12/10/2013

Let Larry Own Everything at Burning Man

attendees watching the man burn at burning man 2010
larry wants it like this
You signed it all away! By walking into those gates you signed away your freedom. In fact, by walking through those gates you agreed that your freedom is shared with another who has the ultimate veto power over how you express yourself. Of course, you have no veto or ultimate say on how your freedom is used under this agreement, only the partner you've agreed will have "joint ownership" has that. But, you might ask, if it is so one-sided, how exactly is it joint-ownership?


the temple of transition at burning man 2011
you didn't want to see that anyways

The real sad truth is that it isn't joint ownership.

“Personal Use” of images, film or video means to share with friends and family, to display on personal websites ... to display on photosharing websites ... these sites are not used for the promotion or distribution of images with the intent to publicly display them beyond one’s immediate network, and if one’s immediate network is not inordinately large, to be determined in Burning Man’s sole discretion.
As of the past few years when someone attends burning man they have signed away their right to be free in how they express themselves with their art. Specifically they agree that Black Rock City LLC can basically sue the pants off of any attendee for using photographs that the LLC claims joint-ownership of, i.e. all of them. Of course as with all things burning man they sell this load of bullshit as in the interests of the people. They use the fearsome "privacy" to justify this grab at our right to use our art and our property as we see fit. And the people buy it up. Look at any post about photography and burning man and there will be 90% of the people saying "we need to stop creeps from photographing us naked!!!". And so it goes, endlessly. They sell the idea that claiming ownership and the right to be a watchdog over your art is in the interest of "free expression." In other words, they need the money from suburbanites who want to be naked and "free" more than they need the money from people who are artists and make photographs as their form of being "free."

The LLC plays into this fear of someone seeing you naked on the internet and claims ownership of all photographs at the event. And who can argue against it? Surely anyone who is for freedom when it comes to using ones art and ones personal property, in the form of photographs, is a creep who wants to sell the images to some porn website. They'll bring up cases of settlements where they used their expensive lawyers to stop people from selling the next Burners Gone Wild titty video to bolster their case. 

costumed participants at burning man
what they claim to protect
art on the open playa at burning man
what really happens

But the bigger picture is profit, not privacy.
I understand that, in the absence of written permission from Burning Man, I have no right under this agreement to sell, transfer, license, sublicense or give any of my images, footage, film or video obtained at the event to any other party, except for Personal Use
As you can see in the agreement they stress the idea of "personal use." In fact, you cannot use your photographs made at burning man for anything but personal use. If you want to sell or even gift your property, your art, you need the permission of black rock city llc to do that, because you agreed to sell away your rights when you attended. If you make a sculpture for burning man, you don't need their permission to sell it. If you make a recording of a really awesome DJ set that you did at the event, you don't need their permission to sell it.

the man sculpture at burning man
he has privacy concerns
What makes photography so different? Who knows. It may be likely that it can fit neatly under the umbrella of Intellectual Property. It may be, also, that the precedent for photography-as-art being protected under the 1st amendment is not quite so clear at this current time. Whatever the case may be it is almost certain Black Rock City LLC profits off of this policy. 
Burning Man requires any party interested in making a commercial enterprise out of their documentation of the event or distributing footage beyond Personal Use on personal friend/family networks to enter into a written contract with Burning Man.
One needs to sign a contract to use their property however they see fit. I wonder if the LLC will get a cut of the proceeds under that contract? Ah yes, the old 'decommodification is bad, unless we get a cut' routine.

Whatever the case may be the result is a chilling effect. There are those who do not make photographs at burning man anymore because they do not want a company that some feel is overly litigious having ownership of their art. Whether they in the LLC have intended it to be this way or not the result, for some, is clear. Larry ends up owning everything and Black Rock City LLC appears more and more just like any other greedy company.

But how can a company that claims to be about art, free expression, radical-expression, and changing the culture of the world be so corporatist on this issue? It is simple: it seems to be an easy sell these days. They can use a public perception: "I have a right to not be photographed" (no such right exists), to profit off of their brand. They can sell the clamp-down on your right to do what you please with your art, your property, using the unassailable position of "privacy." And it works. But should it? Should Larry own your art, your property? For one who truly embraces the word radical in 'radical self-expression' it is likely a big no freakin' way. What is radical about signing away your right to do anything you please with your art? Nothing. Go ahead, let Larry own everything else. As for my art? I'd like to keep it.