Policy Reminder: Burning Man and Media


Storytellers have always been an important part of Burning Man culture and the creative documentation of our community is a form of radical self-expression. The images and videos that come out of Black Rock City help to keep us connected year-round as members of a global community and extend the impact of Burning Man far beyond the playa. While some might bemoan the presence of cameras at the event (you’re not alone!), our community has been thoroughly documented since its inception, and the ability for participants to share their experiences and perspectives is considered a right.

But the right to produce media comes with an important set of responsibilities.  Protecting participant privacy and freedom, and the culture of Burning Man as a whole, is key to the sustainability and vitality of the event. Every participant, whether they are documenting for personal or professional reasons, automatically agrees to the Terms and Conditions for media upon entry to the event. This includes many crucial provisions such as asking for consent, giving credit, and strictly non-commercial use of imagery. Everyone in Black Rock City accepts these terms as a condition of entry, and by entering the city you acknowledge that you have read the Terms and Conditions!

In addition to reading and understanding the terms and conditions, the back of your ticket, and the Burning Man Survival Guide, please keep the following guidelines in mind when it comes to the use of camera or audio recording equipment on playa:

Photo by Karie Henderson, 2002
Photo by Karie Henderson, 2002

First, any Professional Use media project requires preregistration and approval from Media Mecca. “Professional Use” is defined as sharing beyond friends and family or beyond social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr (if you are a public figure with a large following on social media, you must apply for a professional use agreement). This includes media used for press and news outlets, film or book projects, art exhibitions, reproductions for sale and most editorial use of imagery. Basically, if you planning to release something to “the public,” then congratulations, you are Professional Use Media! Please read our Press Section or contact press@burningman.org for more information.

"Camera Shy?", 2014. Photo by Gene Zuspan
“Camera Shy?”, 2014. Photo by Gene Zuspan

Second, because self expression is a pillar of our culture, and since participants radically express themselves in a variety of ways, anyone with a video or still camera must secure verbal consent BEFORE recording another participant’s image or voice. If asked by any participant, you must explain how you intend to use the imagery. Should a participant object or otherwise not give their full consent AT ANY TIME for ANY REASON, you must immediately STOP recording, and you may not use their image or voice in any manner. Be conscientious and considerate. Don’t be a creeper!

Additionally, if you are Professional Use Media, you need to obtain written consent from any recognizable participants whose images or audio you capture. The same goes for the artist who created that amazing sculpture you are hoping to feature in your documentary. A simple model release will usually do the trick. Burning Man may require evidence of these consensual agreements before a Professional Use project is approved for public distribution.

Black Rock City citizens are encouraged to speak up if you see members of the media behaving inappropriately. Should you observe anyone with a camera not following the requirements of consent and respect, tell them to stop. If they refuse, get as much information as you can — Do they have a camera tag? Do they represent an organization? Is the individual they are shooting aware their image or voice is being recorded? Where are they camping? — and tell a Black Rock Ranger or report the issue to Media Mecca (10:30 & Inner Circle).

Third, in concert with our principle of Decommodification, Burning Man takes a strong stance against any images, video, or audio from the event being used in any type of commercial manner. You can’t use Black Rock City as a backdrop for a music video or a fictional film. You can’t use Black Rock City for a product promotion, for any kind of commercial, or for a fashion shoot. Not even if you’re from VOGUE. Seriously. Next to violating the privacy and other rights of participants, nothing is as degrading to the future of our city and culture as using Burning Man to sell something, and we stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation.

Does this mean we don’t want you to share your pictures from Burning Man? Absolutely not! The media that comes from Burning Man is one of the greatest gifts we have to give the world, and it’s one of the best ways to bring the inspiration of the playa back to our (other) homes. If you wish to contribute to the Creative Commons through photo sites like Flickr, please be sure to select the appropriate license. The correct license to use is ‘Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike 3.0 Creative Commons’ license. This ensures protection of your artistic rights as well as the rights of other participants and the Burning Man event itself.

