Cameras at Burning Man: Policies for the digital age

Burning Man is trying to  figure out how to respond to the revolution in digital photography.

Old timers will tell you that cameras weren’t much in evidence in the early years of the event. But now you can’t help but see cameras everywhere on the playa —  from cellphones and point-and-shoots to expensive and sophisticated digital recording equipment that produces everything from stunningly artistic imagery to high-res but low-rent voyeuristic crap.

And the places that those pictures wind up is changing, too. Burning Man has always said it was fine to share your pictures among your friends and family. But what are friends and family these days, when you might have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, or thousands of visitors to your Flickr or YouTube sites?

What happens to the privacy rights of, say, a schoolteacher who enjoys the freedom and empowerment of the Critical Tits bike ride? Should she have to worry when she gets back from the desert that her picture will be easy to find on the internet?

Last week, the organization gathered photographers, videographers, artists, event leaders, legal experts, technologists and just plain good thinkers to explore the ramifications of the digital revolution. Are Burning Man’s policies and procedures still up to the task of protecting privacy, preventing commercialization while still  nurturing the creative image-making process?

The discussions were heartfelt, impassioned, informed and on the whole amazingly constructive.
Much more work remains to be done, and a team of people, including the communications department and legal team, are charged with turning the talk into action items.

Here is some of what was said, plus, if you’ll forgive the intrusion, a little of what I think:

It was pointed out numerous times that there is language for lawyers, and then there is language for the rest of us. If you read the fine print on your ticket to the event, or you read the terms of agreement on the Burning Man website, you’ll find very powerful legalese that accurately reflects the organization’s concerns on the subjects of photography, moving images, privacy and commercialization.

But behind it all is this: Burning man wants to protect people’s privacy, and it wants to protect itself from commercialization. That is what drives all the legalese. But it still bears repeating, in plain and simple language, as clearly and as often as possible: The community of Burning Man believes in the right to privacy.

There was a great deal of discussion about the appropriateness of protecting people’s privacy with the weapons of copyright enforcement. From a practical and legal standpoint,  the copyright tool is effective, so there doesn’t seem to be much reason to stop using it.

But the problem is greater than a person’s image appearing on a tittie website. The issue is one of culture, of what kind of experience you will have at Burning Man. And the issue is respecting each other, including the desire to let what happens in the desert stay there.

If someone’s privacy is violated because their image appears on a tittie site, Burning Man has  ample ability to get that photo or video removed.

But there is much less control over images that appear on social media. And all the discussion in the world about copyright infringement is not going to be helpful here. But there is a way to empower ALL  the sides in this issue — the image makers, the people who ENJOY being photographed, and those who don’t.

It would seem that Burning Man must make it clear to all photographers (and this is going to sound harsh) that they do not have the RIGHT to take photographs at the event, but they do have the PRIVILEGE. And with that privilege comes responsibility.

Really, there are two kinds of people at Burning Man (and in the world): Those who like to have their picture taken, and those who don’t. And I believe that every image maker at Burning Man must accept the RESPONSIBILITY of figuring out which is which.

This is the culture of the event: There are people who like to make images, there are people who enjoy having images made of them and/or their art, and there are people who don’t. The Burning Man image-maker is expected to find out, and then respect, the difference.


Ok, so now you’re back from the event, and if you are a serious photographer, you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures. How should you be able to use  them? Can you have a gallery show, or produce an art book? For years, Burning Man’s answer has been mostly yes. But what about an enterprising photographer or company that wants to post thousands of photos on a website and offer them for sale? Is that fair use? Are people’s rights being violated? Is the event being commercialized?

You can only buy two things at Burning Man: coffee and ice. I don’t think  there is any desire to add pictures to that list.

So maybe Burning Man should allow books to be made (including those from self-publishing sites like Blurb), but maintain that it is a violation of the terms of agreement to set up a website that commercializes the images captured at Burning Man.

(People ask for copies of pictures that I have taken of them all the time. And  I give them to them. I’ve never sold a single picture that someone has asked for. I consider it part of the gift culture to give them the image. If someone wants something other than a digital file, I might charge them what it costs me to make a print, but nothing more.)

But offering to sell images that no one has requested is, to my mind, different. But still, is this a service that the community would appreciate? Would it be good to be able to get great images from the desert without having to trash your own photographic equipment in the process? Maybe so.

I would love to see greater and deeper collaboration between artists and photographers. There are lots of creative things to be done. Burning Man IS a great place to take pictures. And making great images, be they literal or interpretive, is the kind of artistic endeavor that Burning Man seeks to promote.

I also would love to see the curation, appreciation and dissemination of Burning Man images a truly interactive activity in the Burning Man community. Again, I think there are many creative things that could be done. Looking at the Burning Man site, it’s evident that a herculean amount of work has already been done to review, sort and post images from the desert. I’d love to see the power of the community brought into the process as well.

