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View Full Version : Legal question: Can I set part of my novel at Burning Man, and call it that?



Dragonwriter
07-14-2014, 10:25 PM
About half of the novel I just finished in my urban fantasy series is set at Burning Man. I did some research to try to portray it accurately in the context of the story, but I do some pretty horrible things to it (by the end there's a huge Bad Thing that ends up killing and injuring a bunch of people).

My question is: Can I still call it Burning Man? I know the term is trademarked, but everything I've been able to track down online has been more focused on not naming other events BM, or implying the BM is associated with your event/business/activity/etc. I didn't see anything about using it in a fictional piece.

Anyone know? In the draft I'm calling it "Blazing Man" and the attendees "Blazers" (instead of "Burners") but the basic design of the venue (which I never refer to by name) is the same, as is the general fictionalized description of the activities at the event. Nobody who knows anything at all about BM is going to miss that this is supposed to be the same thing.

Thanks for any advice! :)

JulianneQJohnson
07-14-2014, 11:06 PM
You could certainly get away with a name that is very similar, and avoid any issues that way.
Using the name of an actual organization, product, or person by an author in a fiction work is considered fair use. The only way you might get into trouble is if you wrote about the organization Burning Man causing harm to people, rather than an outside force causing trouble at Burning Man. For example, if you write about a zombie at McDonalds killing someone, no trouble. If you write about a Big Mac at McDonalds killing someone, you are looking for a law suit.

Let me end by saying that I am not a lawyer, or an expert in any way. That's just the way I understand the situation, and it could be faulty.

snafu1056
07-14-2014, 11:19 PM
Good question. There's been fiction centered around Woodstock, so maybe Burning Man would be the same deal. But I dont know who owns the copyright or trademark on Burning Man.

Dragonwriter
07-14-2014, 11:25 PM
Using the name of an actual organization, product, or person by an author in a fiction work is considered fair use. The only way you might get into trouble is if you wrote about the organization Burning Man causing harm to people, rather than an outside force causing trouble at Burning Man. For example, if you write about a zombie at McDonalds killing someone, no trouble. If you write about a Big Mac at McDonalds killing someone, you are looking for a law suit.

It's definitely the former: the bad guys set up something that causes trouble at Burning Man, and it ends up killing and injuring a bunch of people before the heroes can stop it. There's nothing in the story that puts the BM organizers in a bad light (in fact, they're barely mentioned at all).

Keyan
07-15-2014, 07:50 AM
Cory Doctorow's novel Homeland has a Burning Man sequence. I think he actually mentions the name, but I could check.

MttStrn
07-15-2014, 08:21 AM
Cory Doctorow's novel Homeland has a Burning Man sequence. I think he actually mentions the name, but I could check.

The whole first part of the book is set at Burning Man and he does mention it by name and go into detail about the festival.

Dragonwriter
07-15-2014, 08:27 AM
Cory Doctorow's novel Homeland has a Burning Man sequence. I think he actually mentions the name, but I could check.

Thanks--I found it online! And he does mention it by name. Pretty good read, too! :)

http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/07/homeland-excerpt

BenPanced
07-15-2014, 08:32 AM
Armistead Maupin set a good portion of his latest book The Days of Anna Madrigal at Burning Man. In fact, it's called that by name and several of the series characters converge there without knowing they're going to meet. Maupin and his husband even went a couple times out of curiosity's sake and for research.

blacbird
07-15-2014, 10:09 AM
Trademarks protect names or expressions associated with certain products. You couldn't stage a different festival and call it "Burning Man" or some close derivative, but you don't violate a trademark by mentioning the name in a piece of writing, or even by setting the story at such an event.

caw

calieber
07-17-2014, 08:08 AM
I suspect it's fine. If you're worried, can you say "an art festival near Reno"? That's a little cumbersome, but nothing takes me out of a book -- or makes the writer look like a particularly clumsy parodist -- like something that is clearly X, but given a name that is almost, but not quite, X.

I doubt the people involved will object to calling it what it is if you don't cast the event itself in a negative light. Burning Man is pretty much the opposite of secret. (How do you know if someone's a Burner? Don't worry, they'll tell you.) For that matter, if you don't cast it in an unfairly negative light there's not much the people involved can do even if they do object.

Dragonwriter
07-17-2014, 08:33 AM
I doubt the people involved will object to calling it what it is if you don't cast the event itself in a negative light. Burning Man is pretty much the opposite of secret. (How do you know if someone's a Burner? Don't worry, they'll tell you.) For that matter, if you don't cast it in an unfairly negative light there's not much the people involved can do even if they do object.

I don't cast Burning Man itself in a negative light, but I do end up killing about a hundred people and injuring a couple thousand before it's over. :D None of this has anything to do with BM and its organizers, though--it's all the bad guys' fault.

Phyllo
07-19-2014, 08:37 AM
For what it's worth, there's a new film documentary just playing in cinemas called "Taking My Parents to Burning Man".

Seems consistent with fair use.

Dragonwriter
07-19-2014, 09:08 AM
Thanks, everyone! It sounds like I'm safe, so I'll go ahead and make the change.