Back In The Day

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).

first flyer 1987

We can date this flyer to 1987 because that’s when June 20 was on a Saturday. The )'( logo was probably added later

cacophony flyer for zone trip 4

the Cacophony Society’s 1990 flyer mentions “the Burning Man” and “Burning Man committee”

1992 black rock desert trip flyer

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.

From Trademarkia:

International class code 41, and US classifications 100, 101, and 107: “Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities”


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)


Cacophony Society flyer, 1990

Cacophony Society t-shirt, 1990

Michael Mikel’s 2006 lawsuit claimed:

“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.

From the Black Rock Beacon:

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.

From Quora:

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 on the Internet, July 1992

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?

BURNILEAKS: Bullying the Burners [Updates]

The post-Burning Man headaches for BMOrg continue to mount. If you believe in karma or physics, then you understand that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you threaten legal action towards the people who create your global following, you should consider the risk that something might come back to bite you in the ass. Such as, your own words, and proof of the motives behind your actions.

At least, that is what’s being threatened, by some Canadian Burners who appear to have little defense left to them but the “nuclear option” of revealing the truth.

chickenookpikThere are as many people at Burning Man from Canada as from Nevada. 20% of Burners are international, and more are from Canada than any other country. It’s 6-7% of the Burner population. Canadian Burners have spent decades building up our culture by throwing burns all across their vast country. Someone has legally owned the Canadian trademark “Burning Man” for many years, and BMOrg are suing them even though they appear to have registered no trademarks of their own in that country. Perhaps they think that Canada is just another part of America?

We covered the beginnings of this dispute earlier in the year: Canada Draws Battle Lines For Burner Culture. As per usual, naysayers came out to accuse us of click-bait and fear-mongering.

Well, fear not, nay-sayers. The Battlespace has now gone to Def Con 1, with this email last night to Burning Man’s Regional Contact mailserv:

stop your malicious lawsuit or WIKILEAKS!

Hi, I’m sure many of you will remember me, I was one of the founding members of the Regional Network, acting as Vancouver RN rep 2001-2006, while also being a member of the Media Team, & working as the first editor of the Regional Contacts section of

Burning Man is suing the non-profit Burn BC Arts Cooperative for $35,000 over trademark infringement. I am not involved in Burn BC or any of their events, but I feel strongly that Burning Man is acting as a corporate bully in this situation, attacking long-time community members & artists.

In response, if Burning Man does not drop this frivolous lawsuit immediately, ALL Regionals List & Media Team correspondence, as well as one-on-one communications I had with Burning Man senior staff, including Larry & Marion, will be made publicly available on WikiLeaks, all correspondence from 1999-present, This means that all of your names, the names of persons in your posts, legal issues that were discussed, etc. will be in the public domain. Hopefully this information will help Burners fight trademark infringement cases by showing the evolution of Burning Man’s deceptive practices using volunteers to build corporate brand value under the false guise of community.

Burning Man internal emails were published by Wikileaks before, in the Paul Addis case.

What could be there in 15 years’ worth of correspondence, that could in any way harm this non-profit, which organizes an annual week of dancing and debauchery in the desert? What could be juicy enough that they would send it to Wikileaks? Why should this even be a threat, something to use as leverage against the giant BMOrg behemoth?

It is not for me to speculate – draw your own conclusions. But to all those who accuse Burners.Me of making stuff up and crazy conspiracy theories, consider that this is going on – and it’s nothing to do with us. We just have multiple sources who provided us with a copy of the email, which is the intellectual property of its author. If there was nothing of note in there, why would Burners even make such a threat? The Canadian Burners, who legitimately owned the trademark, and seem to have taken all the right steps legally to renounce their ownership so that there can’t be any dispute, are still getting pursued by Burning Man. For how much? Forty grand. What difference is that going to make to a company that spent $1.43 million on lawyers last year?

vancouver cacophony societyI asked Bhak Jolicouer, who first contacted me about this story, what’s up? 1076 pages of legalese to demand the cash, that’s what up. It seems Burning Man have been busy in their spiteful pursuit, since June when the arts collective formally relinquished all rights to the disputed marks in their territory. This is an example of the “it’s not enough that we win; everyone else must lose” mentality that runs this corporation. Most non-profits I know of, don’t sue other non-profits, then ask their donor community to buy $150 scarves so they can keep this kind of bullying up. In fact, it’s rare to see these sort of tactics from for-profit companies, unless they’re Apple or Samsung or Microsoft.