And finally (for now anyway!),  there was a proposal to make the Critical Tits ride a “camera-free” or “camera-optional” event. What if participants wore kerchiefs that indicated their preference? In other words, if I’m wearing a kerchief around my neck, it’s fine to take my picture. No kerchief? No picture.

Maybe that parade will be the testing lab for image-making policies for the whole event. I could see the kerchiefs catching on throughout the week.

I’m a photographer, so of course I’d hate to see the prevailing condition be that Burning Man is a camera-free event unless you are wearing a kerchief that says it’s ok to take my picture. (I mean, think of how they might clash with costumes!)

But the people will decide how they want it to be, and that’s the way it should be.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

81 thoughts on “Cameras at Burning Man: Policies for the digital age

  • as an avid shooter of still and video, i still say cameras at BM is a privlige. not a right. i support a full ban on cameras, since there always will be dorks that subvert good intentions. barring that:

    if i made the rules…

    you may take a camera to BM provided you agree:

    1. you agree (by contract) to pay $1000 to everyone you disrespect by taking, publishing, transmitting, ect. their likeness or form. forever. ( if i see my photo on your blog, website, ect., you owe me, and bmorg helps me collect.)

    2. if BMORG can trace the photo back to its owner, that person is forever banned from BM as part of the problem.

    3. if you disrespect someone with your camera, the disrespected is entilted to seize your camera, by any means at their disposal. right then and there.

    4. cameras and their owners have no rights. you are not participant if you are behind a lens.

    5. the only safe thing to photograph is non-human art. all else is at your peril.

    6. proven disrespectors are ejected and banned.

    burning man is my home. act respectful or leave.

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  • > You can only buy two things at Burning Man: coffee and ice. I don’t think there is any desire to add pictures to that list.

    this is true inside the perimeter during the event. but outside the perimeter, there are a number of “burning man things” that can be bought. for example you can buy photo-books with wonderful photos of art and people taken at the event.

    why shouldn’t you be able to buy a poster of that one iconic photo that you want on your wall?

    of course if you are a talented photographer and lucky to be at the right place at the right time, you can take that photo yourself. but not everyone would be happy with just the photos they take themselves.

    a lot of burners have asked me if they could buy some prints and posters of my photos. most of those people who asked me are “burners”, and they would be glad to support a fellow artists-photographer by buying a print, but cannot pay $300 for it. there are now ways to make quality prints available online with companies like zenfolio, smugmug etc.

    all that sounds good except that BM does not permit photographers to sell their BM prints this way.

    selling some prints at a very reasonable price is a way for some full-time photographers to live from their art. some photographers (like me) are trying to be full-time artists (photography is a form of visual art), and denying those artists to make a living from their art is not very cool.

    for photographers, there is currently only two options to sell prints from photos taken at BM: either make a photo book, or make archival, gallery-type signed framed prints that you sell $300 or more (BM is usually OK with that).

    but selling the exact same print online for $30 (e.g. on smugmug) is not permitted by BM (even if they have the model release).

    note that i give free prints and hi-res files to all my models and to the artists who’s art is on the photos, and i allow artists to sell prints of my photos of their arts for fundraising, so i think i give back a lot to the community. and all my photos can be viewed “for free” on the internet, of course.

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  • BTW, there are 13 things you can officially buy on the playa, not 2. (And I am counting ice as one and all the different drinks at the cafe as two. There are 11 others. And of course a number of other things you can unofficially buy :-)

    But no, this is not the forum for you to guess, so please don’t post your lists, and don’t feel bad if you can’t fill out the list, because most of the BM staffers I have quizzed have been unable to list them all. After you give up, you can go to my web site templetons (.com) and go to URL /brad/burn/buyonplaya.html — I did not embed the URL as that makes the comment go into moderation limbo.

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  • So, I want to point out that for a lot of us parents who go to the burn, it is the one time of the year where we can break away from being the responsible adults we have to be at home and cut loose. This becomes our one big thing to look forward to all year. When we go, and take lots of great pictures, those pictures serve as a way to remind us of home. Sure, I share a lot of them on facebook or wherever, but its a way to express to my friends how much I love the place, not to try and show off some titties I came across. I agree that selling shots from the burn should be closely guarded, but for those of us who need this, and need a reminder throughout the rest of the year, the pictures really matter. Please dont take that away!

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  • I think that looking at all of the avenues when it comes to taking photographs is important. The photography is an art in itself that should be able to be freely expressed with those that appear in the shutter. I think that permission should always be the number one priority before snapping that shot. And as so many other people commenting say, it is a body language that you learn to read while you are out there experiencing Burning Man. If that language says no, then you respect that person’s wish to not be photographed. I must say, in all the years that I have gone, I have never had one person say no. Maybe it’s all in how you inquire.
    For now, please don’t take away this wonderful gift that we are given. And for the Man’s sake, don’t make me cover my neck with a kerchief! It really accentuates my breasts!

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  • Just a reminder, this came up last year after EFF decided to blast Burning Man for a policy that an EFF lawyer created for them (Ah, memory. So short!)

