In this article I will be looking at “Can Magic Tricks be Copyrighted.”
How much protection does a magician have for the tricks they invent?
It turns out to be more complex than the question first suggests, as some world-famous magicians have discovered in recent years.
Can Magic Tricks Be Copyrighted? In the USA it’s not possible to copyright magic tricks, only the pantomime the magician is using in performance. There were several lawsuits between magicians and copycats that set precedents for future cases.
Table of Contents
In the United States, it is not possible to copyright a Magic Trick.
It is only possible to copyright the “Pantomime” that is used to perform the trick.
In this context, Pantomime is the art of conveying emotions, actions, and feelings by gestures. Let me tell you a story that illustrates this.
Raymond Teller, the quiet one from Penn and Teller, invented a trick called “Shadows” and it was an important part of his stage act.
Then along came Gerard Dogge, a Belgian entertainer who posted a copycat of the trick on YouTube, and offered to reveal how it was done if someone were to pay him $3,050.
After chasing the Belgian halfway around Europe to try and serve papers the case finally got to court and Dogge put up a defense saying that the did not accept that the trick was a pantomime performance.
The judge disagreed with him.
Dogge then went on to say that his trick was not substantially similar to Penn’s.
This is the interesting bit.
The judge rebutted that defense by saying that while the trick may have had differences that the “Observable” elements of the trick were the same and whatever method he actually used to perform the trick was not relevant, since the audience never got to see that.
So Teller won his case because the pantomime was the same.
Suing someone for copying a magic trick is not easy though, and I suspect that Teller incurred costs that were more than he got awarded.
But he established a principle and punished the Belgian.
It also set a precedent for future cases.
Patents are of little use to magicians seeking to protect the secret of how their trick is performed.
This is because to patent the trick you have to provide a substantial amount of information about the trick in the patent application, which is freely available to other magicians and the general public online.
Sure, if you patent the trick, you can stop another magician from performing the trick but it does nothing to stop the individual from publishing how it is done.
This defeats the object of patenting it.
Trade Secret Law
Trade Secret Law can be effective in protecting the secrets behind a trick.
Say for example I get a job working for David Copperfield and I get to see him rehearse and preparing his tricks.
Then I decide to copy it and start performing it.
If I wasn’t made to sign a non-disclosure agreement and a non-compete agreement then David would be guilty of just allowing anyone to find out his secrets and have trouble taking action against me.
However, if he had put measures in place to stop this from happening then he could easily sue me.
One of the most effective ways of protecting secrets is the rules of the magical societies, that forbid magicians to reveal how tricks are done, interfering with the trade of other magicians by unauthorized use of their tricks and various other clauses.
All members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians are required to agree to these rules.
There is a number of websites where you can learn magic tricks online.
I put together lists of best YouTube channels and sites where you can learn magic:
Make sure to check these lists to find out the best resources!
It is a bit of a catch 22 situation where to protect a trick you have to patent it, but in order to protect the secrets of the trick, you have to publish them in your copyright application, which can be viewed by the public.
However, I wonder whether this information being online on some obscure patent website is actually going to be seen by many people at all.
The only people who would probably take the time and trouble to look for this information would be other magicians who might learn how you do the trick, but cannot perform it because you have patented it.
You still have the copyright protection on the pantomime involved in the trick, even if the magician manages to reverse engineer your patented trick and redesign it sufficiently different to avoid the patent cover.