Let's Talk About Stealing

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Josh Burch, Aug 17, 2019.

  1. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Cyril Takayama. It was amazing! But I found something out that was news to me. Cyril created this routine:

    Justin Willman gave Cyril permission to perform one of his routines, and Cyril gave Justin permission to perform this. They traded. Then Justin gave Cyril permission to teach this effect as part of his lecture.

    Well, if you have been in magic for very long you know that many people have performed that routine without Cyril or Justin's permission.

    Then there's this:

    This was created by Daniel Martin and Brent Braun and used with permission by Justin Willman and Nate Staniforth. Maybe you've seen a few people do it without permission?

    I'm sure you have seen this:

    Yeah, Dan Harlan used this in his show first, and David Copperfield asked for Dan's permission to do it in his show. Dan then taught David how to do it...now everyone does it!

    This last week a friend of mine posted a routine of my own creation without my permission. I wasn't totally bothered by it but it rubbed me weird. On one hand, I was flattered that he liked a trick of mine enough to do it (he flashed a little but it wasn't awful). Then there was part of me that felt like he had just figured out my trick and decided that was enough for him to perform it. I wish he would have talked to me about it first!

    I think it's clear we have an issue with originality in the community. I feel like we should do away with, "NEVER REVEAL THE SECRET" and move to "NEVER PERFORM AN EFFECT WITHOUT PERMISSION". I think nailing down the ethics when it comes down to performing others material is a vitally important conversation to have.

    Apparently, professionals like Justin Willman, Cyril Takayama, and David Copperfield have ethical considerations they take into account that the hobbyist or semi-professional magician is unaware of.

    What do you feel are the ethics in using another's piece of magic?

    (Let's not bring FU, Ellusionist, or Adam Greenbaum into this discussion)
    RealityOne likes this.
  2. I always thought that's how it should be, at least for television or for when you know you're actively going to perform it on a camera (i.e. you're going to post it yourself or you're doing it for a camera with prior knowledge). If you're just going out to perform here and there in real life, I don't think you need permission to perform an effect (though it'd be nice). If they have a camera and are filming, that's outside of your control. I can also totally see why someone would want to keep the TV rights to an effect, like Shin Lim does with his signature performances.

    The problem is that too many times, people do in fact have their phones out. Here's the underlying issues with that:
    A) There's no way to control if it's being recorded. It'd be nice if we could, but what are you going to do if a billion people perform the effect. And we can't exactly ask laymen to take down the video of another magician performing. Hell, it's probably a tough process even if it's a magician uploading a performance. We can't claim ownership over the actual performance because that isn't part of the Intellectual Property. The whole idea of the magic industry and all published effects and handling ever is to take that IP someone made and make it yours when you perform right? Give it your own twist and stuff? So how would we explain to laymen that the trick they watched is yours and they weren't allowed to see it on the internet? And how would you control that, either with laymen or with a magician's performance of a trick. Copyright strike? That's like suing someone for doing a cover of your song. I'd rather not have the magic industry become the music industry, we have enough drama as is.

    B) What about effects you can no longer ask permission for? So many great creators have passed away, others are still living with effects that are probably bigger than them. Where will we draw the line?

    C) What if they say no? Can you just no longer perform that effect? I'm not sure about everyone, but if I buy a trick, I do so to perform the trick, not to learn how it's done. If they then tell me no, can I then ask for a refund? Probably not because I know how it's done. I've lost all value from the purchase because I can't perform it and if it's refunded, they've lost all value from the purchase because I know how it's done.