    In short, Burning Man attempts to pro-actively protect privacy rights for participants by declaring that all photos/video taken during the event is copyright BM. For years, this worked well against mass media exploitation, instead of having to react to broaches of privacy.

    And while everyone cites Critical Tits, nudity or behavior as the reasons that people don’t want to be photographed, some people just plain NEVER WANT TO BE IN A PHOTO. You can’t tell who these people are when they are walking behind your subject, or they are in a crowd watching an aerial performer, or they are in Center Camp…

    Question: does someone’s right to privacy extend far enough to command that all people wear blindfolds rather than look at them?

    Obviously there are lines. But Burning Man recognizes that two different individual freedoms are head-to-head in conflict. The right to make photographic art (or just memories) vs. the right to not have your photo taken. The factors are numerous: degree of intrusion, degree of responsible action to be taken, number of people impacted on each side, the “value loss” by an individual if their freedom is completely removed.

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  • And sadly, we’ve been pussy-footing around one of the factors of this issue: the key issue is a sexist issue.

    The “worst case” scenario is usually a girl that was photographed topless/nude and that picture is used by the photographer for (presumed or actual) prurient interests. Something in the range of tongue-lolling ogling to commercializing the media in a Girls Gone Wild format.

    Other people can join the side of the exploited girl saying that he/she does not want her photo taken as well, but the onerous of trust is placed on the photographer to ask first and somehow not look/sound/act like an exploiter. And from what I have seen, men are the only ones confronted if they fail this test.

    I’m pretty sure that Cameragirl on the BMorg staff only asks about 25% of her subjects if she can snap shots. Has she ever been confronted when she doesn’t?

    I would say that the number of participants that want to take photos for personal or commercial exploitation is far lower than the number of people that refused to be photographed. And it is assumed that they are male. Yet the damage they can do to an individual is much greater than what they suffer when someone says “no”.

    I don’t have much of a point here, let alone a solution. But I wanted to add a point of view that I think people are “talking around” to this conversation.

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  • Oh yeah, one more thing.

    People that have ever seen a Burning Man documentary should make sure that they are counted if it comes to a vote on whether to ban cameras at the event. Feel free to vote hypocritically, but be aware that your own enjoyment in the future is like to suffer.

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  • We used to go skinny dipping at Fly Hot Springs before Burning Man grew so large. I had video and photos taken of me at Fly Hot Springs. No one asked because this was before people started making an effort at Burning Man to ask about whether you felt comfortable having your picture taken.

    And I didn’t think of skinny dipping at the hot springs as radical free expression. It was just a kind of natural thing to do there. And then we would all come back from the hot springs and walk around naked sometimes because it started to feel natural to have no clothes on the Playa sometimes.

    Now, if you march in critical dicks or ride in critical tits, you know that you are not just taking a skinny dip in a hot spring – now, most people are quite conscious that the event is ‘radical expression’ that it is noticed and photographed.

    We can’t control what people are going to do with their pictures off the Playa. But anyone who decides to participate in critical tits/dicks should do so with the consciousness that radical free expression is not only expressed, but is also received. Just like dancing with fire, walking naked down the Playa is a kind of risk. You should know what risk you are taking and take your own precautions that make you feel comfortable doing it.

    And banning a camera to me would feel like banning nudity – preventing the expression of one person to avoid offending another. Not an enlightened policy in my mind.

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  • I’m happy with the BMORG’s restrictions on photography mostly because it makes people think first before, say, trying to profit from pictures or video of topless/naked women. And really, that’s the only thing we’re talking about here. I know, as a 41 year old dude, that nobody is interested in paying to see my skinny ass naked, and so the times I do walk around with little or no clothing, I do so with confidence that images of me will not show up online. If the restrictions make it more likely that women can feel the same sense of freedom, than I’m all for them.

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  • Last year was my first burning man ever. I was afraid to even take mybig expensive cameras out of the safety of their bags in the car. Our camp had a pro photographer so I have pics. As a pure participant/non photographer thinking of my second year, the one thing I want to change is BRING MY LITTLE DIGITAL CAMERA!!!! Burning Man to me is about light and color and beauty the very things camera were designed for. Without cameras I would have never even known about burning man. As far as the whole naked issue, as a nude participant myself, I guess I would have to say 2 things. 1-The reality of our world these days is that EVERYTHING you do or say can and will be photographed and probably end up on the internet. 2-isn’t the whole point of self expression to work on breaking down those barriers that “society” has instituted? If you are willing to be naked in front of 40k then why not the world?

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  • I think the answer is PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Pictures are going to be taken. I want to take more pictures this year. Last year we only took pictures within our campsite because I did not know the rules and thought any Burning Man pictures outside of my camp would end in a law suit.
    If you are a naked schoolteacher then it is up to you to protect yourself. Wear a pink afro and a mask, KISS facepaint, goggles, etc… It is more in the mood and SPIRIT of Burning Man anyway.
    It is our family’s feeling that original sin wasn’t eating the apple it was BLAME. Adam blamed Eve. Eve Blamed the Snake. So now naked people blame the photographer. Instead Make Yourself Comfortable with being Photographed, however you have to. Drop your inhibitions at the greeter gate and tell your students, “Yes, thats me. So what.” or, improving your costumes, but lets bring on the cameras Without Restriction! This is one of the greatest art forms that BM has to offer.

