It is comforting to see that the country from which we have derived the greater part of our legal system, has not backslid into the easy but philosophically unsound world where an idea can be protected. The United Kingdom wants to encourage innovation but draws understands it must draw the line somewhere.
In the case of magic tricks, one can patent the method to perform the effect or even copyright the patter used to describe and deceive; but one may not protect the idea behind the trick itself.
For instance, the secret behind our now-classic Marked One-Way Forcing Deck can be stolen by just about anyone. Of course, some print critics of our invention have suggested “[w]hy would anyone want to steal the idea of a One-Way Forcing Deck that is marked as well?” Regardless, it is not being knocked-off or copied by folks looking to cash in on our genius. We like to think that is because our brothers and sisters in Magic are ethical folk.
By the way, we will soon announce the follow-up to the Marked One-Way Forcing Deck, The Inside Magic Marked Billiard Balls. No longer will you have to guess about the location of any particular billiard ball whilst you make them appear or disappear.
Editor: Mark Panner is filling in for us whilst we work our day job during this busy season. His essays are not edited or approved by Inside Magic. In fact, we usually disagree with everything he says and does.
Some call it deliberate theft, others call it inspiration. I call it inspiration because I don’t like all of the negatives that come with the word “theft.”
But I also call it pure gold.
I am talking about using great ideas from other fields to make great hordes of cash in the magic field.
Let’s face it, magicians don’t get paid what they deserve. Some practice hours and hours to perform a trick that takes 30 seconds. If you get paid by the hour, that means all of the practice gets you some money but not much money. We won’t go into the complex math here (but we could if we had to) but say you get $15.00 an hour and you do a trick that takes 30 seconds to do. That means you are only getting a part of the $15.00; like a dollar or something. This is a magic blog not an accounting blog so you can figure it out for yourself later. Take my word for it, though: you are not getting the full $15.00 for all of the work that you put into learning the trick, buying the props or making them after watching how the trick is done thanks to YouTube.
So how do magicians make the money they deserve?
First, don’t buy tricks. As I said, you can learn just about any trick out there on YouTube. Thanks to people looking to make a name for themselves, there are plenty of videos where people expose really good trick and even show you how the props they bought work. It cost them something to buy the original trick but if they are stupid enough to show the world how to make it, that works out fine for the rest of us.
Everybody knows magic tricks cost a lot because of the secret, not the props. So, if you can learn the secret from some teenager on YouTube who is showing off how proud he is to have bought the latest miracle, you don’t need to pay a dime.
Wait Mark, isn’t that stealing?
No. Because I didn’t do the stealing. I just watched a video. The guy who did the video showing how a trick worked bought the trick (or learned it from someone who bought it) and so I am pretty far down the line from anything that even looks like stealing.
Wait Mark, isn’t that taking money from inventors of great tricks?
Again, I am not taking anything from anyone. I am just watching a video. It is a free country and I am allowed to watch videos. If someone wants to show me how to make a trick that would cost $45.00 on some over-priced magic web store, who am I to complain.
Wait Mark, won’t that keep magicians from inventing new tricks?
No and so what if they do? It will teach them to price their tricks right. Charging $45.00 for the latest miracle is too much no matter what the trick is – especially if I can make it with stuff I have around the mobile home or in my company’s supply cabinet.
Plus, most of the times once I learn the secret, I don’t want to do the trick any way so there really is no loss. I just saved $45.00 and avoided the hassle of paying and waiting for the delivery and then finding out it is a stupid method and not for me.
I have always said that magic reviews should tell you exactly how a trick is done so that you can determine for yourself whether you want to buy the trick. I bought a trick two years ago at a convention here in Michigan and the guy said it was easy to do and didn’t really require any sleights.
Well, he lied. To do the trick, you had to force a card and last time I checked, that’s a sleight. If I had known that the only way the trick would work was if I forced the card at the beginning, I could have saved $45.00 and bought something from someone more honest.
Don’t get me wrong, I can do a force. In fact, I can do maybe 15 different forces but why should I if I don’t need to? Just to look cool? The guy demonstrated the trick and the way he described it was like this: a person takes a card and the card ends up in some impossible place. Now I know why he was so vague. He was hiding the secret. If I knew the secret before I bought it, I could have saved my money and bought something useful like really cool decks of cards or food.
Wait Mark, shouldn’t we reward people who work hard to invent magic tricks?