Media Mecca and the Burning Man Press Team exist as resources to support creative storytelling and as a home for the vast network of photographers, videographers, writers, journalists and artists that have all shared their perspectives on the Burning Man experience. In a city that exists for only a week, where every last thing is either burned, dismantled or packed out, the images and stories we collect along the way are a powerful way for us to celebrate our history and culture, and they play a major part in how we can create a substantial and lasting impression in the world.

For additional information about Burning Man’s media policies, please see the Press PageMedia Rights & Responsibilities, or write to press@burningman.org with your related questions.

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

17 Comments on “Policy Reminder: Burning Man and Media

  • hool says:

    This issue has already been decided and settled by a US court. The Burning Man event happens on public land, although leased to the organization. Pictures taken at the event are equal to those that are taken on any public land or in public. Purchasing a ticket is not a contract, and does not give the organization ownership of the photographers’ property (pictures).

    This doesn’t, however, prevent the organization from claiming ownership of pictures taken at the event. In this same way I can claim ownership of the computer you are using to read these words. For a price, I can have a lawyer send you a letter insisting that you give your computer to me, as I claim ownership of it. If threatening enough, some of you would comply. Same thing with BMorg. You do not need to comply with their threats and cease n desists letters.

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  • Yep Yep says:

    Seconding what hool said. Don’t be fooled by their scary legal words. They are hollow.

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  • Think Again says:

    It’s a private event. Don’t be a douche – those aren’t scary legal words, it reads more like a request to be respectful of the community, the participants and the culture. There are legal guidelines in place for the a-holes that aren’t.

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  • Mewsonhigh says:

    No, Burning Man can not keep you from using your photos for commercial purposes. No, they cant keep you taking photos of anyone at any time. Freedom of speech does not end at the gate.

    What they do want is for you to be respectful of the community.

    Burning man IS a private event, regardless of being held on private land. They do have the legal right to kick you out for not following guidelines and they do have the right to ban you from future events because you didnt follow the policies regarding commercial use.

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  • Todd Gardiner says:

    Hool, what U.S. court case are you referring to? If I wanted to do a web search for this “decided and settled” lawsuit, what search terms would I use?

    I’m not finding it with “burning man photo policy court decision”.

    Also be aware, posting links in posts delays your response because of the need for moderation of links. Thus I am only asking for search terms.


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  • Todd Gardiner says:

    Also, I’m pretty sure that Burning Man’s photo policy and the legal basis for them were developed by an EFF lawyer.

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  • Petsuntileaten says:

    Yeah. Radical self reliance at its best. There are some participants that will not allow filming without permission. They are scarier than lawyers and they’ll break your gear.

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  • vortexual says:

    I’m a new burner, about to attend BM for the first time, and my head is spinning from all the information and events I’ve learned about. Yesterday, I watched a video about a camp that has an orgasm machine, and there was a lot of zooming in for close up shots of girls’ crotches while they were having this intense semi-private experience (and in fact the camp’s event description advertised a “safe, private environment”), but it was pretty obvious from camera angles that some participants didn’t know they were being filmed. I guess I won’t know what it’s really like until I get there, but I find it a cause for concern that my own “radical self-expression” and experimentation might be inhibited by knowing that I’ll always be on camera, from random people’s snapshots, to artists’ documentaries, to who-knows-what-they’re-doing with drone cameras flying around (how to you declare non-consent to a drone?)…

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  • Royalti says:

    Well said vortexual!!

    This will be my first burn as well and reading this makes me a little uneasy. Just means I need to be aware of my surroundings at all times and keep my guard up, which sucks because I was hoping to bring a lot of my guards down while on the Playa. Technology is ruining the experience of life.

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  • zimbo says:

    Come on Royalti. Technology is ruining the experience of life? That’s a little extreme especially considering that you have never set foot on the playa yet. Technology is probably the reason most people know about burning man in the first place. It goes hand in hand with TTITD.
    Yea maybe you need to be a little aware of who’s filming what, but then again at the Burn everyone is covered in dust and beautiful costumes and headwear and everyone is beautiful. Don’t go into it with the attitude that its already “ruined”, you’re sounding like a jaded veteran already..