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  • As a photographer (not a professional one) I do 3 things:
    * Ask permission
    * When I shoot “less than fully clothed” people, I shoot from angles not showing their faces.
    * Appropriately set permissions on websites such as flikr.

    To the people saying the cat’s out of the bag: you’re right. Small cameras are here to stay.

    To the people saying, “If you can’t handle the consequences of being naked, don’t.” You’re wrong. We don’t normally walk around naked in public, because it’s not culturally accepted. I walk around naked in my house, because I know my wife won’t post nekkid pics of me. I enjoy being able to walk around in rediculous outfits (or nothing at all) at burning man. At the same time, I don’t want those images to get back to my coworkers or customers that weren’t there. That would be a “career limiting move”. I don’t want to be at burning man in formal business attire. It would be no fun if everyone did that, and acted accordingly.

    And I’m sure some will say– while I can’t see her face, I can recognise the woman with the sun/moon tattoo on her bum. That’s true. But only her intimates and other burners will recognise her. Her schoolmates, coworkers, and customers will not. So she shouldn’t have anything to fear from my photography.

    Having “opt in” bracelets or other jewelry might be a great option.

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  • As one of the organizers of the Critical Tits ride, this is an issue that I have thought about a lot. We get many strident complaints every year about the number of men photographing the event. We feel somewhat at a loss about what to do since we don’t get to control the behavior of the spectators of the ride.

    A part of me agrees that every woman needs to take care of herself – wear a wig, paint your face, or don’t ride if the consequences of being photographed could be devastating to you.

    However, until you have actually ridden that gauntlet of thousands of cameras pointed at your naked body, I don’t know if you can understand how vulnerable that can make you feel. There are 2 parts to the problem. The first is all those faceless people pointing cameras at you and how that makes you feel in the moment.

    There are also legitimate concerns about who in the default world might see those pictures. (A friend who is a lawyer was surprised to find herself topless on a Facebook page.) The policy of “Ask First” seems to go out the window at Critical Tits. I realize it is hard to ask permission of someone who is riding past. However, then it seems to me the default should be not to take any pictures…

    I would like to thank those people that don’t bring their cameras to Critical Tits. We appreciate the men who to come to enjoy and support us in the moment without having to take a little bit of us home.

    Finally, I really like the idea of having a camera free day on the playa. It would be an interesting experiment to see if that changed the feel of the day.

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  • This is such a touchy point. As a photographer, I love to capture the moment in a still image. However, I agree that there should be permission by the person(people) that are being photographed before you use their image. As far as pictures of the installations go, I feel they are free game. If the Artists involved in the installation wish to make money later by selling photographs of it, more power to them. If someone else does it better, more power to them. Art is meant to be shared. How can you be mad at someone who makes money off of taking pictures of the installations? Perhaps this will start a movement where Sculptors and Artists realize the power of a still image and incorporate that into their overall plan of an installation.
    I do like the idea of a camera free day on the play as well and agree that it would be an interesting experiment. And isn’t that part of what Burning Man is about?

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  • Like many many photographers I don’t “snap vacation photos” at Burning Man, I make art. If the phrase “taking photos” were banned from discussion, and the the phrase “making art” were used in it’s place, I think the discussion on photography may be very different.

    Photographing BM has important historical significance. Imagine the black civil rights movement, women’s suffrage movement, Viet Nam war, the summer of love, Woodstock, the first man walking on the moon, gay rights struggle, the punk rock movement, or even the current BM oil disaster without photos to tell the story. Think of the rich heritage those photos leave behind. A visit to the library of congress online digital prints collection will help people understand the importance and power of the photograph in documenting our life and history. I would hate to see Burning Man left out of the story of our nation and the world. It was actually the wealth of BM photography which inspired me to participate in the event, and it is my photography that is inspiring my friends, family and community to continue the BM spirit and tradition of radical self expression in Black Rock City and New York.

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  • Re “tims” on June 5:

    I’ll reiterate my point as I think it’s a facet you (and many other photographers) seemed to miss.

    At Burning Man, everyone is a participant and therefore a performer. Since a performance, like any work of art, is automatically copyrighted by the performer (unless stated otherwise) the rights of a photographer are the same as for photographing any performance.

    All Burning Man photos are a manifestation of someone’s art (be it performance or physical). Without the artists and performers, the photograph would not have anywhere near the same value (i.e. a photo of blank Black Rock Desert which may be valuable unto itself, but it is radically different than one with Burning Man). So to claim that you are creating original art is specious: you are creating a _derivative work_.

    Any art created by photography derived from another’s work must get permission from the copyright holders before being displayed or sold. In the case of physical art this is (typically) the artist(s), and in the case of a performance, it is (typically) the performer.