We do. We get them press in the magic magazines and they get to travel around the world doing lectures and selling their “secrets” to magic club members. We had a lecturer at our Mystic Hollow Magic Club last month who said he had been in five states in three weeks and lectured five times before coming to Michigan. I know for a fact that the club paid him over $100.00 plus paid for his hotel room at the La Quinta by the airport and some members of the “executive committee” took him to dinner at Denny’s afterwards.
So the inventor gets to put on a show for about three hours, gets paid $100, free room, free dinner plus he gets to sell his special tricks at super-inflated prices. I watched pretty carefully and he sold about $50.00 worth of lecture notes and gimmicks. So, put that all together and he is taking in $150.00 for a three-hour show. Math is not my strong part but that is close to $50.00 an hour. Is he a brain surgeon or a lawyer? No, but he is charging those kinds of rates. So who is really “stealing” here?
He would keep touring and visiting magic clubs even if he didn’t sell anything because he is getting a free room and free food plus $100.00 a lecture. Sounds like a sweet gig if you ask me. I do table-hopping at the IHOP (I have a whole bunch of jokes about “hopping at the IHOP” – they are really funny) and have never cleared $100.00 from a weekend of work. It is hard for me to feel sorry for someone who gets to travel, stay in nice places, eats free (yes, I get free breakfast at IHOP but that is something I just do, they are not “officially” giving it to me).
I am writing a book (my fifth one this year!) about this secret to learning secrets and I will be selling it on Amazon and eBay. And before you get any ideas, don’t even think about trying to rip me off because I am going to get a copyright on it.
My dad used to say, “It’s a dog eat dog world, Mark. Make sure you’re the dog and not the other dog.”
The silent half of Penn & Teller is an amazing writer, fine magic historian and incredible inventor of magic effects. You put those three talents together and you have someone you do not want on the other side of a lawsuit.
Beginning with the premise that a magic trick is not per se protectable by the Copyright Act, certain aspects of the magical presentation may be. Most lawyers would attempt to dissuade a client hoping to sue another performer over an alleged copyright infringement. The burden of proof is tough, the case law does not support that type of claim (in most cases) and because the case will rise or fall based on the facts developed through litigation, it will be expensive to pursue.
U.S. District Judge James Mahan of Nevada agreed that in most cases a magic trick is not subject to copyright protection but, he observed in his ruling on Teller’s behalf, pantomimes are explicitly protected by the Copyright Act.
The effect at the center of the dispute is Teller’s famous and baffling Shadows. Teller even registered “Shadows” with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1983.
Shadows essentially consists of a spotlight trained on a bud vase containing a rose. The light falls in a such a manner that the shadow of the real rose is projected onto a white screen positioned some distance behind it. Teller then enters the otherwise still scene with a large knife, and proceeds to use the knife to dramatically sever the leaves and petals of the rose’s shadow on the screen slowly, one-by-one, whereupon the corresponding leaves of the real rose sitting in the vase fall to the ground, breaking from the stem at exactly the point where Teller cut the shadow projected on the screen behind it.
Gerard Dogge offered to sell the secret behind Shadows via an advertisement on YouTube for $3,500.00 and included plenty of Penn & Teller keywords to lure the curious to his page. Mr. Dogge claimed Teller’s copyright is not valid “because (A) it is registered as a dramatic work rather than a magic routine, (B) Teller abandoned his copyright, (C) Teller ‘openly challenged others to copy’ the work, and (D) Teller did not inform the public that Shadows is copyrighted.”
The judge wasn’t buying such foolishness. The court wrote, “despite Dogge’s numerous attempts to utter an incantation to make the copyright disappear, the court finds that Teller maintains a valid interest as the creator and owner of Shadows.”
And as we wrote, do not mess with Teller. He hired a private investigator to serve Mr. Dogge personally. Mr. Dogge tried to hide and allegedly evaded service in Belgium, Spain and other locations on the continent. Mr. Teller finally convinced the judge that Mr. Dogge had at least opened an email containing the service of process and complaint. That was sufficient for jurisdiction and Mr. Dogge was forced to answer the complaint.
The best line of the court’s opinion granting Teller summary judgment against Mr. Dogge came near the end:
Dogge contends that the works are not substantially similar because his secret to performing the illusion differs from Teller’s, and because he uses a clear glass bottle instead of a vase in his However the court finds that these reaching arguments by Dogge exceed his limited grasp of copyright law. By arguing that the secret to his illusion is different than Teller’s, Dogge implicitly argues about aspects of the performance that are not perceivable by the audience. In discerning substantial similarity, the court compares only the observable elements of the works in question. Therefore, whether Dogge uses Teller’s method, a technique known only by various holy men of the Himalayas, or even real magic is irrelevant, as the performances appear identical to an ordinary observer.
