Your rights are Burning, Man!

Sorry, to be safe, no photo can go here!

So, it’s late August, and you wanna go to Burning Man; that yearly counterculture blowout and paean to, I dunno, free love and the Woodstock nation?  You’re gonna maybe take some pictures, do a video or an audio slideshow that will put you on the map as a sensitive documentarian of contemporary counterculture?

So maybe, in 40 years, they’ll be using your images on the PBS Burning Man anniversary special (directed by Ken Burns, Jr.)?

Think again, my friend.

This event may masquerade as a celebration of “la vie boheme,” but they want to restrict your rights as a photographer just like the big money-making events run by the NFL and rock stars.  Only difference is, those latter two don’t pretend to be anything but money making operations…(well, maybe some of the rockbands do, but certainly not the NFL.)

Here are the terms and conditions of attending BM:

“I UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THAT NO USE OF IMAGES, FILM, OR VIDEO OBTAINED AT THE EVENT MAY BE MADE WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM BURNING MAN, OTHER THAN PERSONAL USE. I understand that I have no rights to make any non-personal use of any image, film, or video footage obtained at the event, and that I cannot sell, transfer, or give the footage or completed film or video to any other party, except for personal use, and I agree to inform anyone to whom I give any footage, film, or video that it can only be used for personal use.
I acknowledge that the Burning Man name and logo are the property of the Burning Man organization, and I understand that the Burning Man organization controls all rights regarding the licensing and reproduction of any imagery recorded at the event . I agree that I will not use the mark or logo of Burning Man or likeness of the Man on any website or in any commercial manner.”

Here’s an interesting analysis of how this rights grab is pulled off by using a loophole in the  Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

I had an 8 paragraph rant about this, to run after a jump.  But in an uncommon fit of discretion, it was redacted by the superego department. Needless to say, the id department is up in arms, and I expect some tough times ahead for the ego department, who had to negotiate this settlement…..Oy, these voices in my head! I wish they would all shut up!

As always, to get a cogent perspective (rather than my incoherent rants) on any legal issue regarding photography, visit my friend Carolyn Wright’s site, The Photo Attorney, or buy her book, Photographer’s Legal Guide.

This entry was posted in Destinations, Events, Ironies, Legal Issues, Multimedia, Travel.


  1. Bill Rhodes August 30, 2009 at 10:43 pm #

    good, this will seal the fate of this crap…. good riddance.

  2. carlos August 30, 2009 at 11:16 pm #

    Thanks. I’m able to cross something off my todo list now. I’ll have to figure out what to backfill all that time with though…..

  3. Stephen J. Zeller August 30, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    Hi Bob,

    Did you take a recent psychology course? I love the references in the post! Thanks for the info!


    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 7:19 am #

      No, Stephen, I took an anger management course:-)!BK

  4. AE August 30, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    Huh. I guess BM isn’t an expression of arts after all, just another money-grab.

    And I guess I’ll have to take it off the to-do list. No camera = no go.

  5. Nevada Wier August 31, 2009 at 12:13 am #

    Hey Bob. Long time. Just found your great blog.
    Karen Kuehn is at Burning Man now, wrestling with the “powers that be”, photographing for a personal project. It will be interesting to hear her tales. She does not tolerate sacred cows. nevada

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 7:18 am #

      Hi Nevada! Great to hear from you. When are we going to get a chance to teach together again? It’s been a long time, but I see you’re busy, so that’s good. I hope Karen has fun out there! Bob

      • karen kuehn February 15, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

        Hey Bob
        just found this by chance! Burning Man was amazing, by far the best experience ever! It is not for just anyone…its DIRTY all the time, wind, fine dust full of minerals…and 30thousand in camera gear losses after the burn.
        Down four cameras , brought 9, one dead meter and I weathered it for the better. Its best if one is going to shoot to read the website and do as it says.
        Don’ t just think your going to pop off a bunch of shots cuz its “COOL” its not cool if you don’t be part of it. It ‘s not really explainable … you just have to be strong and present. My projects are almost done, waiting for the foundation to approve them…its strict there and they have lawyers who will nail you if you don’t do the right thing. I didn’t understand it until I was there and than it all made sense.
        I hope your well.

        Now I need a real book publisher…but in the meantime I suspect it will be on Blurb by April.
        My Eyes are Burning
        Catch of the Day
        two books of my adventures.

        • Bob February 15, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

          Karen: Great to hear from you. Can’t wait to see the results of your adventures out there. It sounds, um, expensive!But if there’s anybody who knows how to be “strong and present” it’s you.
          I’m glad you maneuvered the legalities and shot there. cheers,Bob

  6. Sam August 31, 2009 at 4:34 am #

    Historically, this provision has mostly been used to shut down idiots wanting to make Girls Gone Wild type videos, protect the privacy of the participants, and preserve the event as advertising free. From what I’ve seen, it pretty much works.