Bhak says:

Burn BC Founder and Champion of Burner Rights,  Bhak Jolicouer

Burn BC Founder and Champion of Burner Rights, Bhak Jolicouer

Burn BC released our marks “Burning Man” and “BC Decompression” back to the public domain with the attached letter filed on permanent record.

Burn BC has decided to have no further association with the marks, and leaves it up to the Canadian Burning Man Culture to decide who (if anyone) should own them, and how they want to relate as a Culture that developed independently before the 2004 American Marks and the New Brand of Burning Man developed in the United States in 2004. The vast majority of feedback is that no one should own exclusive rights to these terms in Canada. While many people respect what our communities have contributed to the Nevada event, we see that our Burning Man Culture in Canada was founded on an open community model of mutual respectful peers. We had always seen ourselves as independent peers forming independent and self managed Burning Man Communities and independently developed and self managed Burning Man events in Canada.We did this work as peers (not subsidiaries) with no compensation, as a “Gift to the Community”, not as franchises of a corporation.So in response to this kind of input from Burners across Canada, Burn BC released the marks back to the public domain so as not to impede the Arts under Section 13(1B) of the Canadian Trade Mark act.
We deleted our website and removed all references to “Burning Man” from our website.
We released a statement that Burn BC and I (Napalm Dragon), have no more desire to be associated with that name or the American Corporation and it’s 2004 Brand, and will continue fostering our Open Source Culture and Communities in other ways through whatever paradigm emerges next from our culture.Decommodification LLC may have abandoned our culture in favour of Brand Dominance. They are entitled to what they please in the United States with their Nevada event and their American brand. I will seek new ground to express myself unhindered by these politics that are trying to convert a once Open Community and Open Culture into a franchise controlled by Decommodificaiton LLC.After releasing the marks, deleting all references and releasing my statement; I attempted to continue negotiating an out of court settlement. They wanted Burn BC to sign something stating that Decommodification LLC owns these marks.
I told them that if they register with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, then they owns these marks. Burn BC can’t agree to a demand that is not even part of this frivolous litigation. I had asked for a list of marks they own and Burn BC would have agreed not to register those marks, no list was provided.
I thought that was the end of the story as there had been no communication from anyone since late July… until three days ago when 1076 pages of text came in the mail telling Burn BC to respond to a Motion of Default Judgement by 2:00PM Friday regarding a hearing this Tuesday September 23, 2014.I made the same offer yesterday to their lawyer, who was interested in approaching a settlement.
He said he would get back to me by the end of the day.
There has been no response, and again, no list provided.This is AFTER: We released our marks, deleted all references, and removed myself and Burn BC from any online groups or lists that are “Burning Man”.The case has no merit.
But if Burn BC does not participate in the hearing and offers no defence; then any claim Decommodification LLC makes regardless of accuracy or merit will be awarded.It seems they are now asking for damages, claiming Burn BC hurt their ability to control the good will of Canadians, and are seeking legal expenses, and a court order for Burn BC to turn over BurnBC.Org and over to Decommodification LLC.They are looking for damages of $40,000 against the non profit Burn BC Arts Cooperative (Created by a founding member of the Vancouver Burning Man Community, and other long time Burners), and are not content to just let it go. They know full well this will mean the end of Burn BC, and seem content to push frivolous litigation wasting the resources of the Canadian Federal Courts.They had NO need to take it to the courts, as all they had to do was file an opposition with CIPO.
Burn BC had no intention of using any mark that had not been approved by CIPO.
Now we have no desire to use it at all, even as Public Domain under section 13(1B) of the Canadian Trademark Act.If the judge awards damages, Burn BC receives the bullet to the head.I was surprised as anyone with this post by …one of our founding members, he has a great heart and contributed countless hours of service to the free and open community spirit that was our Burning Man Community and our Burning Man Culture.~ Bhak Jolicoeur (AKA Napalm Dragon)
Lover of Chaos and Cacophony, Art and Beauty.Trademark Withdrawl (June 25 2014)