The judge got it exactly right.
It is rare that being a copyright lawyer / magician gives us a chance to write about a combination of our favorite subjects, but this case did it for us.
Teller, magician and silent half of the Inside Magic Favorite duo Penn & Teller, offers his thoughts on neuroscience’s interest in what we do for a living. His article currently appears on Smithsonian.com and is a delight to read. (We use the word ‘delight’ advisedly – whatever that means).
Teller takes readers through the seven essential principles of magic to support his thesis that neuroscientists are novices at deception. Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.
Yes, there are some who decry the exposure (sort of) element but even this learned journal of all things magic cannot join in said decrying. There is no way to describe how magicians manipulate perception without examples. Teller does not expose more than he needs to illustrate and educate. Yes, if you are one of the many who regularly perform David Abbott’s Floating Ball routine or the Cockroach Production, some of your audiences may be wise to your shenanigans but that’s probably alright.
We did a quick comparative analysis of our two databases, Tricks Currently Performed by Magicians (trik_by_trikkrs.dbf) and Tricks Exposed on the Internets (trik_made_nakd.dbf) and found a statistically insignificant intersection of the two populations. (Interestingly, the “I got your nose” trick is the most exposed in English versions of the Interwebs). When we compared the results of the first analysis with our database of those who regularly read Smithsonian publications (nerds.dbf), the chance of meaningful exposure is minimal and unlikely to have any lasting effect on the ozone layer as we have come to understand it.
Some would argue our analytical approach to exposure should not be considered in isolation. It is the principle of the thing, they will mumble while gesturing appropriately. If we permit Teller to expose magic tricks no one else is doing or would do, we all suffer and magic is made permanently weaker. As our grandfather, Thomas “Big Tom” Hardy once said, “No man is an island although some are easily compared to peninsulas. If one suffers from tapeworm, does he not eat more food at the family trough than his brother unless they are Siamese (‘conjoined’) Twins?”
Perhaps, but that only proves Teller’s thesis.
But magic’s not easy to pick apart with machines, because it’s not really about the mechanics of your senses. Magic’s about understanding—and then manipulating—how viewers digest the sensory information.
Should Teller be shunned for not really exposing magic? Should we really look at the actual impact of his use of arcane and impractical “secrets” to teach? Or should we just allow our knee-jerk, gut-feeling, envy-based bias to cloud our perception?
In a very interesting new program, the premiere library for the English-speaking world (appropriately located in England) asks ordinary people like you to help preserve the great original books in their vast collection.
Among the 40 or so offerings is Houdini's classic from 1921.
In this practical guide with illustrations, Houdini explains how to perform ties "of two distinct types, namely, those adapted to use in spiritualistic work, and those intended for the escape artist." A perfect adoption for fans of the most famous magician in the world.
The cost to adopt this book or one of the other classics of non-magic literature, is a mere £30.00 which prices out at about €36.00 or $47.50 in U.S. Dollars.
Your name will be on the certificate and in the records of the British Library.
Not to be outdone, our hometown Mystic Hollow Library has a similar adopt a book program. For $2.50, you can adopt the entire 2009 collection of TV Guide in hardback. Not quite a classic, but it does contain some very interesting information about what you could have seen during that crucial year in television.
In the United States, analog television signals were replaced by their digital equivalent and millions of homes were stripped of their ability to see Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy. The nation was rocked and congressional efforts to supply conversion boxes to those affected by this horrific crisis fell short. You can read about the congress and the president's efforts to delay or fix the great social upheaval here.
You can call us “moronic,” “unethical,” “psycho,” or “scum-bag-esque” but we admit we love to be verbally abused — especially in writing.
But that’s not the reason we loved — absolutely and in all connotations of the word — Penn Jillette’s How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker.
The book is based on material putatively provided by an old acquaintance of Mr. Jillette, called by the nom de plume Dickie Richard. Mr. Jillette was permitted to create any pseudonym for his source and for some reason chose the name “Dickie Richard.”
Our therapist says were obsessed with these types of things but the name gave us pause.
After all, the last name Richard is rather rare in the United States. The surname is most often “Richards.” According to the U.S. Social Security Death Registry, there are a mere 13,353 folks in their database of over 77 million with the last name spelled in this manner compared with fewer than 40,000 for “Richards.”(Interestingly, there are only nine records for “Jillette”). Continue reading “Penn Jillette’s How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker – Magical”→
Nathan Kranzo is always busy: developing new magic, reviving old, forgotten gimmicks or techniques, or just “puttin’ stuff out there” for everyone’s consideration.