    D) I think the weird thing is that at some point, magician's sort of switched from "here's an effect I created, it is very similar to x effect/it is a completely different way to perform x effect/it is a brand new perspective on x effect" with their own handling to now actively sending out entire performance packs with each individual effect. With the latter, the effects are almost meant to be performed as is, and are taught in that way. Because of this, the inherit caveat of a purchase in the modern industry is that "I am giving you money so I can learn and perform this trick". If you're putting it up for sale in the modern industry, the inclination is that if I buy and learn it, I'm allowed to perform it. Are we now going to restrict where and to whom you can perform it? Some people do, like the example of Shin Lim used earlier, which is fine because it actively states the restrictions well before the actual purchasing of the effect, and you understand that you can't perform it on television without permission from him. This is absolutely fine in my opinion, but if all tricks were like that, and all magicians wanted to be credited for all there work, I feel like no one would be allowed to perform any new, groundbreaking effect, because the creator would want to milk it. This may seem fine, but it severely restricts what happens with our performances to laymen on public virtual or television viewing. No more insane viral videos with a new effect, no more Dan White bringing a newer trick to the Tonight Show, etc. Not sure how this'll effect stuff, I just know it will.
  3. I agree with Maaz, a lot of questions come up if you want to formulate clear guidelines for this problem, and Maaz has done a very good job of outlining some of these difficulties.
    Without having thought a lot about this, these are two guidelines that popped into my mind:

    1. If you buy a trick, you (usually) invest the money in order to use the trick some day. If a creator sells his tricks, he should be aware of this and you should be allowed to do so, in my opinion. See point C) of Maaz Hasan's post.

    2. If you are shown an original trick by a friend (or other aquaintance), you should ask his permission before performing this trick, regardless of whether you figured it out on your own or not, simply out of respect for the original creator.

    Just my 2p on the matter, as I said, this is just what popped into my mind after reading the question. Feel free to criticise, correct and debate.

    A new aspect to the problem I thought of when reading Josh Burch's post: What about stuff like Steve Forte's "52"? For those who don't know this, "52" is a bonus section on his DVD series where he demonstrates 52 moves he's thought up himself or has been shown by cheaters over the years. He doesn't teach, just shows.
    What if you figure out one of these moves on your own? Does that fall under one of the above? Should you be allowed to use the techniques yourself? Would you be allowed to show a friend how a technique works?
    (Keep in mind that, as far as I know, these techniques have not been published anywhere.)

    I don't want to take the emphasis from Josh's original quesion, but this is a problem I didn't find a quick or easy answer to. I'll be glad to hear your opinion on this!
  4. Shouldn't you have put the word "friend" in quotes?

    I agree. If someone publishes an effect with a presentation, you are free to use it any way you want (except to expose it). If it's not published, don't perform it without permission. The worst thing I ever saw was a magician performing Jeff McBride's Miser's Dream routine using an adult volunteer.

    You can and should control your performance environment. That goes a long way in a lot of areas.

    We can claim ownership over scripts and pantomime (actions) under copyright law. If you control your performance so there is no video, the only way your performance piece gets on the internet is if another magician performs it and someone records it. You don't go after the person recording it, but the magician performing it.

    Distinguish between methods and presentation. I think the methods, once published are able to be used freely. I think the presentation dies with the magician unless you perform it with a direct credit as something of a tribute or historical reference (e.g. this routine is Dai Vernon's Harlequin Act or this is Alan Wakeling's bar routine). It isn't yours and you can't claim it as being yours.

    Most purchased effects have full performance rights. Some explicitly provide that you request permission for video such as television or internet (which is one way to combat bad performances and exposure). For those, you can still perform the effects in every other instance.

    Josh's point is not related to published effects (which you can perform unless there is a specific limitation that should be provided prior to purchase). It is related to unpublished effects / presentations. Think of it this way, you spend three months developing a presentation piece of magic using a variety of known slights but a unique plot and presentation. This is part of your act. Someone comes up and performs the same piece (poorly because they didn't spend three months perfecting it and because they didn't pay close attention to what you did). That is just wrong.

    Agree completely.

    That is a tough one. If someone has a performance routine on a DVD and doesn't teach it, I don't think you can ethically reverse engineer it and use it. In your case, you were inspired by Steve and came up with your own method of doing the slight which may or may not be what Steve is doing and which may or may not be published (e.g. it could be a different method than Steve's that was previously published in an obscure journal). If it was me, I'd reach out to Steve, show him the method you came up with, ask him if it is the same and ask if he minds you using that method to demonstrate the move (without exposing how it is done). MOST people would respond kindly to the request and you have covered your bases.

