Media Mecca

During the registration period, which opens in spring and closes shortly before the event, the Media Team approved 273 projects, out of a total of 371 applications for 2011 press/media projects. Fewer applications were approved in 2011 than in previous years. Because Burning Man chooses to grow the Burner community by word of mouth—as opposed to advertising—we have remained selective about camera crews every year and limited the number allowed to film onsite.

But as 2011 ticket sales accelerated, it became clear that limiting event coverage would be more important than ever, and once we recognized that our tickets would sell out, we adjusted our press strategy. We raised the bar for criteria and reduced the number of media camera passes we would grant, but we also did our best to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to pre-event press mentions, such as event calendars or other similar listings. Only refusing to share images can totally prevent these listings, and some publications never bother to request fact checking or permission anyway, but we did our best to stem the tide where possible to give the existing community first crack at the remaining tickets.

However, our approach is not one of hiding Burning Man from the world entirely, and we do still seek to share the inspiration of Black Rock City with people all over the world. 2011 once again brought interest from an increasing international audience, and outlets came from around the world: Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Vienna, Poland, Germany (ZDF, RTL, and WDR), Italy (Grazia Magazine), Switzerland, Holland, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Belgium (VRT), Australia (2RRR Radio), Japan, Brazil, and Israel.

Domestic outlets with event-focused stories included, the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, Huffington Post, NPR’s “Morning Edition”, and History Channel’s Modern Marvels.

Importantly, the event alone is no longer the sole focus of the Media Team’s year-round efforts. Many national and international outlets now express interest in Burning Man and its culture throughout the year. Outlets from across the country (ABC, NBC, CBS, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reno-Gazette Journal, LA Weekly, to name a few) focused feverishly on the fact that Burning Man reached capacity and stopped selling tickets in July – the first time in the event’s 25 year history. The August 2011 launch of the new non-profit, the Burning Man Project, sparked further national interest and gave rise to the story of Burning Man as a full-time cultural engine beyond the week in the desert. The Media Team has expanded and evolved in order to handle the growing international interest in the cultural story of Burning Man.

Changing technologies are greatly influencing these projects and driving the evolution of Burning Man media-making. The number of small camera projects has swelled with the proliferation of consumer pocket cameras capable of HD quality filmmaking. 3D project proposals have increased. One Burning Man film entirely shot on an iPhone is currently making its way through the festival circuit.

Our policies continue to evolve along with technology as well. In 2011, we revised our approach to tagging personal video cameras. The typical participant who signs a Personal Use Agreement these days is often using smartphone or very small handheld – affixing a camera tag to a smartphone is no easy feat. While we still held the line and required participants sign a Personal Use Agreement for shooting motion/video images, we eliminated the camera tag process for personal cameras.

Most importantly, in response to a 2009 discussion with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Burning Man updated its media-related terms and conditions in three major areas. The first was to satisfy the call for more “human readable” language that further explained the issues of joint copyright between Burning Man and the image-maker. The second change allowed the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike to be a licensing option for images and video from the event (as long as those images do not contain nudity). The third made clear that distributing images or video on social networking sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Youtube was considered Personal Use. While these new approaches are not without challenge and represent a slight erosion of previous policies, they have retained the attention to issues of commodification and participant privacy. The new policies do a better job of addressing image use more realistically in today’s environment, and they represent a positive discussion and compromise between Burning Man’s unusual zone for photography and the forward motion of the modern photographic world.

After more than 15 years of Media Team activity, we’ve achieved a smooth process, and new projects and initiatives are able to emerge and thrive. A subset of the Media Team created and launched the first “Art PR” Team to support Burning Man’s artists and Black Rock Arts Foundation grant recipients in their efforts to get the word out about their work. This team worked in collaboration with the artists’ local Regional Contacts to provide press releases, build local media lists, set up websites and social media presences, and to coach artists on how to interact with the press and to tell their story to the world. The Art PR team hosted a Public Relations seminar in July and artists tuned in from across the globe. As part of this PR initiative, a video team assembled and created short documentaries of several Burning Man art pieces called “Profiles in Dust.” They can be viewed here:

Intellectual Property Enforcement

Burning Man primarily enforces Intellectual Property (IP) issues in order to uphold the principle of Decommodification. We seek to regulate the use of the Burning Man name and imagery and prevent unwanted commercial uses, and to prevent certain uses that violate the rights of our participants.

The Communications Team and a small sub-team of IP volunteers also engage in a year round process of review, press response, trademark enforcement, and monitoring intellectual property on behalf of Burning Man. This is an area of the organization’s efforts that may not be widely understood. Though some are “outside world” violations from those seeking to exploit Burning Man, a great many TM/copyright violations happen within our own community — from well-intentioned Burners. Most incidents are the result of a misunderstanding of what a trademark is, what our copyright policies are, what “commercial use” means, or what Burning Man does and doesn’t actually regulate. We continue to examine how we can better express criteria and restrictions so that more violations can be avoided in the first place.

Our approach almost always begins (and often ends) with a simple polite email notifying the person of the violation, which generally garners an immediate and equally polite response. The vast majority of IP issues are resolved with a friendly conversation, though on a rare occasion legal action is necessary.

The team processed ~130 IP interactions in 2011. Notable among those are our continued legal case against a European clothing company calling itself “Burning Man,” which has resolved in Burning Man’s favor, and a fast-growing number of theme camp/art fundraiser type events using images, marks, and logos in infringing ways. We issued two successful DMCA’s in 2011, both in pursuit of removing unauthorized pornographic images from photography websites.

Stay tuned to the Jack Rabbit Speaks, or feel free to contact us at with any questions you have about media at the event, or with any representations of Burning Man (images, words, etc.) that pique your curiosity.

Submitted by,
Lee Anna Mariglia, Meghan Rutigliano, and Andie Grace