In fact, the Kranzometer indicated he was due for something pretty special any day now. We remembered that we needed to set the Kranzometer forward 55 minutes for Daylight Savings Time and that gave us a precise date and time — precisely five minutes before we started this article.
So confident were we in the Kranzometer’s accuracy that we actually wrote this article before he announced his special Thanksgiving Week gift. We knew we could write the article and just leave a blank here and there. They would be filled in precisely when the Kranzometer predicted.
The fact that you are reading this article and it is without blanks inappropriately joined, run-on sentences proves value of the Swiss movement and 23 jewels in our device. Other web sites purchase their Kranzometer’s second-hand or knock-offs of the Official Kranzometer; the same as used in the Olympic Games, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and Inside Magic, made only by Wittenaur.
Mr. Kranzo has a secret page and he has decided to make its address available to Inside Magic readers. We understand it will be available only through the Thanksgiving week. Some of the material shared is absolutely killer. Some of it is more adult oriented and some is a lot more adult oriented.
Mr. Kranzo writes in his introduction on the secret page:
These routines and gags were created by performing for real people in restaurants, bars, elementary schools, private parties, keggers, bonfires, comedy clubs, colleges, corporate events, theaters, trade shows, brothels, bar mitzvahs and after dinner engagements.
These routines are very customizable. I’ll give you the basic gag so you can take the idea and go any direction you’d like. In this way you will add your own personality and in doing so we will all have something unique.
Most of these effects and gags were designed for stand up performances but many can be performed close up and play just as well.
Originally written on Christmas Eve seven years ago and posted on Inside Magic. We’ve republished it by request. Definitely not one of our “light” or “funny” pieces.
Our father, Li’l Tom Hardy, was a proud man who frequently tried to pretend we were not too poor for Christmas presents.
Usually around December 13th, he’d come stumbling back to the trailer just as we were getting ready to head to the next town and announce,
“You know, I was talking with this Jehovah Witless Guy and he convinced me there is no biblical basis for celebrating Christmas.Now, while I don’t accept everything they those old boys say, ‘specially the no-drinking or smoking stuff, but I started thinking about it and I think they might be right.
I’d hate to see our whole family damned to Hell just to get a present under some pagan tree.”
“You know, I ran into that guy that used to be a ringmaster with Stamster Brothers and he commenced to talking about how Judaism – in its strictest form – really had the whole picture together.
They were waiting for the Messiah and that’s got a lot to say for it. I disagreed with him on the whole no-drinking and dragging out their equivalent of Christmas for a week or whatever, but the idea that we should really anticipate the birth of our Lord is a good thing.
Sooo, I’m thinking we anticipate how he can come into our life without the week of candles and presents.”
Or the worst was:
“You know, I was down at the Stop, Drop and Roll (that’s Circus Talk for a booze tent or trailer – usually just off the parade grounds), and I was walking back and saw this guy with a gun. He was mumbling something about how people demand so much from him and stuff and he was pretty well-bombed. I didn’t want to get too close cuz he was drunk and had a gun but I walked up a little closer and thought he looked like a biker.
There is a maxim we follow — and we don’t mean the magazine by the same name. Although it is possible that the magazine Maxim actually has written about our maxim. Of course, we would never know. We trusted and apparently our trust was foolishly tossed to the four winds – three of which came from the person we trusted.
In fact, the more we think about that lying little creep, the more we become perturbed. She said she was selling magazine subscriptions for her troop. We’re always looking to help out any scouting activities and while we normally associate cookie sales with troop fund raising, we trusted.
And we gave her good money to go with that trust. We mean we paid for the subscriptions with “real money”; not a charge on one of our almost certainly over-the-limit credit cards or even proceeds from a cash advance or payday (HA!) loan.
Our intention was to use real funds to purchase subscriptions the great journals of our era; and help the local troop raise money for something.
Well, we learned the hard way.
We have not received a single issue from any of the top quality magazines we ordered.
We paid over $422.12 for the subscriptions and received nothing. No cards falling out of the pages and cutting one’s lap or landing in the toilet. No poster-size images of the featured models in faraway places with a “come hither” or, in our case, “don’t bother,” or “stay there-ith” look in their eyes.
Yes, we were foolish to trust. We should have been suspicious and cautious. Did we already mention she wasn’t wearing a scout uniform?