    The sad truth is that you have to be very careful with your signature pieces. Start with obscure methods (old magic periodicals, out of print and amazingly expensive books are great sources), dress up the effect with custom made props (magical and otherwise), make a presentation that is unique and fits your character, name it something that can't be searched on Google; don't post it on YouTube, don't permit recording of your performances and don't reveal the method to anyone. Most people who will copy presentation pieces won't go through the effort if you make the effort too difficult.
  5. Thanks for the help! But one thing that makes it even a little bit more complicated is that he doesn't show routines, but techniques; for example, original methods of stud bottom dealing, beating the cut etc. These are things that wouldn't be exposed, but done in a way not detectable by the spectator (like the double lift: Not something for the spectator to see, but specifically for the spectator to not see). Does the fact that a spectator doesn't see the move change anything?
  6. I actually like this to some extent. I've been a part of several choirs and theater groups. The music industry has specific guidelines for what it takes to perform their music. When you buy music for a production you have to specify how many performers, performances and audience members you will have before the publisher sends you the music. In many cases, you then get to send the music back to the publisher after you are done.

    I'm not saying that magic should work exactly like that, I agree that music protections can get out of hand, but I do believe that there should be more universally accepted guidelines. Look at stand up comics. Virtually everyone agrees that stealing jokes is bad, in magic there seems to be quite a lot of gray area from person to person.

    This video breaks down joke theft pretty well and I think that more magicians need to think in terms of trick theft as well. We need to be able to say, "Dude, I don't think you meant it but that's Copperfield's bit. You shouldn't be doing that."
    (some of the examples in this video may not be appropriate for all viewers)

    The answer here seems obvious to me. I think the best thing to do is to not do someone else's stuff even if they are dead. If they have died, then there are still proper channels to go through. Scott Alexander is currently resurrecting Denny Haney's act, and Penn and Teller are currently performing large pieces of Johnny Thompson's act. In both cases, they have been in contact with the families of the deceased.

    At some point, a certain act may become ubiquitous. I'm not sure when this happens but it does and has happened to effects like sawing a woman in half, the Ten Ichi thumb tie, and the straight jacket escape. The unfortunate reality is that these effects were blatantly ripped off for years and that the rip-offs helped to make them ubiquitous. This is definitely a gray area, but in my own act, I try to stay as original as I can.

    If they say no, then you don't perform the trick out of respect for the creator. Marketed effects are a different beast and I am trying to talk about effects that specifically are not taught or marketed.

    This brings up another good point, which is worse: ripping off a released effect? or ripping off an effect that has never been released?

    I believe that it's a bigger deal to rip off an effect that has never been released and that's why I started this thread in the first place.
  7. I agree. If something is on the market and you purchase it along with the rights to perform it it is yours to perform. If not you should get permission from the creator. Here at the magic castle you are not allowed to perform other people’s work unless you have explicit permission from them.

    The blurred line now becomes what constitutes originality. For the sake of not bringing up the FU drama i’ll Leave it at that. But I think it is an interesting topic for sure!
    Josh Burch likes this.
  8. No, he's definitely a friend I completely respect him and hope to work with him more in the future. Really he's close enough that I may have discussed the method and technique with him at some point and I just don't remember. I was a little dramatic in my description earlier. Really I was just surprised to see it and there were a few changes that I would make to make his performance a little bit cleaner.

    For added context, this was the trick.


    Which, I understand opens a few cans of worms and may incriminate myself. I couldn't find my buddies performance of the trick but I don't think I need to.

    I'll give you some background. I've shown this instant solve to Stephen Brundage and Karl Hein. My first correspondence was with Stephen 3 years ago talking about how I had created an instant solve that resembled his millisecond solve possibly before his millisecond solve. We talked a bit exchanging subtleties and he gave me permission to perform his unpublished millisecond solve.

    Years later I contacted Karl Hein about a new application of this gimmicked cube. He gave me additional information on the gimmicked cube I am using. Apparently, it predates Daryl's Enchanted Cube and the authorship is unknown. He also explained that my application of this gimmick was similar but different than an idea of his.