The non-profit Burn BC group suggested that if BMOrg wanted to own the marks in Canada, then they should register them in Canada. Which to me seems like a very good point. Instead of doing that, BMOrg is trying to shake down a non-profit collective for $40,000. That’s 2 tickets in a Safari Camp to them. OK, we get it: BMOrg forgot to register trademarks in their biggest export market for 30 years. Why not simply register them now? Why pursue and punish Burners, when the matter is clearly settled? The answer is “mentality”. The way THEY think about US.

Welcome to the new, non-profit culture we are teaching to newbies and spreading around the globe. Gift us your art, so we can monetize it and sue non-profits.

This case may take a number of twists and turns, if they find enough financial backing from the community to take BMOrg on, there could be all kinds of documents produced in a courtroom under discovery laws. Not to mention the public release of 15 years of correspondence between the two charities and their volunteers.

As always with this blog, comments are encouraged. Anyone from BMOrg is welcome to come here and inform the community about what’s going on, as is anybody else with knowledge of these events. Thanks to our multiple anonymous tipsters for sharing this leak.


[Update 9/18/14 5:46pm]


the Burner who wrote the email to the Regionals list has responded to our request for comment, elaborating further on their motives:

[releasing]  this info into the public domain will illustrate a long history of highly inconsistent & arbitrary brand enforcement that relies heavily on the discretion of unpaid volunteers [regional reps aka corporate brand ambassadors] who are empowered by BM to make judgements  as to who is & isn’t a “Burner.”  This is often a highly politicized & authoritarian process that creates divisiveness within communities.  Regional reps may abuse their power by targeting community members for punitive actions by BM simply on the basis of their personal discretion, ie, whether or not they like someone.  Plenty of people throwing parties or selling goods & services using the Burning Man name have been given a pass by the brand cops simply because they know someone & can be vouched for as a “good Burner.”  As a regional rep & one of the early architects of the Regional Network, I never would have agreed to donate over 20,000 hours of my time & energy freely over 7 years to the community had I been explicitly told that my role was to be the protector of a corporate brand.  I believed passionately that we were creating an open source arts movement, & by the time I resigned from Burning Man I felt that those feelings had been manipulated by the Org in order to extract free labor in order to build corporate brand value, rather than community.  The idealistic “we’re a community” rhetoric is the key to extracting free labor for the corporation.  In the thousands of emails on the Regionals list, there is little evidence that regional reps have ever seen themselves as corporate brand ambassadors, they generally appear to be more community-minded idealists who believed, like me, they were helping to shape a fluid & organic movement.  It’s a deceptive & duplicitous practice on the part of Burning Man who is using these same well-intentioned volunteers to be brand enforcement police under the false guise of “protecting the community.”
The choice to go after Burn BC was Marian’s, & she had several options & avenues she could have pursued in this case, & she chose the most vindictive course of action.  Bhak & Burn BC have done nothing to damage the brand; for 15 years, Bhak has been adding value to the Burning Man brand in BC & beyond.  She should be compensating him for contributing to the growth of a global corporate brand now valued at several hundreds of millions of dollars
[Update 9/18/14 7:17pm]
Bhak has a few details he wants to be clear about:

A couple of Corrections.

First paragraph.
NO ONE has ever registered TM rights in Canada. It’s been in the public domain.

