your afterlife).
This is my parting gift to those I inadvertently led astray, and those who have inadvertently led us astray.
Bhak Jolicoeur (AKA) Napalm Dragon
Avant-garde Artist, Impresario, Prankster, and Sacred Clown.
(Now, to get busy with the good stuff.)
Maybe now BMOrg will accept that Burners create this culture and event, not them. The point of Burning Man, and burns in general, is to create a temporary city together for entertainment – not to cook everybody’s souls using a cauldron called The Devil so they have a Transformational Experience™. The culture has been developed from the bottom-up, grass roots if you like. Replacing it with top-down legal control from a tax-exempt entity and a board of 1%-ers is not going to make our culture flourish for the next hundred years under their Burning Man™ corporate banner.
[Update 1/14/16 1:29pm PST]
Napalm Dragon wanted us to be clear that Burn BC is a co-operative, not a collective. Sorry about that!
He also points out that the owners of Decommodification LLC, mostly are in no ways the founders of the Burning Man event. He has a good point: Larry Harvey is the only one of the 6 who was at the first one; Michael Mikel the only other one who was there at the Beach and Desert; Crimson Rose and Harley Dubois came to the second desert event, Will Roger arrived in 1994 and Marian Goodell 1995. Black Rock City LLC was incorporated in 1997, after the disastrous Helco burn.
Are the 6 owners of Decommodification, LLC, the same as these 6 “Founders”?
Again, it looks like Napalm Dragon is right. We don’t know very much about this private company. It was spun off before the donation to the non-profit, and the main assets of the business were transferred to it. Supposedly, the “6 Founders” each have an equal share, and have to unanimously vote against a transfer to the Burning Man Project in 2018 to stop it. Does it earn royalties from the Spark movie, the newspaper photo rights, music soundtracks, art sales, or anything else? Or does it simply get $75k per year from the Burning Man Project, and nothing else – everything else goes to Burning Man? We don’t know, and I’d love to think it was the latter – but if so why don’t they just be transparent about it? Why are we only going to find out what is going on with all these LLCs and assets and inter-group relations AFTER many years?
Here’s the official story, as of about a month ago:
Here’s what Corporation Wiki says:
Doug Robertson is listed in the Burning Man Project IRS Form 990 as the organization’s CFO. Ray Allen is the Burning Man Project’s in-house General Counsel. Nanci Elliot is better known by her alias Crimson Rose.
The address listed here in 3rd street is also associated with Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock Solar, and Tomas McCabe. From CorporationWiki:
Justia lists trademarks owned by Decommodifcation, LLC. Interestingly, the Ranger logo is here, but the name Burning Man and the regular )'( dude are not.
Trademarkia only has one trademark associated with Burning Man: the main one, which proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that Burning Man is a festival. It was last renewed in 2014, with Decommodification, LLC as owner.
Of course, “organizing community festivals featuring…live music, art displays, and participatory games; conducting entertainment exhibitions” is not even remotely close to Live Entertainment – what are they smoking in Nevada?
Bizstanding lists Larry, Marian, and Harley as the three “Managing Members” of Decommodification LLC. It also lists Brooke Oliver, who claims to have been the legal architect of Burning Man’s non-profit transition.
Where’s Will, where’s Danger Ranger? Both of those guys only got paid $70k or so in 2014. Why’s that?
Did donation money given by Burners to support art projects end up going to this lawsuit in Canada? Or did Decommodification, LLC pay for it?
I don’t expect we’ll hear answers to these questions – although it would be a lovely surprise if we do. Simply to ask them, doesn’t make me a “conspiracy theorist”. They are quite reasonable questions, the kind of thing I would ask any $30 million non-profit that wanted me to give them money.
Napalm Dragon has cemented his place in Burner history, along with other eclectic and eccentric figures like Chicken John, Paul Addis, John Law, Caleb Schaber, and (IMHO) myself, who have risked a lot simply to fight for what’s right. A movement that came from a community, not a corporation.