    It's not a great routine to perform live but I have messed around with it casually and talked to other magicians about it since at lease 2015. I really don't have anything to complain about, my routine is fairly derivative. Stephen and Karl may not remember our conversations any more than I remember my conversation with my friend. It still came as a surprise to see him perform the same convincer, and solve without talking to me first.

    While I'm going into detail I should bring up something about the thumbs up trick. David learned it from Dan Harlan but there's more to the story. Dan has taught it to more people than just David. He teaches it on this DVD which is still for sale on his site: https://www.danharlanmagic.com/HARLAN-LIVE-HarlanLive.htm

    Also, apparently he learned the trick from a guy at a bar. So, it's very possible that the trick was known by a select few before Dan and David popularized it. If you do this effect you may have reason to do so.

    All this to say, I'm not calling anyone out. I just think this is a discussion worth having.
  9. Yea, it seems I misunderstood the point, I thought you were talking about an effect someone does but also publishes. I guess the way you're looking at it does change things, as at that point they are either directly ripping off the performance, or they had the opportunity to ask permission but chose not to.
    Josh Burch likes this.
  10. What happens when you know exactly how a routine is done for someone you can never get in touch with?

    I have seen Derren Brown perform a trick where I understood the workings of it. He didn’t publish the effect to my knowledge, just performed it and it’s on YouTube.

    Would it be unethical to then perform that trick or a variation in my shows?
  11. Yes, this is what I'm talking about.

    In my opinion it would be extremely unethical to perform that routine without his explicit permission. If you can't get ahold of him you absolutely can't do the routine.

    Knowing the secret does not grant you the moral right to perform the effect.
    ryanshaw957 likes this.
  12. I would tend to agree. It’s akin to an artist repainting Starry Starry Night and selling it himself.
  13. But what if you take the general concept of Starry Starry Night, with the curved brush strokes and yellow-orange stars (idk I'm not a painter, sorry) and paint a new piece that is clearly different from it, but similar.

    The question is, can we be inspired by someone's routine and performance to the point where we add parts of it to our own? Not rhetorical, I genuinely want t oknow your guys' thoughts
  14. This is where I have to think a lot more before I answer, because there are a lot of angles to consider.

    It’s easy to say something like: if you can recognize where the inspiration came from then you’ve taken too much from the original artwork.

    But then what happens when you research further and find that the methods in use are actually published somewhere? Does that give you the freedom to use the methods in any way, or must you always watch to ensure you’re not accidentally copying others’ presentations?

    In music, everyone learns the same notes, and according to music theory certain chords sound good next to other chords. So there are these sort of set patterns that just work, and that are used in tons of different pieces of music or songs.

    I think the problem comes when you start using the same instrumentation, tempo, maybe the same lyrics, or the same key.

    In magic terms that means that maybe it’s okay to use the same concept for a presentation, as long as you change the words you use while presenting it (think about how many people perform book tests, coincidence tricks, ACAAN, PK Touches, Q&A, etc. — these are the chords).

    So is it only the presentation that should be in question? If so, which parts of the presentation?

    I’m asking more questions than I am giving answers now, because I don’t know either.
  15. I think so, I just think magicians stop short much of the time.

    If I have a boat and I replace the sails it does not become a new boat. If I replace the rudder too it still is the same old boat with a new rudder and sails. At some point there is hardly any of the old boat remaining and we can just about call it a new boat. The trouble is, and this will always be up for debate, when does it become a new boat? It's a big gray area.
  16. This is another gray area. Personally, I think you have to do your due diligence and cut the act out until you have received proper permissions.

    Some people would continue to use the trick anyways. I can see their argument, but I don't agree with it.

    If the versions of PK Touches, ACAAN etc. Are commercially available then there is more flexibility of course. I have seen magicians get upset with methods and presentations being stolen.

    Andre Kole performed a walking on water effect, Penn and Teller asked permission to do their own walking on water illusion on television with a different method. P and T abliged. Then Criss Angel asked for the same permission, Andre said no and Angel went ahead and filmed his own version. From what I understand, this caused some contention.