We pulled it out and put it back.

There’s no need to continue a law suit, and it’s questionable they have any right to.


We didn’t renounce ownership, we released back to the public domain so no one has exclusive rights to it here.

We didn’t relinquish “all rights” we relinquished exclusive rights.


And the emails Jody wants to release are not between Burn BC and BRC.

They are 15 years of internal BORG correspondence.


[Update 9/18/14 9:06pm]

Although Canada did not sign the Madrid Agreement, they did sign the NAFTA agreement which has a clause about trademarks:

Article 1708: Trademarks

1. For purposes of this Agreement, a trademark consists of any sign, or any combination of signs, capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those of another, including personal names, designs, letters, numerals, colors, figurative elements, or the shape of goods or of their packaging. Trademarks shall include service marks and collective marks, and may include certification marks. A Party may require, as a condition for registration, that a sign be visually perceptible.

2. Each Party shall provide to the owner of a registered trademark the right to prevent all persons not having the owner’s consent from using in commerce identical or similar signs for goods or services that are identical or similar to those goods or services in respect of which the owner’s trademark is registered, where such use would result in a likelihood of confusion. In the case of the use of an identical sign for identical goods or services, a likelihood of confusion shall be presumed. The rights described above shall not prejudice any prior rights, nor shall they affect the possibility of a Party making rights available on the basis of use.

3. A Party may make registrability depend on use. However, actual use of a trademark shall not be a condition for filing an application for registration. No Party may refuse an application solely on the ground that intended use has not taken place before the expiry of a period of three years from the date of application for registration.

4. Each Party shall provide a system for the registration of trademarks, which shall include:

(a) examination of applications;

(b) notice to be given to an applicant of the reasons for the refusal to register a trademark;

(c) a reasonable opportunity for the applicant to respond to the notice;

(d) publication of each trademark either before or promptly after it is registered; and

(e) a reasonable opportunity for interested persons to petition to cancel the registration of a trademark. 

It seems from this that all BMOrg had to do was petition to cancel the registration of the trademark. They gave the trademark owner a reasonable opportunity to respond. The response? Putting the trademark into the public domain. BMOrg have now registered the trademark and are listed as the trademark owner, so it seems like they got the outcome they wanted months ago. Why continue this pursuit, which some have estimated will cost $100,000 or more just to defend?
J: article 13(1B) of the Canadian Trademark Act would apply… we, in Canada, used Burning Man images and symbols long before they were registered in the USA, therefore those marks can not belong to Decommodification LLC, in Canada
A good point. Decommodification LLC did not even exist when the Canadian trademarks were registered.
Pantsless Santa says:

A very short summary of what happened, with a little info on trademark law and surely many mistakes. This is based on information shared publicly by Bhak and some of the legal filings he shared directly with me a while back. I am an attorney.

1. The BMOrg forgot to register the trademarks in Canada, which is not a signatory to the treaty that makes registration reciprocal in most countries.

2. Burn BC, an unnoficial regional organization and perhaps mostly Bhak’s alter-ego, had been using the trademarks without the BMOrg’s permission but with its awareness for a while.

3. Trademark law: registration is only one piece of the puzzle. If an entity uses a trademark, generally words or a symbol, it can pretty quickly get the right to prevent other people from using it for the same purposes. Example: If I open up Pantsless Santa’s Light Sick and Feather Hut and run the business for a year or two, I will gain trademark rights to that business name and nobody else will be able to capitalize on my success.

4. More trademark law: Trademark registration basically gives you those rights, and even more, in advance. But if someone else is already using a trademark, nobody else can register it. Example: A local entrepreneur named Hairy Larvae decides that he wants to open up his own Pantsless Santa’s Light Stick and Feather Hut, and attempts to register that name as a trademark. He won’t be able to. It’s already my trademark, even though I haven’t registered it.

