John Law Sues His Former Burning Man Partners

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John Law Sues His Former Burning Man Partners

Postby Isotopia » Tue Jan 09, 2007 7:11 pm

John Law, one of the three original founders of Burning Man announced that he's suing Larry Harvey and Michael Mikel. The specific reasons for the litigation can be found here:

http://laughingsquid.com/john-law-sues-his-former-burning-man-partners/
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Postby BAS » Tue Jan 09, 2007 7:35 pm

Ugh. I hope that they can settle this without too much nastiness!

I don't know any of them personally, so I don't feel qualified to make any further comments. (Although I DO think someone needs to sneak a smiley face onto the Man again!)


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Postby Chicken John » Tue Jan 09, 2007 8:42 pm

Why do they have to "sneak" it? Why not display it boldly? Sneak around who? The boss? Dad? Teacher?

We didn't sneak it last time...
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Postby BAS » Tue Jan 09, 2007 8:46 pm

I wasn't there for it. (Last year was the first time I was ever able to make it to BM.) I just heard that Larry Harvey got really annoyed, so I figured that it would be worth the surprise factor if someone put up a smiley face without any advance warning-- just to see the reaction! :D


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Postby geekster » Tue Jan 09, 2007 8:50 pm

I am reminded of a piece of playa art in 2006 that asked "Does anyone remember John Law?"

Maybe people's memories are being refreshed. If nothing else, the complaint is an excellent primer on the origins of Burning Man.

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Postby Chicken John » Tue Jan 09, 2007 8:51 pm

Larry is the director of the event. You may see him annoyed almost constantly. It's a tuff job.

I have been forever baffled by his annoyance over the prank of the neon smiley face of the man. A good jest is good indeed... Ben Franklin. But Larry doesn't like that kinda thing. Too bad, it was fucking funny.

In the end, it's what this suit is about...
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Burning Man Project

Postby actiongrl » Tue Jan 09, 2007 8:55 pm

On Tuesday, 1/9/07, in the middle of our regularly scheduled board meeting, we discovered the announcement on LaughingSquid.com regarding the blog and complaint from John Law. We are currently evaluating the text of the complaint. After we have had a chance to review it and talk to our attorneys we will have a more complete response; in the meantime, there is one comment that we can share now.

Our heartfelt belief in the core principles of Burning Man has always compelled us to work earnestly to protect it from commodification. That resolve will never change. We are confident that our culture, our gathering in the desert, and our movement will endure.

-- The Burning Man Project
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Postby helitack » Tue Jan 09, 2007 8:57 pm

But I thought that the originators did this out of the desire to create a harmonious, experimental community for the arts...
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Postby Chicken John » Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:01 pm

This is not an easy thing, to have an event with an $8 million dollar budget that needs to be protected against becoming a commodity. I don't envy the position of the BMorg at this time but I see it as a great opportunity for leadership and to push the points and put the ideas and the energy and the integrity to the test and push it all in the same direction.

If I were Yoda, I'd say: "Talk and walk the talk and walk you will..."

I just wish he picked a different time... I'm going on vacation and I'm gonna miss the entire discussion.
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Postby BAS » Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:07 pm

But actiongrl, what about the smiley face? :wink:

Actually, I hope that this can be settled without too much involvement from lawyers! I'm guessing that actually getting into court will produce more hard feelings, and, in the end, not help that much.

I can see both sides of the issue. There must be a middle ground-- one which will prevent the logo and name appearing everywhere, and strict control and licensing of the name by the organization.

I guess only time will tell. :?


Now, about that neon smiley face on the Man.... :D


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Postby Steven bradford » Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:08 pm

Helitack, how many porn sites would you like to see using the Burning Man name? And of course with lots and lots of surreptitious photos of women. That's just one of the things trademarking and copyrighting prevents.

It doesn't take away the copyright of the original photographers. Merely the ability to use them for porn sites, or to use images that don't have releases from the people photographed.

After reading through John Law's comments on his blog, all I can say is, try searching google on the words "Burning Man" six months after he gets his wish.

I do know about the past history behind this, not in excruciating detail or personally, but geez, this really sounds like something by someone who hasn't figure out when to move on and carrying a grudge forever.

If there were some horrible misuse of the name going on by Harvey and his cabal, I could maybe see the point of where this is going.

