A few years ago, the Vancouver-based group called Burn BC started using the names “Burning Man” and “Decompression” in connection with their organization and activities. Burn BC’s organizers also applied with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office to trademark these terms in Canada.
Burning Man encourages participants to incorporate the Burning Man name and logo and the designs of the Man and City into gifts that can be gifted at regional events and on the playa. In keeping with the principle of Decommodification, we also actively protect the event and our community from exploitation and commodification. That includes ensuring Burning Man’s name and other trademarks and copyrights aren’t used in ways that conflict with the 10 Principles. Burn BC’s actions opened the door to that. If Burning Man stood by while an unaffiliated business entity used the marks for their own purposes, we could lose the right to stop them or others from exploiting Burning Man culture.
Since we had been using “Burning Man” and “Decompression” in Canada for nearly 20 years, we asked Burn BC to stop its infringing use and end its trademark registration efforts. Burn BC refused. And while we view legal action as a last resort, in this case we found it to be necessary. We filed a case in April 2014 in Canadian Federal Court.
In January 2015, the Court ruled in Burning Man’s favor, finding that our use of our trademarks had been well known in Canada since the mid-1990s, and that Burn BC’s use of those terms would likely cause confusion between its activities and ours. This violated Canadian trademark law, so the Court ordered Burn BC and its directors to stop using Burning Man’s marks.
In April, we entered into settlement agreements with two of the three Burn BC directors still in the case. The remaining director wasn’t interested in settling at first and continued taking positions the Court had previously rejected. (The Court had earlier denied that defendant’s request to represent Burn BC, as he wasn’t qualified to do so under Canadian law. Burn BC never appealed that decision or retained qualified counsel as ordered by the Court.)
Last month, the third director finally agreed to a settlement on behalf of himself and Burn BC. Following a final Court judgment on Tuesday, all defendants have agreed to refrain from using Burning Man’s trademarks — including Burning Man and Decompression — in connection with their organization or activities. While we had the option, we chose not to enforce a financial judgment against Burn BC.
For us, this was never about money. Our interest in this case was to protect
and preserve Burning Man’s trademarks in Canada — as in the rest of the world — in keeping with the 10 Principles.
Official Burning Man Regionals — including many in Canada — go through a process to ensure their communities and events are in keeping with the values that make our community unique. Burn BC did not do this, and instead tried to claim Burning Man’s trademarks as its own. All organizations need to protect their trademarks or risk losing the ability to control how they are used. This obligation is especially important to Burning Man, since we aren’t just protecting words and symbols, but the principles and culture that underlie them.
You can read more on our trademark policy here.
For those of you who have asked to see the Court’s judgments in writing, here they are for the record: