Burning brand - Page 2

A lawsuit by a Burning Man cofounder could expose the event and its icons to commercial exploitation

the 1990 event on the playa motivated Harvey to take a more active roll the next year, so he adopted the roll of artistic director thereafter." The three men entered into a legal partnership to run the event.

Harvey was always the one with the vision for growing the event into what it has become today — a structured, inclusive gathering based on certain egalitarian and artistic principles — while Law preferred smaller-scale anarchy and tweaks on the central icon.

"That was really the underlying conflict, but it got charged with emotion because 1996 was a harrowing year," Harvey told the Guardian, one of the few comments he would make on the record because of legal concerns.

That was the year in which Law's close friend Michael Fury was killed in a motorcycle accident on the playa as they were setting up for the event. And on the last night, attendees sleeping in a tent were accidentally run over by a car and seriously injured, prompting the creation of a civic infrastructure and restrictions on driving in future years.

Law had a falling-out with Harvey and no longer wanted anything to do with the event, while Mikel opted to remain; today he and Harvey serve on the BRC's seven-member board of directors. But Law didn't want to completely give up his stake in Burning Man, in case it was sold.

The three agreed to create Paper Man, a limited liability corporation whose only assets would be the Burning Man name and associated trademarks, which the entity would license for use by the BRC every year for a nominal fee, considering that all proceeds from the event get put right back into it.

Harvey has always seen that licensing as a mere formality, particularly since the terms of the agreement dealing with participant noninvolvement have caused Law's share to sink to 10 percent. In the meantime, however, tensions have risen in recent years between Harvey and Mikel, who has been given fewer tasks and even joined the board of the dissident Borg2 burner group two years ago (see "State of the Art," 12/1/04).

Harvey didn't pay Paper Man's corporate fees in 2003, but the corporation was reconstituted by Mikel, who was apparently concerned about losing his stake in Burning Man (Mikel could not be reached for comment). Harvey resisted formal written arrangements with Paper Man in subsequent years, but Mikel insisted.

Finally, on Aug. 6, 2006, Harvey drew up a 10-year licensing agreement and signed for Paper Man, while business manager Harley Dubois signed for the BRC. Mikel responded with a lawsuit that he filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Aug. 23, seeking to protect his interests in Paper Man. That suit later went into arbitration, which has been suspended by both sides since Law filed his suit. Law said he was prompted by the earlier lawsuit.

"I didn't start this particular battle," Law told the Guardian. "My options were to sign over all my rights to those guys and let them duke it out or do this."

Most burners have seen Harvey as a responsible steward of the Burning Man brand, with criticisms mainly aimed at the BRC's aggressiveness in defending it via threats of litigation. But Law still believes Harvey intends to cash in at some point: "I don't trust Larry at all. I don't trust his intentions."

Law is skeptical of Harvey's claims to altruism and even sees this year's Green Man theme — which includes a commitment of additional resources to make the event more environmentally friendly — as partly a marketing ploy.

"If they're going to get money for it, then I should get some to do my own public events," Law told us.