Bhak reached out to the community to help raise funds to get a lawyer. They raised $1650, he wants to wish a big thanks to everyone who donated. If more Burners had stepped up in support, perhaps “Burning Man” might be a free term in Canada today.
The idea that BMOrg need to protect the Burning Man name from anyone else ever using it because people might get confused is kind of ludicrous in 2016, when it’s on Oprah and The Simpsons. Dude. We get it. It’s BURNING MAN™. A name that is now MASSIVELY COMMODIFIED after years of saturation promotion in mainstream media. You need these lawsuits because people might sell t-shirts, really? There are 30,000 merchants on Etsy selling Burning Man products and nearly 8,000 on eBay. Let’s stop kidding ourselves, stop pretending that this is somehow “against Burning Man” or “ruining Burning Man”. This event was built on selling t-shirts. If anything, it’s the “hey it’s cool if we jump the shark, we want new people anyway, doesn’t matter if they’re self-reliant or participants” attitude that is “ruining Burning Man”.
We want to go to officially sanctioned events that are based on the Ten Principles. So why not enable thousands of those around the world, get royalties from all of the franchises, donate generously to art and the environment, and really see if we can make a difference with this culture? Take the royalty money from the 30,000 Etsy vendors, and use it to do some good?
They have enough Burners for that…but do they have enough lawyers? It seems to me that is what is holding our growth back the most right now.
Why is “Burning Man: The Board Game” (free, made by 20-years Burners to entertain other Burners) bad, but “Burning Man: The Musical“, (commercial, by a Google employee who’s never been to Burning Man) good?
Why does Decommodification, LLC feel it has to own Decommodification Itself? What would be the point of that, in a temporary company created only to safeguard Burning Man’s brands for a couple of years?
Here is Napalm Dragon’s Christmas Day message (and Gift) to those of us who did support him.
I submit this with a heavy heart.
Yet, I submit this with a burden released from my conscience, after enduring a long, distressing, and frivolous process.
Signed on the longest night of the year (December 21), in sacred concert with the ages, I part ways with the empty spectacle, and protect the integrity of a sacred domain of the arts, and the ancient rites.
My signature ends an era of open cultural relationships with what was once the most relevant cultural event of the 20th century; made relevant by the gathering tribes of the last great cultural emergence of the 20th century.
Until December 21, 2015 I held in my hand the last flickering flame of the Original Burning Man Culture that created the event, created the city, and created the communities.
We created Burning Man.
Burning Man did not create us.
This is the truth, and the truth has set me free.
My submission today, and my signature on this document ends the name of our culture. It ends our relationship with the secret American corporation (Decommodification LLC) that secretly makes questionable claims to what was once the public domain name of a culture, and the public domain iconography of a culture.
In Canada, this secret American Corporation (Decommodification LLC) will soon take control of a trademark based on our Public Domain Culture and Public Domain Iconography in order to steal control of what little remains of our independently developed communities.
I will not be taking part in any opposition to this, that window has passed for me. I held that window open and the loud cries of the vain were all that were heard.
I will not participate in this deceptive practice in any way, or with any organisation, group, or individuals who are blindly mislead by this contractually obliged brand cult.
Our culture and it’s association with what was once our name has lost all relevance. What remains is an illusion, a deception, a mere figment that exploits misconceptions.
What remains is not our culture.
It’s the synthesised echoes of how we express our culture.
It’s a calcified and degraded, proprietary facsimile of the expressions of our culture. It looks like culture, but it’s little more than the exploitation of those of us seeking to connect with our culture.
Our Culture has moved on, and no longer exists within the domain of what Decommodification LLC vainly and arrogantly claims to control.
Pushed to the very brink, I stood next to justice with my back held straight against the wall of truth. I held to my convictions, my rights, my honour, and trusted in my faith that the truth prevails.
In the face of intimidation, being ostracised, slandered, my reputation all but destroyed, and my friends deceived, I stood by the truth and trusted in the power of justice to perceive the truth.
Very literally under the scrutiny of our Canadian judicial system, this deception and intimidation fell apart. What remained was a compromise.