5. Burn BC applied to register the Burning Man trademarks on the grounds that it represents the Canadian burner community. Part of the argument is based on the idea that the Canadian community as it has developed over the years has a culture distinct from the corporate American TITD. This is an interesting argument and probably has some merit, but it is not pertinent to this procedural and legal account.

6. The BMOrg opposed Burn BC’s registration attempt, as far as I can remember on the grounds that the above argument is bunk (it might or might not be), that the BMOrg, through its official affiliates, already had the unregistered trademark rights (it does, unless – at minimum – the above argument is valid), and that Burn BC does not represent any separate Canadian burner community that might have trademark rights (this is a coffin nail for Burn BC). I apologize if I have this all wrong – I may well.

7. Burn BC “released the marks into the public domain” and withdrew its registration application, I believe with the intent that they only be used for noncommercial/burny purposes. This was a nice gesture, but a. It might not have any rights to release (see above), and b. Trademarks don’t quite work that way – you either maintain control of them or lose all rights to them.

8. The BMOrg is seeking revenge against Bhak for challenging their authority and forcing them to incur a ton of legal fees, maybe as much as $100k worth based on the amount of paper that’s been generated.

9. The BMOrg is acting like a bag of dicks. Bhak’s theories might or might not hold water in court, but he has acted in good faith with the purpose of promoting what he believes are the best interests of Canadian burners. This is not some kind of frivolous power grab. He doesn’t deserve this.

Decommodification, LLC now owns a newly registered trademark in Canada. What will they do with this in 3 years when they “fully complete” their transition?
In other news, Billionaire Burner Elon Musk is showing humanity the right way to move forwards, by Gifting his for-profit company’s valuable intellectual property for “good faith” use. This is the future, “the Sharing Economy” that BMOrg loves to tell us they’re an example of.

[Update 9/20/14 11:53am]
Bhak has provided us with more details.
Decommodification, LLC is the party launching the lawsuit, so the legal fees don’t appear to be paid by the charity. The Vancouver Court Docket is here, this matter has been going on for some time with a number of different statements made to the court since April this year.
Bhak explains:
Decommodification LLC does NOT own a registered mark in Canada. application is “FORMALISED” which just means it’s been received and is waiting to be EXAMINED. It takes 12-18 months to reach examination. “Formalised” is just a fancy way of saying “entered in the system” and while it’s being applied for, no one else can file an application for the same.After 12-18 months, if the examiner deems the mark unregisterable they reject the application. If they don’t notice anything, it’s APROOVED which means Decommodification LLC has rights to use it as an official Trademark while it gets ADVERTISED for opposition. But until it’s REGISTERED after the ADVERTISED and OPPOSITION phases, they cannot assign licence to it, and they cannot enforce it, and they cannot transfer, or sell it.

During opposition it gets advertised in a public journal for 60 days at which time anyone can oppose it for any valid reason listed under section 30.

Burn BC released it’s marks based on Section 13(1B) of the Canadian Trademark Act.

Which would fall under section 38 (1B) as an unregisterable mark. It’s kind of like what happens when a mark falls out of trademark into public domain when its “Naked Licensed”, which is generally how it was used in Canada up until around 2009 or so.

…It wasn’t me “Bhak” who registered the marks, it was Burn BC. Burn BC was waiting to see if the marks passed the opposition phase with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. If anyone opposed it, it was clear that no one should have exclusive rights.

If no one opposed, we were going to hand it off to an independent Federal Non-Profit run by Canadian Burners, and I would resign from it and Burn BC, for the sake of integrity, and to get back to just making my Art and raising my two year old son, unimpeded by this ever imposing conversion of a culture into a global brand owned by a corporation.This was offered as a mutually respectful and mutually respectful proposal before any lawsuit was launched. The original idea was that “we don’t care what you do in the United States, you’ve never really cared to be involved with Canada or do anything for Canada” So we will represent ourselves here, and you can do whatever you want there, and we will be nice about it.Coinciding with this was overwhelming sentiment from Canadian Burners that “NO ONE” should own it here. At this point the only reason to continue this law suit is to frighten me (and others) into silence and isolation about our rights to “Burning Man” in Canada over the last 20 years, and the fact that at this point it’s in the public domain here, through a combination of, 