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  • hypocricricri says:

    Hilarious! The free love hippie drub thought fest wants to clamp down on your right to free speech! Those old white guys who penned the constitution are more radical than these squares! I guess BMdotCOM decided they had something worth something so now they gettin all Nazi about it. lol. George W. Bush, come save my rights from these pinkies! lol.

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  • none says:

    Of course this policy doesn’t stop pros from getting physical with participants who happen to be doing their own thing on the open playa and objects to being recorded. Because the participant is in their shot.

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  • Jesus says:

    Hool and ‘Yep Yep’ are FoS (Full of Shit). There’s no such US Court ruling. The BMORG would have a different policy, or it would be well documented and well-known, thanks to the sundry BMORG critics, that the Media Mecca were spreading deceptive, dishonest information.

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  • Burning Man says:

    Whether the land is public or private is not really the issue. It is public land that the BLM gives Burning Man exclusive use to hold a private event on. By using a ticket and entering the event, each participant agrees to the Terms and Conditions, including provisions about the use of media. If someone disagrees with the Terms and Conditions they may choose to not use the ticket and not come to the event.

    It’s important to mention that there has been no court decision that ruled that our ticket contract or online terms and conditions are not valid, including those that relate to use of imagery. In fact, in a California Court of Appeal case brought against Burning Man, the court upheld the ticket terms as creating a binding contract. Countless court cases have established that contracts on the back of tickets, and online terms and conditions, create binding contracts.

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  • Knox Harrington says:

    With all due respect, just as many courts have gone the other way and ruled these arraignments to be contracts of adhesion. I’m fairly sure I could have this tossed out in a summary judgement because you don’t give the counter party any meaningful chance to negotiate terms.

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  • Pat says:

    All these rules, regulations and threats of being tossed out. I bet BM never had to deal with this 20 years ago. This is Nevada, not California. It’s too bad that once it got so big, it brought all these issues in to it.

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  • Myconexus says:

    I’d like to see a clearly worded, unambiguous statement – in any “Terms and Conditions” stipulation for registering/attendees – not about BM’s conditional wishes for all to obey (or else … ?).

    If signing up puts me in subordinated position of compelled compliance to BM’s wishes – minimal consideration would be a forthright explanation in written word – delineating exactly what rights, normally inalienable in a free country, one is supposedly waiving, to attend BM – just what freedoms are voluntarily sacrificed, in exchange for the privilege? Especially as involves taking pics, documentation, etc – what rights otherwise freely held, are taken away, as conditions? I’m not sure how comfy with the idea of protecting us and providing us from an environment where we can all fell safe from anyone – creepers? (really?) – simply exercising, if they wish, their basic rights and freedoms.

    This Policy Reminder smacks of basic rights being officially misrepresented, as problematic – needing to be over-ruled by ‘special’ considerations. If BM were a Scientology event or KKK – fine. They don’t want outsiders to know about their doings and interests, except as allowed officially, approved by the leadership for its purposes. Or police, shaking us down – using their tactics to get citizens standing down from the rights, especially 5th and 4th amendment, waive them without even realizing it, or considering consequences.

    Police don’t care about our rights either. Their intention is that we answer any questions they ask; let them search our persons vehicles or affects on demand without warrant or probable cause. Etc, obey their wishes, as dictated, and never mind our basic rights or freedoms.

    If people want to waive their rights to attend BM, fine. But not without realizing, on some vague rationale. BM needs to give clearer more forthright advisement. Not allusions or cajolery about ‘protecting the culture’ – as if from some harm that could befall it – should anything too free happen. Whatever that’s about seems pretty well unclarified in this Policy Reminder, even obfuscated.

    Amid Burners walking around (whatever number at various distances) – it is not remotely realistic or respectful of basic rights – for BM to presume to forbid attendees from taking pics, without getting permission first from all the people in frame, as if that were an appropriate necessity or condition. All that does is make it practically impossible to exercise such a basic right without fear or worry, as if doing something wrong – leaving nothing but BM lip service, “its okay IF” – under Policy as dictated, that sets conditions pretty well out of reach for most intents and purposes.

    Scientology’s big panic seems to be journalistic coverage (CNN, Anderson Cooper etc), not under its control, content not subject to its approval. That echoes here, in my ear.

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