    And remember: _everyone_ is performing at Burning Man from the time they enter to the time they leave.

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  • Re Jason:

    You are not completely correct. Copyright only begins when a work is fixed in a “tangible” medium. Fashion and clothing have long lacked any form of copyright protection in the corporate world as well. Thus dances or performances are not inherently copyrighted or indeed copyright-able. When it comes to body painting, sculpture, or other fixed forms of expression, copyright does begin at fixation.

    The permission you speak of regarding performers is actually in regards to a civil expectation of privacy. However by legal default, in a public area there is no expectation of privacy, and this has been upheld many times in court. There is another right that then comes into play here: the right of publicity. This right is what allows someone to control the commercial use of their likeness, and is where model releases galore come in to play.

    In between privacy and publicity is a donut hole where an amateur artist can create and distribute their art non-commercially without impeding on the actual legal rights of those in their art.

    As well, I notice a specific disconnect between photography and paintings or sculpture done at the event. BM takes the copyright for photos taken, but not for paintings or sculpture. What basis is there for this disconnect? A skilled painter can create a stunning likeness of a nude and then take it home, digitize it, and put it online. Such a rights grab doesn’t hurt those who don’t care about the rights of their subjects, but it does make it less likely that the artistic photographer will forgo his art or even the event because he wouldn’t be able to call the photographs his own…

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  • Personally I love taking pictures and having mine taken. It is a great way to revisit the event throughout the year and I love being able to see other’s pictures of things that I did not find the time to see or even know was going on.

    That being said that the biggest privacy issue to me in regards to pictures or video would be that dealing with nudity. Although I have not gone nude yet, I would like the ability to feel free enough to do so without worrying about pictures being posted that could later come up and hurt my professional reputation. I could care less what pictures are posted if I’m in any costume or other setting. On the playa I am able to express myself with like minded individuals, but many people in the default world do not feel this way.

    For the guy who talked about big brother taking pictures of us all the time, well they dont post those pictures online.
    Someone talked about wearing a mask if you’re nude and don’t want photos, but wearing a mask is not going to prevent someone from being identified if they have tattoos.
    Another person posted about this being a public event and if you’re nude in public its fair game, but we pay for tickets to the event which should allow us some form of privacy.

    I understand where someone nude could be in the background of a picture you took, and I’m not at all against nudity in photographs, but if the picture is going to be posted somewhere on the internet or in print that the nudity should be blurred out. Restricting nudity in pictures posted publicly might help to keep the looky-loos from coming to the event. I mean how many guys go to Mardi Gras just for the chance to see a bunch of naked girls?

    So to sum up, I think taking any pictures should be allowed, including nudity, just restrict pictures where nudity is involved from being publicly posted or blur out the nudity if they are.

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  • I think it’s a basic common sense issue. I take lots of pictures on the Playa and cherish them. I love the other-worldliness of these shots when they pop up on my screen saver. I have shots of me, my friends, strangers – clothed, costumed and naked to various degrees. If anyone ever asked me to delete the shot or not to take it I would totally respect their wishes. The issue that seems to be in confusion is what happens to these pics once home. I agree with the person earlier, if I wouldn’t show them to my parents or young children, I certainly wouldn’t post them on line. I agree that the BMORG needs staff photographers. They would be certified to take the official pics of the event and those should only be sold for fund raising purposes. Books are great, but aren’t those people profiting off the Playa? it is a fine line. Books help disseminate the art and alure of the event, but no book or picture can ever fully capture the magick of the moment. And while to some stepping behind the camera takes away from being fully immersed in the moment, for others capturing that moment for later is a big part of the enjoyment. I do treasure my BM pics. I totally disagree with anyone who wants to commercially sell prints from the Playa in galleries on line or in brick and mortar. This is a non-commercial event. So to profit from it seems highly unethical to me. And the whole issue of Playa pics ending up on titie sites is really lame. These people should be somehow identified and logged, and then escorted off the Playa if found shooting tities for profit again. I have shot pics at Critical Tits. They are wonderful images of the divine feminine en masse. These pics are private amusements that my girlfriend (she gives me shit for not shooting critical dicks when she forgot her camera, and she’s probably right) and I both love a lot of these bites of Playa culture, but I leave them out of my on-line scrapbooks. And that’s the way it should be… in my most humble opinion.

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  • Re: Munge, June 7,

    Thanks. I haven’t heard back from anyone on my idea about performance and copyright and your mention of “tangible medium” helps.

    It makes me wonder how an improv comedy show is protected. Generally theaters prevent the use of recording equipment — what are the legal ramifications of that? Is there any protection at all? (aside from, say, a scripted play for which there is a tangible medium, at least for the script.)

    Curiously, would tattoos be copyrighted by the artist? Or body paint? Or makeup? Or costumes?

    I think it would help if photographers knew what they were taking pictures of. It’s definitely different from taking pictures of a crowd in Times Square. I’m just trying to figure out how to articulate it.

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  • The Photo Policy at needs work.