1: never having been registered in Canada,
2: having been used widely under “Naked Licencing”
3: and generally arbitrarily enforced as a Cultural or Community MarkIn consultations with lawyers they all said it’s already Public Domain, and about the only way anyone can register it is if no one opposes any applications with CIPO. In other words someone is trying to issue and enforce in Canada something they have never had Registered Rights to enforce in Canada.So no one was stealing anything. Burn BC was just recognizing our rights as Canadians and the work we’ve done as a Distinctly Canadian Burning Man Culture, and offering an opportunity for Canadian Burners to step up to the plate and defend those rights. But it became clear, that people wanted NO ONE to have exclusive rights to our Culture and Community here. So we released the marks under a section of the trademark act that says “no mark that interferes with the development of the arts shall be registered.

Embrace Embrace

Embrace is going ahead – and looking for a home after Burning Man. Unlike the Temple design they were initially pitching for, now they are building art that can survive to be enjoyed by others outside the burn. We hope to see much more of that in the future. Embrace is looking for a good home post-Burn, as well as another $60,000 – if you can help them, get in touch. It’s seven stories tall, which might create some insurance issues. They already beat their $47,000 Kickstarter goal. According to this interview, they have raised in total $140,000 of their $200,000 total goal, including a 2014 Burning Man Art Honorarium grant. This project is going ahead, and it is going to be significant. It’s from the crew who brought you the Pier, operating out of Vancouver, BC; Portland, OR; and Reno, NV.

Matt Schultz is the director of The Generator in Reno. He shares some of the thinking behind the Embrace, and discusses the “hetero-normative backlash” the piece triggered – apparently, mostly from straight white guys…


Story from IgniteChannel:

Matt Schultz Gives the People of Burning Man a Giant Hug with His Sculpture Embrace



Embrace Sketch by Killbuck


Evocative works of art embrace us; they inspire action, thought, and emotion; and even subvert the dominant paradigm. Matt Schultz and the Pier Group’s 2014 Burning Man sculpture, Embrace, embodies all of those qualities. Rising from the playa, Embrace is a 72- foot sculpture of two people entwined in a bond of affection and acceptance. The wooden, cathedral-like structure will cradle all who enter and provide a space for celebrating relationships of all kinds and remembering, with joy, those who can no longer be physically embraced.

The Pier Group have created wonderful art on the playa before, including The Pier, Pier 2, and the Ichthyosaur Puppet Project.

Matt is also the Executive Director of an inclusive art space called The Generator, located in Sparks (Reno), Nevada. This is the heart of the Embraceproject, but the actual hearts that will light the inner beauty of the couple are being created by crews in Vancouver and Portland.

The Ignite team had the pleasure of speaking with Matt about his inspiration for Embrace and the challenges of building a large sculpture at Burning Man.

Is this project going to be almost like a second Temple?

Matt: We have a huge dialogue behind all of this. We wanted to try to take the idea of Temple and flip it a bit away from so much of the feeling of this release from death. I think it is release in that way that you kind of let it go and forget about it. We wanted people to think about those that they care about.

Instead of thinking about loss, we wanted people to smile for the good times they shared with people. That’s why Embrace, for us, is about the moment. It’s a Temple dedicated to “right now.” It’s a Temple that gives for your relationships in the moment. Within the context we originally defined for Temple, we wanted to embrace and define a broader experience for participants when it comes to relating to death and sorrow and despair.

We want to give people a palette for some more positive emotions, too, in relationship to that. This project has been straddling these two worlds and one of the worlds it has been straddling is this traditional need that the Temple appeals to. It’s a core functional piece of our city. The Temple allows a lot of us who don’t have religion, who don’t have an organized body to turn to, to have a place to express that grief, to express a sense of spirituality, to release from challenges that we don’t have anywhere else to go to. That was the kind of first place we were straddling with Embrace.