Law's way of dealing with the events of '96 was to walk away. I'm sure glad everyone else didn't also, as I've only been going since '97.
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Postby helitack » Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:14 pm

If someone like actingirl says here on this board that we need an agreement with the org to use a copyrighted photograph, that is dictating use. Copyright law directly contradicts this bluff.
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Postby geekster » Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:39 pm

I just read the complaint in full. John has a point. He offers a couple of different alternatives to making all the marks public domain. One of which is to return ownership of the marks to the original three and have the Burning Man event pay a "real world" license fee for the use of those marks with the proceeds of the license going to the original Paper Man owners.

Basically he is saying that either the court should strip Burning Man LLC of ownership of the marks for several reasons, or return them to the original owners. He claims Larry and Michael broke an agreement, formed a new LLC without him involed and then allowed the new LLC to use the property of the old LLC at basically no cost to generate money that Larry has made a career out of. Basically that the mane Burning Man, Decompression, and Flambe' Lounge and the various logos have been used to promote an event that has kept many people employed while breaking an agreement made with John to share in the future growth of the event for having been pretty much responsible for "priming the pump" and getting the event up and running to begin with.

If nothing else, it serves to get a lot of the BM sausage recipie out there in the public eye. I doubt anything will come of it before BM07 but there is a request for ijucntive relief that could require that Burning Man not use the Burning Man, Decompression, and Flambe Lounge names in addition to the Logos involved.

Complaint here ... though not well proof-read before filing. There are SEVERAL word ommissions in the document that make some sentances nonsense or change the meaning.

http://laughingsquid.com/other/john_law ... plaint.pdf
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grown ups?

Postby madmatt » Tue Jan 09, 2007 11:23 pm

What a bunch of grown-ups, suing each other and stuff.
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Postby The CO » Wed Jan 10, 2007 12:41 am

As someone who runs an event of similar (tho' much smaller) nature, it certainly has me thinking of what direction things could go in the future. I got a lot of respect for JL watching him ride the zipline down the flaming HellCo tower, and even more so when I was blessed with actually seeing the smiley face, later finding out the source.

But for me it boils down to this: How often do lawyers actually solve problems with litigation like this? Really, be honest. Who besides JL is complaining about the commodification of BRC? Not a rhetorical question, I really would like to know. We live in a litigious(sp?) society already, and it saddens me to see one of my favorite events start to go this way for any reason.

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Everything was better/cooler/more artistic back in 1996!

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Postby geekster » Wed Jan 10, 2007 12:42 am

Looks to me like M2 (aka Danger Ranger) started it by suing Larry or BM or something. Looks like John is going to make sure that he gets some if M2 is going to get some or else he is going to moot the whole thing. Anyone have the scoop on M2's beef?
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Postby Teo del Fuego » Wed Jan 10, 2007 8:54 am

Lots of crucial typos and transpositions of dates in the Complaint. (2007 for 1997, e.g.) Sloppy sloppy.

BMorg's attorneys, as I noted in a previous post concerning the Lampman tragedy is a firm called, seriously, "Low Ball and Lynch." Could be interesting.

Refresh my memory, in what year was the smiley and is that The Reason Law and Harvey had a falling out?
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Postby Isotopia » Wed Jan 10, 2007 9:53 am

I've got no dog in this fight but the reasoning per John Law (in his statement) and Stephen Bradford in his above comment has me wondering...

The name Burning Man and all attendant trademarks, logos and trade dress do not belong to Larry Harvey alone or to Black Rock City LLC.

If they don’t belong to anyone, they belong to the public domain. If they are in the public domain, the event can still go on and the trademarks, logos and trade dress can still be used.


Does this mean or suggest that any and all images captured on the playa by anyone could then be used in any manner (porn vids, calanders, tee shirts, TV shows etc)?

The law and litigation confuses the hell out of me sometimes.
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Postby geekster » Wed Jan 10, 2007 10:10 am

The way I read it, he is giving them a sort of ultimatum. Either give the marks to the public or charge a "real market value" for the license to use them with the original owners (of which John Law is one) their share of the proceeds.

My speculation from looking at John's comments in his blog seems to push me in the direction that M2 wants something (which I haven't determined yet) and filed some kind of suit. John seems to have been fine with things as they were but if someone is going to make a money grab, he is going to claim his share too. The thing he appears to have some legitimate claim to are the names and logos. So he basically appears to be saying "pay me what they are really worth or give them to the public".

