Contract negotiations with event vendors (medical, toilets, dust abatement, etc.) went smoothly in 2008 as a result of having established many long-term business relationships and the increasing use of multi-year agreements over the last few years.
A more challenging area of contract negotiations is the area of licensing agreements whereby Black Rock City, LLC (BRC) licenses the use of trademarked images, words or logos on a very limited basis for use in books and documentary films. The key is allowing writers, photographers and filmmakers to help spread the ethos of Burning Man, while at the same time protecting trademarks against commodification. The challenge for 2009 will be to ensure that the terms of licensing agreements are always understood before the book or film work begins, so as to avoid any confusion afterwards.
The John Law lawsuit was settled in 2008. While all involved parties agreed that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential, as is common in settlement agreements, suffice to say that the court agreed with BRC and dismissed John Law’s complaint for failure to state a valid claim. Also, participant Tanja Barnes’s lawsuit against BRC was dismissed as frivolous. This suit was in reference to her brief appearance in a televised Burning Man documentary, filmed while she was performing with the Fire Conclave. Earlier this year, Barnes posted the following statement on her website:
In June 2007, I filed a lawsuit against Burning Man, seeking damages from Burning Man because my image appeared in a show on the Discovery Times channel, without my consent. I have dismissed my lawsuit against Burning Man because I mistakenly sued Burning Man and I have realized that my lawsuit was unintentionally frivolous. Burning Man takes strenuous efforts to protect participants privacy, but at the same time Burning Man has no responsibility and shouldn’t have any responsibility to any participant whose image is captured on film. I also understand why it is important to have certain media attend the event, so that Burning Man’s story and principles can be communicated to the world.
(For background information on either the John Law or Tanja Barnes lawsuits, see the 2007 Legal AfterBurn Report.) Other than these two cases there is little else to report in the litigation arena, obviously a positive state of affairs.
Lawyers for Burners, LOOP and the ACLU
Back in 2007, there were significantly more Bureau of Land Management (BLM) citations than in prior years, and reports from participants indicated that BLM officers may have acted in ways that violated participants’ civil rights. Members of the Burning Man community self-organized two separate grassroots efforts to address the issue. Lawyers for Burners organized efforts helping participants fight their citations in court (for more information, visit their website). The Law Officer Oversight Program (LOOP) was created by a small group to educate participants on playa about what their legal rights are and how to conduct themselves if stopped by law enforcement. LOOP distributed 20,000 laminates with instructions on how to exercise one’s civil rights if stopped for questioning.
Also in 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a small team to Burning Man to get a first-hand look at how civil rights play out on the ground for participants in the unique environment of Black Rock City. BRC welcomed the ACLU’s efforts. One thing that quickly came to surface, however, was that the nature of Burning Man is very different than other mass gatherings. Typically at such gatherings, the ACLU acts on behalf of protestors whose rights are being violated. Since Burning Man is a private event with a level of organization not usually germane to other mass gatherings, the Law Enforcement Agency Liaison (LEAL) Team was already involved in direct contact with law enforcement a unique twist for the ACLU to navigate. Nonetheless, the ACLU observed behavior, attended meetings with both law enforcement and event organizers, and provided a presence and awareness to both participants and law enforcement that sent the message, “Civil rights are alive in Black Rock City.” BRC’s General Counsel and the ACLU are reviewing reports on law enforcement behavior and will be advising BRC about whether any rights were violated, and if so, what action can be taken.