What’s That? A PUA You Say?

Photo by Karie Henderson, 2002

Burning Man was built on freedom of expression, and participants shouldn’t have to worry that photos or videos of their on-playa activities might appear online (or elsewhere) without their permission.

Going way back (pre-2000), Burning Man has requested that participants intending to record video on playa sign a Personal Use Agreement (PUA) to protect participants’ privacy in Black Rock City. In fact, it was this policy that allowed us to stop Voyeur Video from broadcasting illicit videos they’d recorded of unwitting Burning Man participants in 2002.

Burning Man’s photo policy is spelled out in the online terms and conditions applicable to all tickets: any participant is free to disseminate photos for personal use only, and cannot use them for any other purpose without the written permission of Burning Man.  The PUA simply provides another mechanism to make participants aware of the limitations on photo use, and the distribution of the PUA at Playa Info also assists in this process.

Of course, technology is evolving quickly. Back when video cameras were big and bulky and rare, we asked that each be tagged so people could identify the person taking their picture. Flash forward to 2012, and now just about everybody has a video camera on their person in the form of a smart phone or handheld video camera — so while collecting PUAs has become more logistically challenging, protecting the privacy of our participants is more important than ever.

Because cameras are so prevalent, we now only require a camera tag for professional photographers and videographers. However, we still — as always — ask that you fill out a PUA if and only if you’re planning on capturing video with your camera, regardless of how you plan to share those videos. Of course, if you plan to stick your camera (or snazzy camera-equipped digital phone) in your glovebox and not touch it all week, you’re all good.

We do not demand that every participant with a camera fill out a PUA.  We simply provide the PUA form as part of the education process, so that everyone attending knows they can’t license photos for advertisements or in a way that compromises the privacy of others. But if you do plan on shooting video on playa, please download the PUA form, fill it out, and hand it to the Greeter who meets your vehicle at the Greeters Station, bring it to the Rangers station (3:00, 9:00 plazas and Center Camp), or bring it Playa Info in Center Camp (Playa Info will also have forms on hand).

While this may feel like a bureaucratic hassle (we’re working to streamline the process next year), we appreciate our community’s support of this effort, as it has long protected your right to fully exercise radical self-expression in Black Rock City without fear of having it splattered across the internet without your permission.

About the author: Megan Miller

Megan Miller

Megan is an accomplished communications professional with experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. She’s a skilled leader, writer, editor, public speaker, and strategic adviser. Megan is passionate about the art of sharing information in creative and impactful ways, and believes in the power of ideas and authentic self-expression to change the world for the better. Before joining the year-round Burning Man staff in 2012, Megan spent ten years working for environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, political campaigns, and the United States Senate. Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Megan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English & Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and is a 2007 graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. She is also a certified yoga instructor who loves shaking it loose on the dance floor.

11 Comments on “What’s That? A PUA You Say?

  • Will says:

    Would it be possible next year to somehow have this sort of agreement be part of purchasing a ticket? (i.e. “By purchasing this ticket you agree that if you shoot video, then… “)

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  • Picasso says:

    What Will said. Very clear policy thanks.

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  • tribecca says:

    the whole ‘don’t take my picture!’ thing really started to get ugly after about 2001 or so. that’s when you started seeing a good percentage of school teachers on spirt quests who took their tops off as a perverse symbol of empowerment. when few pics ended up online, they went through the roof. and now, every person (ie man) with a camera is a pervert.

    what happens at burning man DOESN’T stay at burning man. if you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, it’s going to bite you in the ass in the so-called real world. if you’re ashamed or frightened that your naked body is going end up online somewhere – don’t get naked. it’s not that impressive anyway.

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  • DB says:

    Very simple. NEVER take someone’s photo at Burning Man without asking him or her first. In addition to violating the principle of immediacy, it is also a major inhibiting factor for most Burners that will dramatically affect the principles of radical self-expression and radical inclusion. No Burner should have to be worried that his activities in Black Rock City could be posted in a venue accessible in the default world (i.e. the internet). If you want to take pictures of naked people, go to Mardi Gras. If you want to be naked and be comfortable around naked people and allow all people, including women, to be comfortable and express themselves, go to Burning Man.

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  • wish says:

    Why do I feel smarmy for thinking this was an article about Pick Up Artists?

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  • Dienekes says:

    Perfectly stated, DB. The prevalence of cameras at Mardi Gras is putting an end to a lot of public misbehavior too, because a woman can’t look up and wave at somebody on a balcony without three rows of camera-wielding tourists, ready to instantly share all their photos across the internet to all of their buddies back home.

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  • Dbag says:

    My personal policy is not to do anything at burning man I wouldn’t do in defaultia. And yes I have walked naked through a major metropolitan area in the middle of the day. I feel MORE naked pictures should make their way into the mainstream. Then maybe Facebook wouldn’t have to censor photos of women breast feeding and it wouldn’t be headline news every time a celeb flashed a nip or went sans culottes.

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  • Moop Maestro says:

    Pick Up Artists make an art out of picking up moop! Come join us for a sunset flashmob moop-mopping-dance-party at Pick Up Artist Camp 10:30 and M! Try out our magentic sweeper bikes, learn the finer points of yarn-chasing, and connect with your fellow moop-maestros! After the dance we’ll all walk to the temple for no reason.

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  • Kuru says:

    There are really only two choices available that even have a ghost of a chance of working out.

    1) Ban all cameras and video at BM. If someone is caught all photos and video are deleted and they are ejected from BM and banned from returning.

    2) Everyone accepts the fact that they will have pictures or video of them taken and it will end up being available on the internet and their tightly wound boss Bob will see it. Act accordingly.

    Anything other than one of these choices is just living in a dream world that does not exist.

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  • EmmMadame says:

    Yes indeed. Anyone taking pictures or video at any time should ask the subject of their photo first. This is as old a principle as the other ten. People need to educated and informed of this. May I take your picture please. Yes? Thank you. No? Ok thank you.
    Simple. Sweet. FUNDAMENTAL.

    It’s not about people living dual lives. And what if they are. This is a safe space to explore even if you are not fully there yet. Play.

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  • Sandfly says:

    … sigh. Once again, we have an official policy at:
    which is completely unworkable, then we have announcements saying “Of course, we don’t mean THAT.” This is not rocket science. Fix the !@#$%^&*! policy to say what you mean. You never have, and never will, get everyone with a camera to fill out a form, nor could you handle it if we did, so stop publishing a policy that says it is mandatory.

    And while you’re at it, make it clear that if you venture outside of your tent you’re nearly certain to end up in somebody’s photo. “Anyone taking pictures or video at any time should ask the subject of their photo first” is preposterous. Really … no photos of anyone parades or performances without interrupting the parade/performance to ask permission of every person involved? This would not even be safe. And, if you’re afraid of being outed as a Burner, how exactly does it help if you’re not the “subject” of the photo but you just happen to be in the photo. Going to Burning Man is a public statement of courage. Own it, wear a mask, or don’t go.

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