Participant posing in front of a portapotty. (Photo by Mario Covic)
One of the best things about Burning Man culture is that its participants are also its creators. Burning Man is what its participants do and say and make about it — and that includes creations that reference Burning Man.
Burning Man is unique in the way it encourages participants to incorporate its logo and imagery — including the Man symbol and design, the names Burning Man and Black Rock City, and the shape of Black Rock City — into their creations and offerings to the community. We see these uses most frequently in the season leading up to the event, often as part of fundraising efforts for art projects, theme camps and products offered to Burners.
The challenge comes when those creations conflict with the 10 Principles, and it’s usually an issue related to Decommodification. We don’t support projects that turn Burning Man into a commodified product for sale. We do license the Burning Man identity for certain third-party projects, but we do so very carefully for projects that represent the best of Burning Man culture. An example of this is allowing the use of “Burning Man” in the title of a book of photographs from Black Rock City. But we don’t license Burning Man for use as a commodity. You’ll never see Burning Man Brand LED GlowyFur™ available at your local BoxStore™. When a work crosses that line, we step in to protect the culture from misrepresentation and exploitation.
A recent example is the Burning Man Board Game. The developers reached out to us a year ago, and after extensive review, the developers were told they would not receive permission to use any of Burning Man’s legally protected intellectual property, including the Burning Man and Black Rock City names, the Man logo and the signature shape of the city.
Last month the game appeared as part of a Kickstarter campaign. While our fundraising policy allows the creation of crowd-funded campaigns that directly fund art, theme camps and mutant vehicles, the board game Kickstarter was being used to fund the creation of a product, with only a portion of revenue to be donated to theme camps or playa projects.
There’s an important distinction between using Burning Man’s IP in the appreciation gift one receives for making a donation (which is fine, as long as the guidelines are followed), versus in the product that is being crowdfunded itself. If we were to allow the use of our name and symbols in the product (in this case the board game), then it would open the door for other entrepreneurs to sell Burning Man merchandise under the guise of fundraising. This could set a dangerous precedent in terms of protecting our cultural integrity.
In the case of the board game, the campaign organizer stated the fundraising effort was designed to comport with the 10 Principles in that one portion of the donation would go toward the cost of producing the game and another portion would be donated as a gift to one of several high profile theme camps. However, in keeping with the Decommodification and Gifting Principles, we allow participants to use Burning Man’s intellectual property to fundraise directly for Black Rock City-bound projects, including specific artwork, theme camps, and mutant vehicles. Any other use requires special approval and a licensing agreement from the Burning Man organization.
The Burning Man board game is just one example a project that comes in conflict with the Principles. Others have included an individual selling jewelry with the Man symbol to raise funds for his camp, a high-end concierge service using the Burning Man name and logo to market their services, and companies offering to ship large quantities of their product to Black Rock City to give away for “free on playa” in return for the right to market the experience to the world.
In the vast majority of cases, these kinds of issues are resolved with a phone call. Only very rarely have we been forced to resort to more formal action.
Here’s the thing: We are truly inspired by the creativity of Burners — the range of ideas from our community continues to expand in impressive ways. And on the surface, many of these ideas sound great. But we take the responsibility of protecting Burning Man’s long term cultural integrity seriously, and we have to examine all of the possible outcomes and unintended impacts of a project.
Participants are welcome to gift items that incorporate the Man, the Black Rock City design, etc. to their donors. But that’s different from manufacturing a product at cost and selling it, which is not allowed. For more information about Burning Man’s approach to intellectual property, check out http://burningman.org/network/about-us/press-media/trademarks-images-faq/ on our website.
Remember: It’s not a gift if there’s a price tag attached to it.