Policy Reminder: Burning Man and Media


Storytellers have always been an important part of Burning Man culture and the creative documentation of our community is a form of radical self-expression. The images and videos that come out of Black Rock City help to keep us connected year-round as members of a global community and extend the impact of Burning Man far beyond the playa. While some might bemoan the presence of cameras at the event (you’re not alone!), our community has been thoroughly documented since its inception, and the ability for participants to share their experiences and perspectives is considered a right.

But the right to produce media comes with an important set of responsibilities.  Protecting participant privacy and freedom, and the culture of Burning Man as a whole, is key to the sustainability and vitality of the event. Every participant, whether they are documenting for personal or professional reasons, automatically agrees to the Terms and Conditions for media upon entry to the event. This includes many crucial provisions such as asking for consent, giving credit, and strictly non-commercial use of imagery. Everyone in Black Rock City accepts these terms as a condition of entry, and by entering the city you acknowledge that you have read the Terms and Conditions!

In addition to reading and understanding the terms and conditions, the back of your ticket, and the Burning Man Survival Guide, please keep the following guidelines in mind when it comes to the use of camera or audio recording equipment on playa: (more…)

What’s That? A PUA You Say?

Photo by Karie Henderson, 2002

Burning Man was built on freedom of expression, and participants shouldn’t have to worry that photos or videos of their on-playa activities might appear online (or elsewhere) without their permission.

Going way back (pre-2000), Burning Man has requested that participants intending to record video on playa sign a Personal Use Agreement (PUA) to protect participants’ privacy in Black Rock City. In fact, it was this policy that allowed us to stop Voyeur Video from broadcasting illicit videos they’d recorded of unwitting Burning Man participants in 2002.

Burning Man’s photo policy is spelled out in the online terms and conditions applicable to all tickets: any participant is free to disseminate photos for personal use only, and cannot use them for any other purpose without the written permission of Burning Man.  The PUA simply provides another mechanism to make participants aware of the limitations on photo use, and the distribution of the PUA at Playa Info also assists in this process.

Of course, technology is evolving quickly. Back when video cameras were big and bulky and rare, we asked that each be tagged so people could identify the person taking their picture. Flash forward to 2012, and now just about everybody has a video camera on their person in the form of a smart phone or handheld video camera — so while collecting PUAs has become more logistically challenging, protecting the privacy of our participants is more important than ever. (more…)

You and your damn cameras

The Federal Trade Commission just made it easier to get fired for being seen at Burning Man … by making it easier to be seen at Burning Man.

The FTC recently approved a company that conducts social media background checks for employers – and that stores the information they find in their databases for up to seven years.  It’s the difference between Human Resources Binging you just in case (I’m pretending people use Bing), and a professional private-eye being hired to go through your eLife … and keeping a file on what they find.

This is, of course, a warning to be even more cautious about putting naked pictures on your Facebook page and Tweeting about incest – but to leave it at that is to leave with the assumption that we can actually control our digital profiles.

If only.  I don’t even have a Facebook account, but I’m tagged in photos there.  If somebody takes your picture at Burning Man without you knowing it, and facial recognition software kicks in, it doesn’t matter how careful you’re been or how work-friendly your digital fingerprints are.

This isn’t a problem unique to Burning Man, but it’s a particular problem for an event like Burning Man that is explicitly not work friendly … and that people love to take pictures of. (more…)

Expert tips for taking pictures on the playa

The panel: Curious Josh, Ryan, Liana, Kevissimo and Paynie

A group of super-talented LA photographers got together in a downtown loft the other night to talk about taking pictures at Burning Man, and there was a ton of helpful information you want to know about, whether you’re planning to bring a high-end DSLR, a disposable camera from the supermarket, or anything in between.

Here’s who was there and where to see their work. Take a look. These folks are seriously good:

* Ryan Jesena – http://tinyurl.com/6k8epez
* Curious Josh – http://tinyurl.com/66mdqt3
* Steve Payne – http://www.paynie.net/
* Liana Bandžiulytė – http://tinyurl.com/5s8ucmx
* Kevin Rolly – http://www.kevissimo.com

So what they have to say about photographing on the playa is going to be worth your while. And we’ll get to some of their tips in a minute, but there’s some fine print that should come first. Lots has been written already about the rights and responsibilities of photographers on the playa, and we don’t have to go over it all again. But what a lot of it boils down to is: (more…)

Updated Terms and Conditions for 2011

artistry meets artistry (image by Brad Hetland)
artistry meets artistry (image by Brad Hetland)

[This post is part of our ongoing Digital Rights blog series.]