His asking for the books of BMorg to be audited seems to be part of a larger issue where he seems to want exposed just how much certain people are making off the thing. While on one hand it is nobody's business what a person makes, on the other hand it is difficult to claim that the event isn't making any money if certain people are drawing large salaries. You can easily turn into a "non-profit" by simply distributing out your "profit" as salary and benefits. An audit would make things transparent and put any question of that kind of stuff to rest ... one way or the other.

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Thumb twiddling

Postby Anthony Bondi » Wed Jan 10, 2007 2:30 pm

I had lots of stuff to attend to this morning, but following this thread turned out to be more fun. Yes, deep in the suit, 'evil" is alleged on the part of the bad guys and, even worse, I suppose, "despicable conduct", and, yes, mention is made of "treble damages". That's what caught me, I suppose, the question of whether a bad guy being evil by itself might constitute a problem, or whether evil should also be linked to despicable behavior before the problem becomes notable. Could a person engage in despicable behavior and yet be morally worthy? Is there a legal principle in which one and one might equal three; in that "evil" might count as one and "despicable behavior" as one, but when the two are combined, the result is three, as in treble damages?
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Postby EvilDustBooger » Wed Jan 10, 2007 3:03 pm

I have always insisted that "evil" is merely a result of exercizing free will in reality.
It is both relative and subjective...
It is in the eye of the beholder.

That`s why it quite often brings tears.
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Postby diane o'thirst » Thu Jan 11, 2007 1:37 am

Teo del Fuego wrote:BMorg's attorneys, as I noted in a previous post concerning the Lampman tragedy is a firm called, seriously, "Low Ball and Lynch."


I'll vouch for the veracity of that firm. A couple of my friends worked for them during their paralegal internship.

I don't know the partics of this case but my Spidey Sense is telling me it could be one hell of a Cacophony prank...
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Postby Lassen Forge » Thu Jan 11, 2007 3:08 am

If it is a prank or something of that nature, it's an awfully expensive one to those involved... Especially if a judge gets involved and realizes her (or his) court are being used as a tol of a prank. Some take a pretty dim view of being used in that way and can be pretty brutal to all involved.

However this all plays out, it's gonna have an interesting outcome. And it'll prove to be entertaining.

After all... it already is. And it does show one thing...

The "players" in this are, indeed, entertainers. Look how captivating this thing already is to all of us - llc members, employees, participants, vendors, and outsiders alike! Fox News doesn't hold a candle to this!! {grins}

The big question is - when this thing metamorphasizes into whatever the end result brings, will *you* be ready, whatever role you play now?

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Postby thisisthatwhichis » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:45 am

Oh great...... ticket prices will be going up again to pay for senseless litigation.......
TITWI

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Postby felony » Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:15 am

Now it's front page news. Typos and all....
http://www.cnn.com/2007/LAW/01/11/burni ... index.html
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Postby BAS » Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:42 am

The big question is - when this thing metamorphasizes into whatever the end result brings, will *you* be ready, whatever role you play now?



Hell no! No way am I organized enough! :P


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Postby Zane5100 » Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:44 am

It doesn't strike me as a prank.

If John Law is filing this because he feels that he's being cut out by Larry and the org, than I think he should sue them and I think he's trying to use the one weapon or leverage that cuts to the quick of the people that make a living off of the trademarks.

A settlement would be a pyrric victory, and would possibly set the stage so that Law and M2 are cut out of the action altogether when things change in the future.

At first blush, it looks like John Law is saying "Go back to the original agreement or I'm going to tear it down since I helped build it to begin with."

Will it kill the event with MTV, Girls Gone Wild, and every other swinging dick out there slapping the logo or "Burning Man" on their crap, well, maybe that's part of the point--that intellectual property is the lifeblood and if you want to get people's attention, you endanger that property.

Makes perfect sense to me.

...especially if Larry did break the agreement as detailed in the complaint.
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Postby skygod » Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:33 am

I think my parents are getting a divorce.
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Postby Dr. Pyro » Thu Jan 11, 2007 10:01 am

Say what you want, but I think a pair of Burning Man sneakers would be cool.
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Postby BAS » Thu Jan 11, 2007 10:46 am

Burning Man toilet paper, on the other hand, probably would not sell very well.... :wink:


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