    Also, I seem to remember Banacheck expressing that PK Touches was meant as a method and that he wasn't all that happy when Luke Jermay released Touching on Hoy which used the same method to achieve a different effect.

    Legally, a script, choreography, or even a pantamime can be protected. David can probably give more information on what specifically is involved there.

    Personally, I look to change at least 2 of 3 parts for a trick. If we split it into effect, method, and presentation I'd like to change 2 of those before I call it something newish.

    These points can be debated though as I'm sure comedians debate what constitutes stealing a joke.
  17. It seems that the umbrella answer is that it’s a case-by-case thing.

    I wish there was a way to get in touch with magicians specifically for crediting and getting permission. It would make everything simpler. When it’s difficult to communicate to the people we need to communicate with, people get lazy or discouraged and continue with what they’re doing.
  18. The way that you get around it is by performing your own magic haha! Or magic that you have purchased.

    You don't have to get ahold of anyone if you do one of those two things. If you could get ahold of them they'd probably say no anyways. There's probably a reason why they haven't released it.

    And I guess that's my reason for posting this. There are a bunch of magicians who aren't thinking about it. Lots of magicians are out there copying David Copperfield, or Derren Brown word for word. That's not right and we need to do more to explain that to the public.
  19. Yeah that’s true.
  20. In my view, there are three components to a magic presentation piece: the effect, the method and the presentation. The effect is what the audience sees; the way the plot progresses. The method is how it is done. The presentation is what is said and what is acted out. The following relates to unpublished effects and presentations:

    The effect needs to be defined in terms of what happens (plot) and how it happens (conditions). Object vanishes is a basic plot. Make the object a coin and have it vanish when put into a glass with other coins is more specific because it includes other conditions. A routine with multiple phases also adds to the plot of the effect. I think it is fine to copy a plot (assistant vanishes on stage) especially in card magic where there is often multiple ways to do the same thing (spectator cuts to aces, selected card is sandwiched between two other cards). However, when you copy conditions is when you get in trouble (e.g. copying a linking bicycle tire routine or copying the vanish and reappearance of a duck). Making small changes doesn't work in this instance (e.g. using tricycle tires or a goose). Simple question, if a spectator saw both routines, would they say they are the same (recognizing that spectators simplify routines in their mind and are not aware of subtle differences)? A lot of this goes to the essence of the routine - at its most basic, what is the routine about.

    The method is how it is done. If the method is published by someone other than the performer (e.g. in Tarbell or the Jinx) in another context, you can use the method for a different effect than the performer's effect. You can't use the method for the performer's effect without permission. Figuring out that specific application of the method required the performer's efforts and you are not entitled to the benefit of that effort without permission or compensation (e.g. you buy the performer's book or download). If the method and effect are published, you can perform it but not use the performer's presentation (assuming that presentation is unique and not the same as in Tarbell or the Jinx). With a method you figure out, I think you are able to use that method for a different effect with a different presentation. However, I think you would not be able to publish that method without consulting and requesting permission if the method is the same.

    Presentation is what the performer says and does during presenting the effect. If the performer just uses say-do-see patter (saying what they are doing, doing it and telling the audience to "see" what happens), well, they are essentially describing the effect and the rules above for the effect apply. If the presentation is unique (e.g. playing "Chariots of Fire" while doing a slow motion fake reveal of the effect) the answer is no. Don't copy it. Don't take any lines from it. Even if they are really good or really funny. This applies even if the effect and method are published but the performer has a unique presentation. The performer put in their effort and you are not entitled to it without their permission or compensation. Again, presentation is not just the words. Take a look at Jeff McBride's Miser's Dream and Kalin and Jinger's Sawing in Half - there is a lot of nonverbal presentation going on there. The effect and methods for those effects are public domain, but the presentations (especially the interactions) are unique.

    The question ultimately becomes are you using the results of someone else's efforts without permission or compensation?
    Gabriel Z. and ryanshaw957 like this.

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