9/19/2014

Burning Man trademark and related intellectual property should be gifted


Burning Man doesn't need heavy handed enforcement of intellectual property to have an awesome event in the desert. None of the trademarks and related intellectual property are required to make Burning Man happen.

Below is Written by John Law, January 2007:
Burning Man belongs to everyone.
Burning Man is the sum of the efforts of the tens of thousands of people who have contributed to making Burning Man what it is.
The name Burning Man and all attendant trademarks, logos and trade dress do not belong to Larry Harvey alone or to Black Rock City LLC.
If they don’t belong to anyone, they belong to the public domain. If they are in the public domain, the event can still go on and the trademarks, logos and trade dress can still be used. But the event organizers don’t own those things and each and every one of the event participants are free to use these things as they want without permission or interference from the event organizers. There’s nothing to stop the party from being as big and wild as ever.
Some of you know this history, some don’t.
In 1986, Jerry James cobbled together an 8 foot tall human figure and burned it on Baker Beach with Larry Harvey. They got the idea after they had attended Baker Beach Solstice bonfires & art soirees hosted by Mary Grauberger in the early 80’s. Jerry James looked me and the Cacophony Society up in 1988 and asked for our help and by 1990 we were integrally involved in the Baker Beach party.
The Baker Beach parties were beach bonfire parties with little planned “participation” other than attendees picking up a rope to help raise the figure before torching. I recall on the Solstice of 1990 (the last and by far biggest event at Baker Beach) that the entire music presentation consisted of one rock/jazz drum kit ably commanded by Dean Gustafson (god bless him!) Cacophony dubbed the events Burning Man in 1989.
The Cacophony Society was conversant in organizing strange and intense events in dangerous and unusual locations. Once involved, Cacophony influence encouraged and inspired the event to attain much greater and more ambitious goals. The original event organizing at the Black Rock was easily 90% Cacophony members or alumni. My involvement was crucial to the survival.
Kevin Evans and I were planning a Cacophony Society event in the Black Rock Desert for late summer 1990. Earlier in June of that year we all helped out with the Baker Beach party. The police came and would not allow us to burn the figure. A small hand full of us helped Jerry James deconstruct (literally – OK?) the figure of the man and stored it at a lot Jerry had secured.
Unbeknownst to me and most everyone else, Jerry and Larry were in the middle of a very rancorous falling out at the time. Jerry, one of the most honorable and fair people I’ve known over the years withdrew from organizing the event. Michael Mikel had joined Cacophony recently and the two of us developed a fast friendship becoming defacto event organizing partners.
Cacophony events were not for profit at all and the early BM was anything but for profit. M2 (or “Danger Ranger as he became known) and I stepped into the breach after Jerry’s departure and became, along with Larry, the primary organizers of the rapidly expanding event.
By 1994 the three of us formalized our partnership into a business and became legal owners of BM when it became clear that we needed to do things like pay taxes since we had started selling tickets in an effort to finance the ever more ambitious event.
It’s difficult now looking back on those days to realize just how broke we were. All monies taken in by the event were spent immediately on expenses, supplies, transportation, etc.
Although then as now many people contributed much to the event often with no concern for money, M2 & I were putting so much time into the event that we were broke and starving. We needed some assurance that if the event ever got in the black that we would become paid organizers – it would “become our job.” Larry agreed. Two years later on the heels of the disastrous (for the organizers) 96 BM I resigned from active involvement in the event.
A more detailed account of the preceding story can be found in Brian Dougherty’s history of BM: “This is Burning Man” Little Brown Publishers.
In early 97 Larry, M2 and I formed “Paper Man LLC” in order to own the name Burning Man. From that year til 2005, Black Rock City L.L.C., (this entity comprised of M2, Larry and four others became the managing entity for the BM festival) paid Paper Man LLC the minimum amount required (around $800 a year) to pay PMLLC’s annual filing fee. M2 was the managing partner of PMLLC & handled the paper work.
Larry chose not to meet his obligations and convinced Black Rock LLC to default on it’s obligations to PMLLC in 2006. At that point M2 and Larry found themselves at loggerheads and secured legal council to duke it out. M2 filed an arbitration demand naming me and Larry a couple of months back.
Burning Man, since it’s inception has depended upon the gratis efforts of many. Since my leaving active organizing of the event in 1996, it has become a huge business generating more than 8 million dollars a year. Some people are paid quite well for their efforts. If the organizing core of the event believes, as they say quite clearly in their literature that the BM concept is a true movement, and has an opportunity to really make a difference in peoples lives and ideas around community, the arts, etc., then they shouldn’t have a problem releasing the protected trademarks Burning Man, Black Rock City, etc to the public domain where ANYONE can then BE Burning Man. Doing this will not impede their ability to manage and organize the event, sell tickets, pay themselves, and any artists, vendors and tradesmen as they choose using ticket sales receipts.
The only thing that would change is that NO ONE would be able to capitalize on “Burning Man” by licensing the name or selling it or using it as an advertising pitch. There is no other reason to retain these legal ownership titles other than to capitalize on their brand value at some later date.
I was defrauded by Larry and Michael’s actions. I hope they choose to do the right thing and give Burning Man to the people.
If they prove unwilling to do that, then I must insist that Larry and Michael honor their contract with me and honor the intent and letter of the law of our earlier agreements.