    #1 – The Policy is not easy to find, so most people will never have read it. The URL looks like it just applies to Press, as it expressly did in prior years, but now it applies to everyone who takes photos. Putting language on the back of the ticket is just a “gotcha” and probably not enforceable anyway.

    #2 – The policy expressly requires registration of every camera capable of taking movies. I can’t remember the last time I saw a digital camera that was not capable of taking movies, so that rule essentially requires every digital camera to be registered. I’ll bet the number of digital cameras is about equal to the total number of participants (since some people take more than one). Is the media center really set up to register 40,000 cameras? Can they seriously imagine that more than a tiny fraction of participants will comply with this? It is a bad idea to set up rules that are mostly unknown and ignored. Really.

    I don’t understand the purpose of registering and tagging cameras anyway. If I register my camera, take a picture that violates every rule, and post it on a screen at Times Square … who is helped by my having registered my camera? Do you imagine you’ll be able to trace the billboard back to my camera registration?

    Since most people have cameras, do we really want almost everyone to have to register at BRC? Maybe that’s not a bad idea — to require registration of every person who attends … but do we really want that? Sooner or later the list becomes public (leak or litigation), and isn’t that an invasion of privacy akin to the invasions of privacy from having pictures taken?

    #3 — The policy is inconsistent. It says “All video cameras and film cameras must be tagged.” So, a film camera that cannot take videos still must be tagged, but it doesn’t have to be registered??? And, digital cameras get treated differently than film cameras? How does anyone get it tagged without it being registered? And, the policy now suggests notifying a Ranger every time you see someone using a non-tagged camera. If many people start doing this for all cameras (e.g. treating digital cameras as still cameras), we’re going to need a lot more Rangers.

    #4 — The policy mixes “should” and “must”, suggesting that the “should”s are mere requests. E.g., “… You must ask permission before … photographing … performances and obtain signed … release(s) from all appropriate parties before using them commercially.
    * You should ask for permission before photographing or filming any participant. ”

    The policy page then further undercuts the “should” about asking permission by saying, of participants’ rights, “You have the right and reponsibility (sic) to ask someone to stop taking a picture of you, recording your image or recording your voice in any way if you desire. However, keep in mind the nature of radical self-expression, capturing expression is a form of self-expression.” I read this to say that, even if you ask someone to stop taking your picture, they don’t have to. However, the policy says that photographers “… have the responsibility to be respectful to people you wish to record and to seek permission from them before recording their likeness or voice.” Evidently, that is also “should” and not a “must”.

    Some people rely on the shoulds to suggest that those are actually enforceable rules. See, e.g., , stating that everyone must get permission before taking anyone’s picture in the CT parade. Really?? Nobody expects that for any other parade. It would create a very dangerous situation to have photographers wandering into the parade to ask participants to be allowed to take pictures. So, the ambiguity in the rule invites people to participate in CT thinking they are protected by a rule against photographing them, but in fact all the participants should anticipate that they will be photographed many times.

    #5 — The policy is absurd in saying that every person should be asked before taking their picture. This is acknowledged on the Photo Guide page at . (“Does this (policy) mean you can’t grab a shot of somebody cruising by on a really cool bike, or capture a compelling scene you happen to see through your telephoto lens? No, of course not – realistically, you should ask first whenever realistically possible.”) Nobody engaged in public performance or parades can expect not to have a pictures taken (unless the performance announces “Photos are prohibited” so everyone can hear it. Clearly, most of them welcome and expect photography, and would not want participants jumping up on the stage or in the middle of the parade to ask them for permission. Also, it would be impossible to ask people for permission for many pictures. Try taking a picture of the base of The Man, or the Temple, without any people in them. If I take a picture of a performer in Center Camp, I could never get permission from everyone standing in the background.

    Of course, criticizing rules is easier than fixing them. Personally, I’d like some rules that everyone attending Burning Man is legally bound to comply with, even if that meant everyone had to sign a form while being hugged and told “Welcome Home”. This might be something like:
    #1 – You must not photograph or make other identifiable recording of any attendee if the person has asked or directed you not to do so.
    #2 — If you take an identifiable picture or other recording of someone without their prior permission, upon their request you must destroy it immediately. (So, yes, if you use film, taking someone’s picture without permission means you may lose the roll.)
    #3 – You must not post on the Internet or otherwise publicly display identifiable photos or other recordings of attendees without written releases.
    #4 – You must not photograph or otherwise record attendees for commercial purposes without first registering with BRCLLC.

    This approach is consistent with radical self-reliance, by empowering people to act on their own to protect their privacy as needed.

    Then, I’d include a lovely statement about the importance of asking prior permission when reasonably possible, consistent with the ethics of Burning Man, because this makes the experience better for everyone.

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  • This is my third burn. MY first burn was in 2008. I brought my digital camera and took pictures of art, art cars and the landscape. I tried not taking pictures of people unless they were an integral but minor element in the background of the photo. I made sure the pictures I took could be shown to my grandmother.