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 7:17 am #

      Sam: It’s a shame that few wxploitive types can ruin it for everybody.BK

  7. Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images August 31, 2009 at 10:56 am #

    I wanna read that 8 paragraph rant. I think I’ll just have to do a rant of my own; as my super-ego & Id are still on summer vacation.

    Like Nevada; also happy to have found your blog.

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 11:08 am #

      Hi Gary: Great to hear from you. I’m a big fan of your work! Love the landscapes. Bob

  8. Jeffrey Chapman August 31, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    They say that it is necessary to prevent the commercial use of images, but there are already laws in place that prevent the commercial use of images of individuals and property without releases.

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 11:09 am #

      Yes, Jeff, there are, to the best of my knowledge. That’s why this whole thing smacks more of “control” than “self defense”! Bob

  9. Nevada Wier August 31, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    Oh, it is more than self defense. Karen says that they want 10% of profit from her images. You should hear her email rants on this (love her).

    Hope to see you soon Bob! I’m having lunch with Lynn. nv

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 11:24 am #

      Nevada: Aha! Peace and Love, and percentages! It’s the new, New Age way! Bob

  10. David Sanger August 31, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    Thx Bob- this is another example of the trend to supersede copyright law with contract provisions that are much more restrictive. Navigating this morass becomes more and more difficult for a working photographer. ds (spelling name right this time 🙂

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

      Hi David: Yup, it’s a pain. “Working photographer”–it’s becoming an oxymoron! Bob

  11. Jeff Jones August 31, 2009 at 5:38 pm #

    I see kids around with T-shirts and bumper stickers that proclaim: “Skateboarding is not a crime.” It is feeling like photographers will soon be battling the same mentality. My first instinct is to storm the gates and take photos just because they said I can’t. This comes awfully close to prior restraint.

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

      Jeff: I can understand that they don’t want commercial use made of pix taken there, but editorial use only promulgates their legend. I think they’re fine with that, if they get a percentage! But this is pretty much a blanket thing. BK

  12. Jeffrey Chapman August 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm #

    So how do we collectively stand up and say “no”?

    • Bob August 31, 2009 at 8:16 pm #

      I don’t want to sound cynical (:-0), but in my experience, it’s impossible to get photographers to unite….it’s just too tough for freelancers.

      Besides, I remember when ASMP, I think it was, tried to get some guidelines on pricing widely accepted. Somebody came at them with a “price fixing” suit under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and won!

      Yes, it’s tough being the little guy, even if there are thousands of little guys!

  13. mk August 31, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Bob, were you out there running around naked again!? IF so… good for you! Heh.

    Just wanted to associate myself with the overall tone of the comments. Very sad. And I too am getting worn down by the constant evil eye of pretty much any law enforcement type/local guards for simply pointing a camera at… well, whatever!

    I’m with you Jeff Jones, Storm The Gates! ;^}

    • Bob September 1, 2009 at 6:25 am #

      Not even Burning Man would be ready for that sight! Bob

  14. Jim August 31, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

    To get Independent Photographers to unite would be like getting Independent Truckers to unite..NO WAY.

  15. Ray K August 31, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    Just read the whole thing and the links Bob I’m pissed off also. Anything that says one thing and does another really gets to me. Burning Man stand up and be what you are, stop the pretending. Don’t care which way they go just as long as they are honest about what and who they are. You are right it is about control.
    I tried the anger management thing but they irritated me also.

  16. arun September 1, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    Hey Bob
    I check Carolyn daily as well. Seems like life is getting sketchier for photogs nowadays. Do you think the paparazzi types have brought this on us. I get the tag often if I have my 70-200 on – “Hey, are you paparazzi ?” and big guffaw laugh afterwards.
    Oh well – I would like to see the rant as well.

  17. mike September 2, 2009 at 9:30 pm #

    it seems to get worse everyday…..i thought we lived in a free country

  18. Michael C. Snell September 5, 2009 at 6:01 am #

    Hi Bob,

    Thought you might get a kick out of the photo policy over at the nearly-equally-well-known Balsa Man event:

    • Bob September 5, 2009 at 8:44 am #

      Michael: That’s hysterical. A good example of small thinking gone wild! Bob

  19. Tito Herrera October 3, 2009 at 8:27 pm #

    Sound like the hippies are going corporate! So much for free love! hahahaha Oh, well one more event I can only shoot for my blog or I can’t do that?

    • Bob October 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

      Hi Tito: Not sure what you can do. Better consult a lawyer! BK

  20. Doug Stocks December 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm #

    burning man is a non-profit enterprise that you bring art to and participate in. Not just another commercialized corporate festival, I feel most commentors miss the the point of this festival. Not all things in life are for financial gain. Burning Man barely makes its non profit budget each year. Lighten up folks.

    • Bob December 29, 2009 at 7:22 am #

      Doug: I think most commenters were puzzled by the restrictive policies of an event that purports to be non commercial. I think BM should lighten up! BK

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