The second place we were stepping to was that we wanted to create a new space at Burning Man – a space that is focused on the here and now – being present in your relationships, being present with the people you love, with the people you hate, being present in your relationship with yourself. We really feel like that part of the idea was so complementary to the first idea. You have your release, that kind of time when you let go, then you have the analysis of it, the chance to take time to think and reflect on those moments in your life. I really like that duality.

I think initially when we didn’t get Temple, we as a crew were pretty bummed out, but a lot of our crew were 50/50. Some of us wanted Temple, some of us didn’t. I think maybe it was an ego blow for us more than anything, but once we realized that we weren’t the Temple, we found a lot of joy in it. Not being Temple is something that I never realized would have a positive nature to it.

When we were vying for Temple, we had a lot of really great positive feedback about our project, but within that positive feedback, we had a handful of mean, negative, dark things said about this project. That was really challenging. None of us are getting paid to do this project. We are doing it as a giant “thank you” to a community who opened their hearts to us and welcomed us in.

We saw elements of the same community shunning us and telling us we had horrible ideas, yelling and screaming at us and being hurt by what we were proposing. I can only speak for myself, but part of the reason I started doing art at Burning Man is that it was the first community where I felt welcomed  in and where I felt I had a real home. The Pier and the ship are so innocuous. They’re fun, but they are more pieces that just evoke senses of wonder. They are part of a dream scape. They’re pieces of surreal thrown on the playa that don’t actually elicit any strong emotions outside of the childlike desire to explore.

Embrace is certainly a more interesting piece from my perspective. It was challenging reading some of the Facebook threads and feeling like people really wanted to attack me for this idea.


That’s too bad that has to happen. Nobody can every please everyone, with anything that they do, but to be attacked by people is sad, especially since your project is all about love. What’s to complain about?

Matt: The people who were complaining had a realistic complaint. Most of the people were complaining about things they dealt with in the real world that they felt were reflected in my art piece. One of the biggest kind of critiques leveled against it was that it was too hetero-normative, which was a term that I was not familiar with before I started this project.

That took me for a loop because I have always kind of struggled with how I identified within my gender norms. While I am very much male, there are times when I am far too female for normal society. I’ve been critiqued my whole life for that. When we designed Embrace, we designed it to be much more androgynous. We didn’t want it to be a man and a woman; we wanted it to be a sculpture where people could identify with it any way that they liked. If they wanted, it could be a mother and a son, a father and a grandpa, a husband and a wife, or brothers or sisters. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that it still seemed human. I didn’t want it to be too incredibly neutral. I didn’t want them to look like a sculpture of a pair of elves. So I wanted to have some musculature, some curves and some shape.

The smaller one is more slender, but the smaller one has a broader chest and no hips, while the larger one is more muscular with a much shallower chest and broader hips. They both have androgynous features and they both have gender-specific features.

It was really funny because most of the conversations I’ve had, people say, it’s clearly a man and a woman because one is taller than the other. I can’t count the number of people I’ve looked at and said, name one relationship you’ve had in your life where you are the same size as the other person. Size does not delineate gender.

That’s so weird because I’ve been writing about transgender issues lately. I’m not transgendered, but my friend is and some other people l know are. I know that transgender people face a lot of challenges, but from the messages I get from them, I doubt they would be upset by Embrace.

Matt: Most of the people complaining have been straight white men. There is this projection of identity which is very interesting. A large majority of the friends that I have are kind of outside of the hetero norm – they see a lot of positive in this piece. Within that, as an artist, I don’t want everyone to love my piece. I had to learn to grow a thicker skin. If I’m going to be disappointed that people that are throwing barbs at me for making a piece that compels them to like it or not like it, I can’t at the same time be happy, or compelled, or so proud that a dialogue is forming from the piece.