    Last year I again brought my camera and limited my pictures to the above list however I did take pictures of members of our camp while in camp. I felt somewhat uncomfortable taking pictures of people and was cautious of the context. We had a group photo taken with several of our cameras near the end of the event. Because one or two of the people in the picture were not fully clothed, I refrained from posting the group picture on my Facebook page however several members of my camp did post the group picture on their pages. I am glad they did.

    I think one of the issues with Facebook is whether a person’s name is tagged on a photo taken of them and posted on the Photo section of the website. Tagging ones name to the photo opens up a can of worms that is currently making many of us squirm. Especially when we do not know who will be looking at pictures of us and in what context.

    I did tag names of camp mates on my FB page because most of our group likes to see pictures taken of them in a social setting. We had such an amazing burn last year. One friend later untagged her name from pictures I took of her because she was preparing to look for professional work. I am glad she did and I really respect her for doing that. Since then I have done some more soul searching on the whole idea of tagging peoples names on my FB page. I am kind of at a point of not trusting FB like I didn’t when I first signed onto the website. Although I like some of the social aspects and regained connections with old friends thanks to FB, I am not sure if this where we want to head as a society. I prefer interpersonal interactions that occur when the participants are in the same space at the same time.

    I do plan on taking pictures of non human elements this burn, but I think I will ask permission before I take pictures of people if I decide to do so. The downside is that they will pose for the picture and I prefer to take pictures of people being themselves in a positive setting. One option is to take the picture then talk to the person I took the picture of and show them the image. I’ll delete it or save it depending on their wishes and do it in their presence. I would also ask if they would like their name tagged on my FB page. This may be a good discussion point after we all arrive on the playa and get our camp set up.

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  • OMG could we pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease make Critical Tits camera free?!?!

    At our regional we have this event called the Naked Slip n Slide. It is honestly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! It is completely 100% absolutely not even joking camera free. It is a big deal and everyone respects it. And most of the whole 1200 person playa comes to watch the event even if there are only 100 people slip n sliding. Heidi the Hose girl jumps on the megaphone and says it over and over – NO CAMERAS NO Camera!! she will destroy any camera she finds being used and shove it up your ass without any lube!

    Obviously burning man is way bigger and harder to control than our little field in delaware – so this is probably a memetic pipe dream.
    But i’ll tell you this much – I’ve got amazing knockers that I’d proudly display along side all my BRC sistas if only there weren’t so many photographing creeps along the route!! until it’s camera free my girls are for me and my camp!!

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  • The issue here is not the photography at the event but what is done with it after the event. Photographers need to concern themselves with people’s rights to privacy in the Internet Age. At the same time some Burners need to get over their egos about photos of their person. Lets face it by now there must be over 1trillion images of tits on the internet. One more image will hardly go noticed. I personally did shoot video at Critical Tits a few years back and I will tell you I would never shoot it again…image wise it sucks. It might be a great event to watch but it is horrible to shoot.
    But back to the subject at hand…photographers like taking photos of people. Most Burners like to have their photo taken…overall people are pretty considerate of others people’s space at this event. My would recommend that:
    1. If you take a photo of someone naked don’t post it unless you clearly get permission to do so. Just because someone says you can take their photo does not mean they want it posted…the idea is personal use…the Internet is not personal.
    2. Try to take your photos or video before Saturday. I have found that people get more uptight/irritated/burned out at photographers as the event progresses with Saturdays being the worst.

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  • I wish that I had run into more photographers like the respectful ones above when I was at Burning Man this year. I took my two girls, 6 and 3, and wherever we went, the cameras appeared, and NO ONE asked if they could take a photo of the girls. I had to ask people to ask. I felt that photos were “taken” in the worst sense of the word.

    My girls taught me something about photography this year. Every time a photographer appeared out of nowhere, and I asked him/her to ask the girls before taking a photo, the girls would say “no.” And I could see why. They didn’t know the photographer from Adam. Or Eve. They felt shy and uncertain. I am grateful, very grateful, to those photographers who ended their efforts to take a photo there. I’m not very grateful to the guys who ran off with stolen photos of my girls, nor am I grateful to the artist who took a photo of my girls in front of her art (without asking the girls) and when I objected said, “Well, they’re in my art.” I wish I had said “if they were not in front of your art, would you still be taking that photo?” or “Would you mind asking them to get out of your art before you take the photo?” Does being in front of someone’s art mean you forfeit your right to be asked? I guess it’s obvious that I don’t think so.

    Unless you’ve actually had an interaction with someone, taking their photo is a meaningless transaction. To my mind, photography embodies a lack of participation. It is a pure form of spectatorship. Only it goes beyond the playa to create even more spectators outside the event.

    If people want to see Burning Man, let them go to Burning Man. I would love to be able to trot around Burning Man without worrying about a bunch of soul-less lenses looking at me. It’s not a matter of nudity, it’s a matter of put down the freakin’ camera and participate!

