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Burning Man's dirty laundry gets an airing

If anyone thought all was well in the world of Burning Man, think again.

The annual famous countercultural festival, which this reporter will freely admit to having attended the last nine years, is caught up in a lawsuit involving its co-founder and two early partners, and things may soon get dirty.

According to Scott Beale's Laughing Squid blog, John Law, an early member of the LLC that organized Burning Man who split off from the event in 1996, has sued co-founder and director Larry Harvey, as well as board member Michael Mikel and the LLC itself.

Law is claiming that the phrase "Burning Man" should be in the public domain, rather than a controlled trademark, and that Harvey, Mikel and the Black Rock City LLC, have acted illegally in their control of the trademark.

In a 32-page filing (click for PDF), Law laid out his complaints.

Essentially, Law feels that Harvey and Black Rock City, LLC, are not acting in the best interest of the community that makes Burning Man possible.

"Burning Man is the sum of the efforts of the tens of thousands of people who have contributed to making Burning Man what it is," Law wrote on the blog he has started to get the issues involved in the suit out in the open. "The name Burning Man and all attendant trademarks, logos and trade dress do not belong to Larry Harvey alone or to Black Rock City, LLC."

For its part, the Burning Man organization was just finding out about the lawsuit and did not yet have any direct comment.

"We have been in a regularly scheduled (board) meeting since 12:30 p.m. today, and found out while in the meeting," said Marian Goodel, Burning Man's director of communications. "We're just reading the complaint and blog entry. We'll make official comment when we've reviewed everything and checked with our attorney...None of the parties have been served with the document yet, so all we have is what's on the Internet."

Law's attorney, I. Braun Degensheim, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.