I accepted this compromise and demanded concessions to this compromise that might respect my artistic rights, my integrity, my honour, and my self respect (the only things left to me in this fiasco)
I was failed by the very people who so grandiosely stand on the backs of the artists and declare themselves “the community”. These people loudly proclaimed to support my position, but did little to step up to “Radical Self Reliance”, and offer what mattered. Their words fell to the floor, the empty ashes of an illusion; those of us believing in this illusion vainly grasping at it.
Yet, despite my challenges, I faced the truth on my own accord, and the truth prevailed through the wise mediation of the honourable Prothonotary Milczynski.
I can now lay to rest this deplorable action by Decommodification LLC and move on with my life, as I asked before, and have asked many times before that.
The integrity of my culture now remains relativity intact by other means; holding back the looming shadow over our culture, and out of reach of this secret and deceptive corporation.
I have taken responsibility for my part in being mislead over the last 10 years, and inadvertently misleading others who respected my reputation and good will over the last 25 years.
I can now get on with my life with a clear conscience. My last gift to this community being the truth.
I submit my settlement agreement with a heavy heart, a clear conscience, and a clear perspective on the heinous actions that have transpired over the last 20 years.
I choose today (December 25th) to submit this document to the Plaintiff and the Courts, not as a gesture of good will, but as a reminder of what it really means to offer a gift to the world.
To remind the Plaintiff that a gift was offered to the world, and it was tossed aside like a dirty worthless bone.
I pick up that bone and bury it with grace and respect.
It was a sincere, heartfelt, gift to the community; something we (our culture) offered to the world. Something taken from us, perverted, and tossed away; then synthesized and sold back to our peers with the intent of making the profound; proprietary, mundane, and superficial; something to easily consume from the bucket list of past notoriety, a minor novelty exploiting the good will of vague references to an obfuscated past.
With this settlement, there is no going back.
It is done.
The desert has lost it’s last hope to be anything more than just a misguided, shameful and shallow expression of excess and delusional cultural exploitation; a spectacle cut off from the profound depths of an open culture.
It is no longer a maze of possibilities to transcend the madness, it’s a labyrinth of madness that has no exit.
It’s a culture trap.
A gift is something offered without obligation, and the obligations demanded by the Plaintiff throughout these proceedings with Burn BC and myself were deplorable. They were both egregious and vitriolic. They only served to destroy what remains of the beauty and grace we offered this Culture and Cultural Iconography, and the independent communities that have given (very literally) their love, and their lives to our culture.
Many of us have very literally given our lives to the gifts we offer to our community. We had no intention of giving our gifts to greedy, exploiting corporations. Many of us who could not face our complicit assistance to this deception committed suicide, or died by the symptomatic obfuscation that confuses the profound.
People took their lives, and have died for this culture.
– Caleb Shaber walked into his room in Gerlach Nevada and killed himself with a gun.
– Paul Addis threw himself in front of the San Francisco Bart Train.
– Hours after visiting with my wife and I in Austin Texas, a man went home and shot himself.
– Another close friend swam to his death, and drowned himself.
– Another hung himself in Vancouver.
– Others were murdered by a crazed gunman in Seattle.
– One man hung himself in the Nevada Desert.
– Another recently walked into the fires of an event in the United States.
– A famous CBC radio host died.
– A woman was killed while riding an Art Car.
People died for this culture and because of this deceptive cultural appropriation. These deaths are now empty, sad statements to the deceptive cultural appropriation this corporation has committed with absolute callous disregard for the very culture they claim to have created “from a ceremony on Baker Beach”.
My conscience weighed heavy, it is now clear, and I remember these lives with dignity as I move forward with the rest of my life.
I close this heinous chapter in disgust. I open a new chapter alleviated by taking responsibility. I move forward with a light and clear conscience to live with joy, share in charity, and love with honour, dignity, and respect.
I have fulfilled my obligations.
The intentions of our culture, and our lives, were to offer a gift to the world, and offer a gift to our communities by creating spaces for our communities to flourish unhindered by mediated consumerism, and the marketing exploitation that turns people into predictable products to be repackaged and sold back to us as a limited set of archetypes that we adhere to without question or Critical Thought.