January 19th is the big day — tickets go on sale for Burning Man 2011, Rites of Passage!

As you take your place in the electronic queue and wait your turn to click for your ticket to paradise, we invite you to pay special attention to something you might otherwise not notice: Burning Man, after spending much of 2010 working with volunteers from Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has updated our Terms and Conditions relating to the use of cameras at the event.

The Terms and Conditions is the standard ration of legal language that governs the agreement between you and event organizers when you use your ticket to Burning Man. The language about image use was the subject of much discussion back in 2009, when the EFF first took Burning Man to task over the language restricting image use contained in the T&C. (If you haven’t yet seen our original response to that blog post, it’s worth reading too.) The EFF – and you – talked, and since we already knew that the time for evolution had come, we listened.

In our subsequent meetings with photographers, filmmakers, participants, the EFF and Creative Commons, and other interested minds, it became clear that the time was ripe to update the Terms and Conditions — not only to update existing policies regarding the personal use of imagery online (specifically accommodating uses like Facebook, photo sharing apps, and the like) but to actually make the language more “human readable” and better describe why Burning Man is such an unusual zone for photography in the first place.


Burning Man at Open Video Conference in October

Ever wonder what the small print on back of a Burning Man ticket really means to a photographer?  Want to understand why Burning Man has certain “Terms and Conditions” regulating media use?  Curious about how the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF’s) recent criticisms have affected Burning Man’s policy on the use of images?   Want to learn more about this or share your opinion?  Join us for an ongoing public dialogue about digital rights at Burning Man and implications for wider society!

On Fri., Oct. 1, 2010 5:30-6:30 pm EDT, Burning Man IP Legal Counsel Terry Gross and Burning Man adviser Rosalie Barnes will have a panel discussion with EFF’s Corynne McSherry at the Open Video Conference.  The panel meets at the Auditorium of Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), located at Seventh Avenue and W. 27th Street in New York City.

You’re invited to participate in-person or virtually!  Details about registering for in-person are here: http://www.openvideoconference.org/.

The session will be streamed live via the Internet on the main conference page via www.openvideoconference.org.  Folks watching online will be able to tweet questions to discussion moderator Katherine Chen using a hashtag.  For more info and online discussion about Burning Man’s digital rights policy, go here: http://blog.burningman.com/digitalrights/.

This is what OVC has on their site:

Summary: EFF v. Burning Man – (Friday, October 1 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM)

Description: Each year, Nevada’s Black Rock desert plays host to the Burning Man festival. Tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to celebrate self-reliance, creativity and freedom. Anything goes in Black Rock City–except, apparently, when you’ve got a camera in your hand…

For some time, the organization behind the event has enforced a highly restrictive set of policies around photography in Black Rock. Through its ticket sales and online terms of use, the Burning Man Organization claims ownership over all photos and videos created at the festival.

In late 2009, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Corynne McSherry went on the attack, criticizing these rules in a post at EFF’s Deep Links. This set off an internet battle for the ages. Burning Man argues these restrictions protect attendees’ privacy. People escape to Black Rock to express themselves freely, not have every action documented—-and they need to be protected. But EFF thinks attendees’ freedom of expression, and their copyrights, must be respected. How do you balance both concerns?

In a interesting turn of events, Burning Man, the EFF and Creative Commons have entered into negotiations to transform the largest counter cultural art gathering in the world into a legal platform for human readable language and free culture. Will it work? Will it crash? What will they as a team decide?

Join us for a real world ethics question, and a small-scale version of the free culture debate with insights into the governance of online video platforms, privacy, autonomy, and freedom of expression. Throw in panelists from Burning Man, EFF—and giant burning wicker man—and you have one interesting discussion. http://blog.burningman.com/digitalrights/

Corynne McSherry — Electronic Frontier Foundation
Lightning Clearwater III — Burning Man IP Legal Counsel
Rosalie Barnes — Burning Man
Moderator: Katherine Chen – Assistant Professor of Sociology, CUNY

Join Us! On Playa Digital Rights: Copyright & Privacy- September 3, 2010 -Black Rock City, NV

The Media Mecca team is settling in and reporting direct from the West Wing (our internet office in Center Camp).

