Thursday, August 13, 2009

Burning Man Says that They Control Your Photos/Videos for the Good of Burning Man

Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 6:09 PM

Digital Rights Crusaders at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have taken issue with the conditions that Burning Man puts on the photos and videos shot by participants in the week long event in the Nevada dessert. According to EFF staff attorney, Corynne McSherry, the Burning Man Organization has imposed terms on its ticket holders that go too far. "They've appropriated your copyright in advance," McSherry said in an interview. "By agreeing to the terms and conditions you've given them the right to control your photos for the next 70 years."

Digital Rights Crusaders at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have taken issue with the conditions that Burning Man puts on the photos and videos shot by participants in the week long event, which begins this year on August 31st. According to EFF staff attorney, Corynne McSherry, the Burning Man Organization has imposed terms on its ticket holders that go too far. "They've appropriated your copyright in advance," McSherry said in an interview. "By agreeing to the terms and conditions you've given them the right to control your photos for the next 70 years."

"Our motives are pure," countered Burning Man General Council Terry Gross. According to Gross, the severe terms and conditions regarding photos and video that has upset EFF are in fact not new. He says they've been in place for years and are part of a long process of trial and error at Burning Man to push back against encroachment from pornographers and Pepsi-Cola.

Gross emphasizes that everyone at Burning Man is welcome to take videos and pictures for private use, which includes sharing that material online. He says the restrictions are there for the minority of shutterbugs who have crossed the line, which includes selling photos and videos to the media, or to corporations who use the images in advertisements. Gross says that pictures have ended up in publications under earlier terms and conditions and despite the fact that Burning Man's rules were broken, the cat was already out of the bag. "We've run up against situations in the past. The person who took the pictures licensed them to a publication, and when Burning Man tells that publication that they've obtained those pictures illegally the publication's response was 'your issue is with the photographer, we're within our rights.'" Gross says that Burning Man has determined that the only way to protect the community is to use these policies.

Rebecca Saltzman has been going to Burning Man for years and blogging the experience. "They are my photos. I take them. They should be my property," she said. Saltzman was unaware of the restrictions she'd agreed to by purchasing a ticket until reading yesterday's Express blog post on the issue, but now she's concerned. "It's scary to me... They should be more clear with the policy."

McSherry of EFF understands that Burning Man is doing this in order to protect the Burner community from exploitation, and prevent commercialization. "We understand truly, Burning Man is not a bad guy." But by claiming these rights over everyone's pictures, even with good intentions "they are saying 'trust us,' and Burners should be wary of that." Not just for today, McSherry says, but because of what might occur 20 years from now. McSherry would prefer that Burning Man allow members of its community to license their pictures and videos under "Creative Commons" or even assign the work directly to the public domain, so it's forever copyright free.

Burning Man's lawyer, Terry Gross thinks that EFF has a "purist view" that everyone should own everything that they create. EFF and Burning Man have even held meetings in the past to try to work out a mutually agreeable solution, and Gross was originally EFF's first general consul, so he sympathizes with the Electronic Frontier Foundation ideal, "but that doesn't give protections here," he said.


What's the worst that can happen? It took Burning Man years to put a stop to Voyeur Video selling naked lady movies based on footage shot at the events. Burning Man eventually won in court, and every copy of the soft core pornos were delivered to the organization so they could be destroyed. Under the new rules, Burning Man can get that sort of job done with a lot less time and effort.

Eric Klein

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