The very foundation of our culture was deeply undermined in the name of pure greed. We were deceived, and as I faced the obfuscation that surrounds this deception, a most egregious realisation was revealed by this frivolous litigation.
It is no longer my concern, this is for others to contemplate.
I am irrevocably done with the words: Burning Man™
What has transpired here with this document I submit, and my signature, is no less than the “end of an era”, not because I have the power to end it, but because I’m willing to recognise the significance of this settlement agreement in relation to the dark shadow that looms over it.
I have been blessed to witness and participate in the last great cultural emergence of the 20th century which emerged around the world throughout the 90’s. It gave profound power and meaning to a name, and cultural iconography.
Now with the stroke of my pen, a cultural relevance is gone forever. It is truly the end of an era. This sad end forced by the unyielding and arrogantly uncompromisingly deceptive greed of one woman and her secret corporation.
When given the opportunity to share in an incredibly significant opportunity to continue respecting the independent nature of our cultural relationships; this was not only rejected, but crushed with brutal dominating vengeance; I realised that the best course of action was to walk away from possibly the most damaging relationship I have ever encountered.
Questionable claims were made by Decommodification LLC under frivolous litigation. There was no reason to waste the precious time of the courts.
The Burn BC Arts cooperative was prevented from defending itself; and even after the matter was clearly resolved, intimidation, and callous technicalities were exploited to undermine justice and force an undefended default judgement against Burn BC.
What remains is a lie, a deception of cultural proportions, a system of exploitation that sullies the very idea of the founding culture here in Canada that gave the last great cultural emergence of the 20th century its power and relevance, and opened a door to beauty, grace, kindness, and the sincerity of The Gift.
A gift is given without obligation. Yet under the guise of a gift, one greedy woman and her secret corporation have taken the greatest gift we could offer to the world, and turned it into a farce, a façade, a lie. She forced those of us afraid to challenge this injustice into obligations that robbed us of hope.
Twenty years of my life have been taken from me, exploited, and destroyed; My reputation ruined by slander, and blindness, and the rewriting of a profoundly beautiful history to wipe the truth from the pages of relevance in a vain and arrogant attempt to own a delusional messianic nightmare based on an outright lie.
My contributions to the history of my culture and my local community developed in British Columbia; and the real significance of it’s impact on the greater cultural evolution have been vainly and disrespectfully wiped from the history books, and replaced by a superficial lie.
I have nothing but disdain for Decommodification LLC (et al), and will never be party to it’s deplorable deception. I will not be party to the death of a once beautiful cultural relationship, and cultural relevance.
Yet, a compromise has been reached.
An agreement has been forged that protects the ancient rites from the delusional claws of this sadistic attempt to “own the exclusive rights to a culture”.
I hold hope in my heart, and feel at peace moving forward. After years of enduring the stunning realisations of what is happening, why it’s happening, and how it transpired, I have found a compromise that can let me live with my conscience cleared and in relative peace.
I can close this ugly chapter and concentrate on what matters. The love of my son, the love of my wife, and the unfettered joy we will have without the looming shadow of this American Corporation and it’s domineering, vengeful, and deceptive practices.
We are no longer party (in any way) to the cultural exploitation of this “contractually obliged brand cult”.
I leave you with this on Christmas Day, the day of The Gift, to remind Decommodification LLC of the vitriolic and divisive darkness they have spread under the guise of “gifting”, and the heavy conscience they must live with on what should be a day of peace, forgiveness, and kindness.
Before this transpired they were given the greatest opportunity to have a dignified and mutually respectful relationship with Canada.
They choose greed, and get the empty remains of the fading echo of the past. The greatest gift slipping through their fingers, greased by money, and replaced by ignorance.
Good bye forever to this deception.
Avante-Garde Artist, Impresario, and Sacred Clown.
[Update 1/14/16 2:00pm PST]
Anon wanted links to the court documents. Here’s one. If anyone else has any, please share.
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