August 25, 2010- The West Wing- Black Rock City, NV

As you may already know, we’ve been undergoing a review of the Burning Man Digital Rights Policy this year. We have some changes that we will review at our Playa Digital Rights event (described below) and back in SF. We have until December to finalize this review, as new tickets and terms (2011) will be released at that time.

We want to invite all interested in this conversation to join our Playa Digital Rights: Copyright & Privacy event at Center Camp Cafe, Black Rock City, NV, in 2010. Ask questions, engage with our crew, and contribute to the evolution of our media policies.

Join the Media Mecca team

Friday. September 3, 2010

Center Camp Cafe

Black Rock City, NV

Playa Digital Rights: Copyright & Privacy

The event will be audio recorded.

Questions this presentation will cover:
1. What constitutes personal use?
2. What are our guiding principles when it comes to documentation and when do we enforce and why?
3. Where and when can I report camera violations?
4. How can I contribute to the best practices document?
5. What are some of the issues around playa documentation?

Your Questions and comments are welcome in person and via cameratales@burningman.com

warmly and softly,

the burning nerds.

Beyond Camera Consumerism, Photography Can Also Be Art

[Olivier Bonin, filmmaker, responds to a prompt from excerpts from Susan Sontag’s seminal essay, On Photography (1977) and from the Burning Man website, to reflect on documentation on the playa. This post is part of the Digital Rights Blog Series.]

Susan Sontag


Susan Sontag, American author, artist and literary theorist, lived from January 16, 1933 – December 28, 2004, but her work lives on in art schools around the world. In 1977, Sontag wrote the essay On Photography, which continues to provide media students and scholars an entirely different perspective of the camera in the modern world.

Our Prompt

We sent Olivier the following prompt to respond to:

“Review these excerpts from On Photography by Susan Sontag (1977):

1. To collect photographs is to collect the world.

2. Photographs furnish evidence.

3. That age when taking photographs required a cumbersome and expensive contraption — the toy of the clever, the wealthy, and the obsessed — seems remote indeed from the era of sleek pocket cameras that invite anyone to take pictures.

Review this excerpt from Burning Man’s Ten Principles:
‘Our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.’ Burning Man Website (2010)”

Olivier’s Response:

Yes, there might be a problem on how we try to document every single thing we see, but that problem is sourced in the way we consume, in the way we are as a society: it is entrenched into our contemporary culture. To change the way we photograph, is to change the way we live almost. It’s all inter-connected… a giant neurosis, that we need to work on all together. And of course I think Burning Man is part of the solution if it demonstrates a bigger interest in the method of doing art together…

On Consumerism
Burning Man prides itself not to participate in consumerism, but to go to Burning Man is to consume. Each person that goes to Burning Man has to spend a lot to be self-reliant for one week in the desert. To create a city in the desert, is to transport everything to this environment. To truly reflect on our consumerist society would require minimizing our exposure to it, but that’s not what a deserted dry lakebed calls for.

Budget Truck in line for Burning Man, ©2007 Dust & Illusions
Budget Truck in Line for Burning Man, ©2007 Dust & Illusions

I would even go further, and say that escaping consumerism was never was part of the original intentions. The need to escape the traps of our larger society was definitely there, but I believe the original intentions of the Burning Man project were to create a temporary site to simply relieve us from the constant attack on our senses of the mainstream cultural Act. It was a place to create our own reality, and express ourselves freely in the rawest manner possible without the need for it to be judged worthy of any value by our society’s standards. It was only later than Burning Man started to be associated with an anti-consumerist alternative, but the resistance to consumption has ever only been expressed through the lack of commercial sponsorship, transaction or advertising, and not necessarily through deeply dealing with the consumption that occurs pre-event.

In the depth of the event, you can of course find a real call from its participants to recreate a world where community is more important than capitalism. There are many examples in the artists’ group, and the theme camps, but these examples need to become the driving principles behind the event in order to effectively alter the consumerist reality. Where Burning Man really thrives is in offering an open stage for anyone’s artistic expression. And that is the single reason why Burning Man is still an important event today. The event has produced important artistic content, and truly inspires people to create! Let’s focus on this aspect to create a community with strong and deep artistic values, and the rest will follow.