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Profile of hobbymagic
I am an amateur magician but have been interested in the discusions on ethics. Help me understand how things work.

I have read that Copperfield's flying illusion is patented. I know that dvds, etc. are protected by copyright laws (but I believe this has to do with the reproducion or use of the dvd not the information on the dvd). It seems logical that a "thing" like a flipper coin could be patented.

Are there patents / copyrights on routines? For example, there are many many versions of, coins across, using different slights, different number of coins and sometimes different gaffs. Are any of these different, coins across, routines protected by law or is this where it is all a matter of ethics? Can / do magicians (copyright / patent) a new card trick?

It seems to me we are performing for an audience that does not know how it is done, therefore, variations in method are of interest to magicians but not the audience. It gets down to splitting some pretty fine hairs when you get into the details of the slights to perform the same illusion. I have purchased material on how to do a card trick. The author who is selling the material gives credit to the person who developed the concept but then explains that he has modified the orginal handling. By changing the handling is it now a new trick that can be marketed? Is it the concept of the trick or the method or both that is protected by (a) the law or (b) ethics?
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I'm no law expert, but it's my understanding that you can't copyright, patent, or trademark an effect. You can patent a gimmick, if it's novel, and you can copyright a book or instruction sheet. You may be able to trademark or copyright the name of an effect. But I don't know of any legal protection for a sleight or an effect.

Is it the concept of the trick or the method or both that is protected by (a) the law or (b) ethics?

I don't think you can legally protect a concept (unless it's very specific and unique). As far as ethics, it can get complicated. If you haven't already, take a look at this thread. It can get tricky, because it's not always clear who invented what when, and how much of a variation is necessary to call it your own.
Jonathan Townsend
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Eternal Order
Ossining, NY
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Copyright protects fixed expressions, like plays, poems and artwork, offering a monopoly on sale of the work.

patents protects devices, offering a monopoly on sale of the device.

neither protect magic effects or methods or ideas.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Bill Palmer
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That's pretty close. Patents also protect systems.

It is possible that if you could provide a specific method of "notating" a routine, you could protect the routine, but probably not the sleights involved. For years, it was understood that dance routines could not be copyrighted, because there was no way of notating them. In 1928, Rudolf von Laban published his first work in Labanonation (Kinetographie Laban) which now allows dance routines to be written down and copyrighted.

The Shank Shuffle was patented.

The IP laws of the US specifically state that you cannot patent, copyright or trademark an idea. You can only protect expressions or manifestations of an idea.

Interestingly, most integrated circuits are not patented. They are copyrighted. The reason the electronics companies can do this is that the matrix for forming the IC's is a photograph.

There is a huge advantage for a company that can copyright a product, rather than patent it, because the duration of a patent is shorter than that of a copyright.

However, IP laws are changing on a daily basis. 20 years ago, audio and video tapes were just being allowed as representations of works to be copyrighted, instead of, in the case of music, lead sheets and chord changes.

So this boils down to a very simple argument. If you did it first, it's yours. If you learned it somewhere else, it isn't. If you took something from somewhere else and made a significant improvement (note the word significant) then the improvement is yours.

If you want to teach your friends how to do something that is not yours, by most ethical standards, you should get permission from the inventor or the source from where you learned the item. Or you should require that they purchase it.

This may not be practical, and in some cases it may not be necessary. So much modern material is derived from antique sources that the origins are apparent only to people who study the history of the art.

One of the most popular productions of a bowling ball is based on something invented by Robert-Houdin. So while the method is not patentable, the fact that they "nailed the boards together in a way that nobody had done it before" might have been. It also probably would have been thrown out of a patent court.

That's where the real decisions are made. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the law says on the books. The judge and/or the jury are the ones who really make patent law.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

Jake Boone
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Cottage Grove, OR
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If copyright doesn't protect magic, and patents don't protect magic, why not create some sort of voluntary "magician's patent office" where people can register their new moves, gimmicks, etc.?

If I were to try and envision such a thing, I suspect it'd have to be run by a non-inventor, to help avoid any conflict-of-interest problems. Known effects, sleights, etc. could be described in some sort of database, and when Joe Magician comes up with a new idea, he could submit it to the MPO, which would check his idea against the database and either say, "Sorry, your idea was submitted by John Q. Smith three years ago" or "We have no record of such a thing, and have therefore entered it under your name."

Obviously, one would have to have a procedure to challenge submissions as non-original, and specific effects would not be viewable by anyone but the "patent clerks," but there'd be a paper trail, at least, to determine what's been done and by whom, so ripoff artists can be identified.

I can't imagine I'm the first person to imagine such a thing; has this been tried before? If so, what happened to it?*

Another question comes to mind: is this simply a boneheaded idea? I'll be the first to admit that I'm a rank newbie in the world of magician politics, so feel free to mercilessly smack me down.

-- Jake

* No fair saying, "We already have one; it's currently located in Max Maven's brain."
"Trust everyone... but cut the cards."
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Profile of wayno
On 2006-02-23 00:12, Jake Boone wrote:
If copyright doesn't protect magic, and patents don't protect magic, why not create some sort of voluntary "magician's patent office" where people can register their new moves, gimmicks, etc.?

The most obvious reason of "why not?" being is that it would be no different than the method we have today. Which would be ethics. Not everyone subscribes to the same principles of ethics when it comes to magic (or life for that matter).

Patents and copyrights are enforced by law. Where people can be punished through negative reinforcement. Fines and jailtime.

What you would be trying to do, is enact some sort of pseudo-law that cannot be policed any more than can be done right now, and expect/request people to follow it. It is based on an honour system and simply would not work.

Wayne Stevenson
The SpookClub
Wayne Stevenson
The SpookClub
Jake Boone
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Cottage Grove, OR
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Oh, I'm not imagining a "pseudo-law" sort of thing. I'm picturing something more like the Underwriters' Labratories, except for magic instead of appliances.

The UL seal you see on various electrical appliances is there on a voluntary basis. There's no law (last time I checked) forcing companies to submit their products for UL approval, but they do, because the seal is a mark of safety, and they sell more by having that seal affixed to their product. Likewise, registry in this "magical patent office" would be a mark of originality, allowing people to have an easy way to tell whether this new gaff is really "revolutionary" or just another [insert over-produced item here].

Sure, people could ignore the registry and put out knockoff effects, but if you want to display the "seal of originality" (or whatever), you'd have to be in the registry. This, by the way, is where the "negative reinforcement" comes in; displaying the seal on an unregistered effect would be trademark infringement, and could be prosecuted in real-world courts.

If magicians in general are concerned about ripoff effects (and it seems to me that they are), a system like this could reduce profitability for ripoff artists and increase same for original creators. It's not a panacea, nor did I mean to present the idea as if it would be; I just thought something of the sort could be useful in some circumstances.

If nothing else, it might help ease the dilemma of "publish now to protect the idea, and lose the coolness of having a secret method" versus "keep the secret method, but risk losing everything when some other magician publishes an identical method a month later" that magic inventors currently seem to face.

I hope that better described the concept I've got lodged in my head... does this make sense?

-- Jake
"Trust everyone... but cut the cards."
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