Pepper’s Ghost Key in New Lawsuit Against Cirque du Soleil

Inside Magic Image for Tony Spain's Seance for ChildrenIt is not often when the worlds of west coast rap culture and classical illusion come together.  It is an even more rare event to have those two spheres of history collide with patent law.  Today, then, is a special day for fans of the late Tupac Shakur, Pepper’s Ghost and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

According to industry magazines (the entertainment industry) a company is suing Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts for their alleged infringement on a patent it owns.  The suit claims Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: One uses its patented technology to “create a hologram” of the late King of Pop for one of the final scenes of the show.

FilmOn  and hologram-maker Musion filed suit against the defendants in Los Angeles yesterday alleging Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts bring Michael Jackson back to the stage by an unlicensed use of their technology.

The complaint gives a little background on Pepper’s Ghost in its opening paragraphs – before getting to the meat of the issue:

“In 1862, John Pepper and Henry Dircks invented ‘Pepper’s Ghost,’ an illusion technique, which, over the last 150 years, has appeared in movies, concerts, magic shows and amusement park rides,” says the lawsuit. “Today a new incarnation of Pepper’s Ghost exists — Musion Eyeliner technology. Musion Eyeliner uses a patented system to project three-dimensional images virtually indistinguishable from real life bodies.”

The complaint then alleges that it is “widely acknowledged that Defendants employ the technology to create a three-dimensional hologram of Michael Jackson in Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: One, Defendants do not possess a valid license to practice that technology.”

One wonders what they mean by “widely acknowledged.”

This will be an interesting case to watch.  Patent law is an intricate and difficult world to navigate.  We make no claim of expertise and it is always tough to judge a claim by the opening salvo.  As we write this, the defendants have not issued a statement in reaction to the complaint but when they do, we will provide coverage.

We note that despite the headlines and the loose text that floats through coverage about the lawsuit, Pepper’s Ghost is not a hologram – not even a little.  It is – as the complaint notes – a method of projecting an image.  Plaintiffs complaint is that the method used to project the ghost onto a live stage is protected by their patents and therefore Cirque and MGM have infringed.  Perhaps our beef is with the misnaming of the illusion.

Read more about the lawsuit here:

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