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  • Burning Man is about freedom of expression. People must not feel inhibited by fears of external judgement. [within reason] . Responsible photographers are not a problem but there are far too many people that see the event as a free fire zone. Thoughtless photography and posting will kill some of the spontaneity and joy that make it a magical event. The problem will only get worse with time unless large areas are designated no photography zones.

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  • It is obvious that BMOrg completely ignores photo use because you obviously can’t and never have actually controlled it in the first place and focus on things like not fucking us over every single year with photographers selling their stuff without reporting it to you.

    It’s overly complicated and your system breaks EVERY YEAR and more than ever this year. You have a system that let professionals to be undetected and excuse themselves over and over and over and I could bring in examples: quite a few.

    To reiterate, there are a million things that you need to spend time on – and pretending you’re the photo-cops it does not help. Stop those who sell your images because he is still out there as are plenty of others.


Andie Grace, wrote last year:
    “Also – to @MIke Begley – images should not used on commercial websites selling products or services. The use of the words “Burning Man” in certain contexts (descriptions, etc.) may be considered fair use. A good rule of thumb is never in a title, never to drive searches, but a description (“Perfect for Burning Man!”) is allowable. For more info,“

    And Andie: with your statement above, you guys contradict yourself. So many are braking the rules and you let them do and believe in their “innocence” when you do not have the time do do the right search or to enforce your rules.

    It’s all over the internet!

 Not to mention that it’s not up to me to have my face plastered on this Internet, or if someone else buys my face and the photographer does not report it as it happened to me. I leave in Costa Mesa and I found my picture, sold by a BM “pro” to a collector, hanging on their wall. It’s not only about copyright laws, it’s about respecting me and you guys. After five years on the playa, never like 2010 and 2011 I have seen so many photographs sold through different channel with the words” The Burning Man photographer” and I’ve come to terms with this reality and tend only to say my piece to people taking “photos” when they are blatantly taking portraits with or without my permission, and selling them on several sites and through different narrating media. Talk about so many. I’m over it because I know you guys do not care and let these guys go and believing in them because they do such a “good job”.


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  • Marko,

    Someone from your IP address keep posting as different people with the same accusation over and over. It’s reaching the level of spam. I really wish you’d refrain as it’s becoming a time suck for our staff, and now you’re cursing at us to boot. I’m posting this for you here because honestly I have no idea which of the email addresses you’re using to post on our blog is actually authentic.

    We have dozens of cases every year regarding image and trademark use, and I can assure you, there are many, many times we have prevailed in going after photographers who break the rules. In my 13 years here I’ve seen hundreds resolved. There is one odd case in front of us right now that I’m having a hard time resolving, it’s true, one you have referenced in several ways in the posts you keep putting up here. This complaint involves a registered photographer who signed a Still Photo Agreement in 2011. He has a lot accusations against him from several dozen people insisting that he’s selling his work and misrepresenting himself and making a fortune selling Burning Man prints underground (which seems like a very difficult way to make a living, but I digress).

    Unfortunately, the accusations turn out to be hard to verify. Not only do they keep coming in from people, including a spate of random celebrities, who speak with the same exact cadence and writing style/use of language, and who mysteriously all keep contacting my direct email address, instead of any publicly solicited press email address; not only is it odd that 20 different people including these celebrities would take an interest and find their way to old blog posts on our site to enter a vague and overwrought complaint about the same photographer I’m being emailed about. The hardest part is that it turns out that almost every one of these complaints are coming from different email addresses being sent from the same small set of IP addresses, day after day for the past month.

    Aside from some random blurry photos of physical prints of the photographer’s work, which doesn’t prove he’s selling them (we know prints exist, but he gave some away in his Kickstarter campaign last year and was approved to do so… we do recognize the shots), and a mocked up receipt that anyone could have made, we do not have any verifiable evidence that the photographer is selling his work outside of the legal arrangement he already has with us. He has been promoting the approved work online in lots of visible ways, but the only source of information about these supposed underground sales all seems to be stemming from one person, a person who, upon research, has a personal conflict with the photographer and seems to be trying to involve Burning Man, our press team, and our professional goodwill in some kind of process of escalating that personal conflict.

    It seems very unlikely that anyone in this world is making a fortune selling his Burning Man work underground without promoting it in any public way, while thousands of other photographers labor in obscurity trying to get anyone anywhere to buy their work. If this guy really is selling his work or his self-published at private events for thousands of dollars and pulling the wool over our eyes, I’m impressed with his ability to do so without a stitch of promotion. He must be one plugged in guy, but unless I see him doing it, it’s one person’s word against another, and one person’s word isn’t really stacking up here. I find it a challenge, personally, to believe any accusation at all when the accuser deems it necessary to invent a few dozen sock puppets and fake email addresses, and contact us with desperate tones on the issue day after day, as though the photographer was committing some kind of heinous crime akin to human murder. Right now I’m waiting for a call back from the photographer, but I expect I will be giving him an apology when he verifies that his ex’s known IP address (which he has, of course) is the one we’ve been hearing from all along.

    I’ll remove this post if you’ll stop spamming our blog and quit contacting our team. Thanks.

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