The challenge of building Burning Man continues to create legal challenges for the Project. In 2003, the Legal team further refined efforts to protect the event and its participants from exploitation and to support Burning Man’s commitment to perpetuating its cultural ethos in the year-round world

As in previous years, significant effort was required to protect Burning Man’s trademarked name and images from commodification and exploitation. The 2003 event year presented us with over 200 instances of trademark violation or misuse. Many of these instances are found on eBay or other online offerings. Between the organization’s proactive efforts to track how its name is used, and vigilant attention from our thousands of participants around the world, we are able to track down most of these violations and contact the offenders. Frequently a simple reminder the Burning Man name is trademarked is sufficient to prompt corrective action or removal of the violation. Further legal action is sometimes required in a few instances.

Burning Man experienced a legal victory in 2003 when it prevailed over Voyeur Video. An out-of-court settlement resulted in Voyeur Video’s agreement to cease the sale of nude video footage obtained without authorization at the event. They also agreed to turn over all stock of their Burning Man videos and never to return to Black Rock City. This victory was gratifying not only because it removed the offending “Rainbow Fire Festival” tapes from the market, but because it set a precedent for our ability to protect participants from such exploitation in the future.

Perhaps due to the increasing accessibility of emerging technology for filmmaking and digital video, 2003 saw more Burning Man films than ever before actually reach completion and producers return to seek distribution. Members of the Legal team have kept busy with the creation of contracts and licensing agreements for these works. The process for a filmmaker shooting at Burning Man begins with a Basic Use Agreement that extends permission to film on the playa. If all goes according to the producer’s plan, the process ends with a distribution agreement granting Burning Man’s permission to distribute the film. Such films as “Dust Devils” from Ireland’s Purple Productions and “Confessions of a Burning Man” from Hotbed Media, along with dozens more films, television shows, and news productions, had contracts negotiated in 2003 and are now in distribution.

Another huge effort for the Legal team during 2003 was the creation of the Regional Letter of Agreement, a document formalizing the relationship between Burning Man and its Regional Contacts. Many months of roundtable editing sessions produced the current agreement, which launched in February 2004. Legal progress also progressed on the Film Festival in a Box, a tool for community-gathering events to be made available to the Regional Contacts in 2004. This package also requires contracts – with the filmmakers whose films will be included, and with the regional or individual who will execute each local festival.

Legal expertise was also important to Burning Man’s political struggle in Nevada during the permit process for the work ranch. More information is available in the Nevada Properties and Government Relations reports.

The Legal team is also involved with the creation and management of many other types of contracts and text for Burning Man – from human resource issues to vendor contracts. From Survival Guide text to the infamous “YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME…” statement on the back of each ticket, the Legal team’s valuable guidance reaches across many departments.

Submitted by,
Andie Grace, aka Actiongrl