I think I have to accept that when making a piece of art, you’re inherently communicating a message and communicating it very loudly, at least when you are building on the scale that we are. We are screaming the concept at the top of our lungs, but we’re not refining that concept. We’re letting people choose what that concept is.

I don’t know if I really have a right to complain about that concept in that manner because of the simple fact that the narrative is beautiful and blossoming. A good narrative should have both negative and positive aspects to it, and that’s what I always wanted to do with my art. If all you want is to make innocuous art that no one complains about, you aren’t creating any conversation.

Option two is you can create interesting art that some people are going to hate and then they are going to reflect that hate upon me. There isn’t a lot of middle ground there, especially with the American relationship to art. At the same time, if I am going to be yelling from the top of my lungs and building some giant sculpture dedicated to relationships, I should expect a little blowback from people who have had difficulty with relationships.

I don’t think people realize this, but Embrace is built by a bunch of loners and outcasts who just wanted to belong. I think we formed this group of artists that we have here because we wanted to create a place where anyone could come and belong and we could do something incredible and build something really fantastic. Embrace encompasses this bigger idea. Embrace is a project that at the end of the day is less about the final result and more about the process with the community, friends, neighbors, with new people from different countries, with men and women, children and the elderly. It’s this chance for all of us to come together and make something and smile and laugh and make new friends and share hugs and stare at this giant thing we’ve built at the end of the day. And smile and laugh and do it again.


The Interior of Embrace with Two Hearts

The Interior of Embrace with Two Hearts Sketch by Killbuck

And you are actually working with people in Vancouver and Portland – different groups working together. How does that work?

Matt: What we did with the ship, we tried to create more of an open collaboration and we created a loose framework of what we needed to populate the inside of it and we had our satellite crews populating it and that worked very well. What we are doing on Embrace is, we opened up the collaboration even more, so Kevan Christiaens and myself thought it would be an original idea for the project to be these two giant tree people in an embrace as cathedrals inside.

Kelsey Owens, a dear friend of ours, had a dream that they had giant hearts inside of them, so we integrated that. Another friend, Bernie Beauchamp, thought it would be a great to have a hole in the top, so you could see the stars. What we did and what we are continuing to do on this project is welcome feedback and integrate it. It has this chance to be the whole crew’s project; it’s not just my project.

We have two hearts. We already had this established crew in Vancouver – a bunch of dear friends who worked on multiple projects with us. We’ve had a small contingent of crew members in Portland, so we figured we’d have a Portland and Vancouver crew and they can build the hearts. The only guidance on the hearts was that I wanted them to be a human heart shape, not a cartoon shape and I would like them to be some kind of chandelier light-creating source that was about the size of a small car. They also had to be a certain weight. They’ve just developed from there independently. I have no idea what the hearts are going to look like. It’s really incredible seeing that kind of collaboration open up and to have three crews in different cities working on this project.

Can you tell me about the Generator, where you are building Embrace?

Matt: I’m the executive director of the Generator. We’ve got four board members and our funder. We wanted to create a space where all the tools and resources were accessible for anyone to use and anyone to create with. We wanted to carry the ethos of Burning Man, most importantly being open and inclusive and de-commodified to a real world space to see how it would work.

It’s been an absolutely incredible experiment. The number of projects and amazing pieces of art and the people that have come through here who have learned and done something new is absolutely phenomenal.


Embrace Sketch by Killbuck

You made your crowdfunding goal, but what do you need in the way of support or volunteers?


Matt: We need to raise another $60 thousand to fund this project. We’ve raised about $140 thousand, but the project cost is about $200 thousand. We are looking for volunteers. Embrace is not burning, so at this point, we need to find a place in northern Nevada or northern California that would be a good home for it. If someone is willing to donate a piece of property where we can create a sculpture park or if someone wants it on their private property, they should ask us about the prospects of doing that.

Read IgniteChannel’s full interview here.