Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shadows Conspiracy

I'm a fan of Penn & Teller, but I don't think I'm a fan of Teller's recent lawsuit.

Teller's best-known trick is probably Shadows, where he cuts the shadow of a flower which makes the real petals fall. He created the illusion--indeed, he copyrighted a description of the trick over 30 years ago.  Then a Belgian entertainer Gerard Dogge put up a copycat version on YouTube, and offered to reveal the secret for $3050 (I'm guessing the amount was a round figure in Belgian currency?).

You can't copyright a magic trick.  Thousands of magicians do the same card tricks, for instances, and you can find many magic secrets on YouTube and elsewhere.  But Teller's theory was his trick was a dramatic performance, done in pantomime, and that you can copyright.  The Nevada district court judge agreed.  The judge also noted even if the Dogge's secret to the trick were different, it wouldn't matter--what matters is what the audience sees.

I understand Teller's complaint, and it makes sense.  Imagine you had a play about a magician and he performed tricks in it, and you did the entire play including the tricks--that would unquestionably be a copyright violation.  But just a single trick that a performer does?  That's trickier. I understand a magician may work hard to devise a great trick, and much of that work is not about how the trick is done, but how it's presented, so if someone else does it they seem to be appropriating what you've created.  But it's just as easy to see it as another performer as doing his own version/tribute, like an impressionist singing a song in the style of a famous singer.

Based on the judge's decision, it would seem to me the Belgian can still put up a YouTube video describing Teller's trick and saying he'll sell the secret, he just can't perform it to prove that he knows how to do it.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Teller should have starred in "The Prestige" (he would have been better than Christian Bale, at least).

8:00 AM, March 24, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would only work if the part could be played in pantomime.

1:03 PM, March 24, 2014  

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