Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A rose is a rose is a rose
September 18, 2012 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Stealing magic has become a commonplace crime. Teller, a man of infinite delicacy and deceit, decided to do something about it. Putative thief, Gerard Bakardy, tells the story differently.
posted by Obscure Reference (82 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for the youtube links, the Esquire piece ends on an unresolved note.
posted by fragmede at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect," Teller says.

Worth it for this quote alone.
posted by chavenet at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


What an absolutely fascinating story. Thank you for posting it. I've seen and heard various interviews with Teller, and I always come away with more admiration and respect than I had previously. This man is an artist, and he cares deeply about the work he does.
posted by jbickers at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


"The better than in Vegas trick..."
Well, there goes any chance you had of convincing me of your side, Bakardy.
posted by edd at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ordered the Steinmeyer book. Would love the Teller Latin text. Teller is amazing.

That said...I'm not sure I agree with all the IP complaints in that article.
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


He speaks in prose, in long, languid paragraphs peppered with literary and historical references.

I've always imagined Teller as a learned, soft spoken gentleman.
posted by Mblue at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2012


Yeah, jbickers, Teller is rapidly approaching the same level as Mr. Rogers on my list of people who have made the world a better place simply by being who they are and doing what they do.

I remember being entranced by the referenced Atlantic piece on the Soames appointment, and can't imagine why it never occurred to me before that of course he had engineered the whole thing as this beautiful, poetic magic trick for an audience of the dozen or so people who actually showed up. I think that perhaps the most beautiful thing about that is that, even though he knew perfectly well that he had arranged the whole thing and how, that Teller was just as captivated by that moment as everyone else.
posted by Naberius at 10:53 AM on September 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Teller performing Shadows.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:55 AM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Bakardy seems like an annoying character, but the fact that a magic trick can be copyrighted seems truly absurd.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Teller has always struck me as somebody who really gets what magic is about, both to the performer and to the audience. On the one hand, this really is about protecting the mechanics of an effect that he feels he owns.

But on the other hand, would you be entirely surprised if it were about protecting the art of the act? Bakardy's version is positively artless, puffery without any weight behind it. Teller's version is lovely.

Magic as IP seems (ahem) thorny to me--if Teller himself has changed the mechanics several times, and Bakardy's illusion is, as we can see, quite different in its presentation (Bakardy never even "touches" the shadow, but only "interacts" with the rose itself) what's the claim?
posted by uncleozzy at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2012


Is Penn the asshole in P&T then? Cause climate-change denying Cato Insitute fellows aren't really Mr. Rogers level to me...
posted by kmz at 11:00 AM on September 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


It IS about protecting the art. The article says that Teller has done the mechanics three different ways, two of which have been revealed, and that Barkady is unlikely to be doing the current one.

He also does it differently. So he's doing a different trick using a different method, which is reminiscent of a trick that Teller did/does. I don't think that's a lawsuit Teller is going to win.
posted by DU at 11:01 AM on September 18, 2012


Is Penn the asshole in P&T then?

Yeah, that's the one. The longer they're around, the clearer it is that the wrong guy is the silent one.
posted by scody at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [31 favorites]


Penn is Teller's lovely assistant, there to take the attention of the audience. They are both libertarians, though.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:09 AM on September 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


I read Steinmeyer's book after seeing Penn & Teller in Vegas this year (which was great -- though I thought Copperfield was a more dazzling show). It is pretty interesting how much IP issues are intertwined with the history of magic, and the book talks about that quite a lot.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:10 AM on September 18, 2012


Yeah, the more I think about this, and despite my love for the man ... I'm not sure Teller is in the right here. The mechanics of his shadow trick, in plain language, are extraordinarily basic and simple: affect an item in the real world by doing something to its shadow. If that's something that can be copyrighted or patented or whatever, then everybody who's ever sewn a lady in half is a thief too, except for the first guy to do it.

I think. Still not entirely sure how I feel.
posted by jbickers at 11:10 AM on September 18, 2012


The fact that a magic trick can be copyrighted seems truly absurd.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:56 AM on September 18 [+] [!]



Why? Conceiving and perfecting that trick required Teller's imagination, expertise and hard work just as surely as writing a song or a novel would have done. Why should the intellectual property invested in his chosen field of creativity be any less protected by the law than these other artistic forms?
posted by Paul Slade at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


jbickers:The mechanics of his shadow trick, in plain language, are extraordinarily basic and simple: affect an item in the real world by doing something to its shadow. If that's something that can be copyrighted or patented or whatever, then everybody who's ever sewn a lady in half is a thief too, except for the first guy to do it.

I agree that being able to copyright something that broad would be practically unworkable, I don't think that is what Teller is trying to do. The article says:

Teller wasn't seeking to defend Shadows as a magic trick, but more as a piece of performance art.

For me this seems much more reasonable and protectable.
posted by BigYesh 2 at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2012


Magic as IP seems (ahem) thorny to me--if Teller himself has changed the mechanics several times, and Bakardy's illusion is, as we can see, quite different in its presentation (Bakardy never even "touches" the shadow, but only "interacts" with the rose itself) what's the claim?

The copyright registration is for a "pantomime drama." What is claimed is the dramatic presentation in general, not the specific mechanics of the illusion.
posted by grouse at 11:27 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great post. Thank you.
posted by Lynsey at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fantastic post, it really brings to mind that performance art is still art and should be treated legally in a similar way.
posted by Sphinx at 11:35 AM on September 18, 2012


> the fact that a magic trick can be copyrighted seems truly absurd.

Because... why?

The article (you did read the article, right?) points out that one of the great creators of illusions has stopped doing it, at least in part by his inability to prevent knock-offs.

Teller puts thousands of hours of his life into creating a performance. Many people, including myself, believe he should consequently get the right to own that performance. You might not believe so, but this belief isn't in any way "absurd".

Tell me - if you wrote a book, would you accept it if someone else, say, Time-Warner took the text of your book and published it without paying you?

> The mechanics of his shadow trick, in plain language, are extraordinarily basic and simple: affect an item in the real world by doing something to its shadow.

There are numerous tricks on the market already with exactly that theme. Teller isn't going after them - why? Aside from the fact that he's an honest man, you can't copyright some "general idea" - you can copyright a specific performance, not a general idea.

The thief, because thief he is, slavishly copied Teller's presentation (which I saw for the first time over 20 years ago) - he simply snipped off the last 30 seconds.

> everybody who's ever sewn a lady in half is a thief too, except for the first guy to do it.

Again, there are a thousand variations on "sawing a lady in half" - heck, I can tell you about them without consulting the 'net! First there was the "sawing in a box", then the "thin box sawing" (where the box was only small enough to contain the woman and nothing else, then the buzzsaw; around that time we started to get into sectioning, with Zig Zag (where the woman's midriff is pushed out) and the Mismade Woman (where a woman's divided into four boxes which are rearranged).

An awful lot of the time, the people who popularized these effects bought them from the original inventor. There's a certain fraternal feeling in magic, and you wouldn't go far if you stole people's work.

tl; dr: Teller has a copyright on his specific performance, and the thief is clearly infringing on it. You can't "copyright" some general idea like "shadows controlling" or "cutting a lady in half", in the same way you can't copyright "boy meets girl" as a play.

----

Now here's my true P&T story, which I believe is not generally known. I thought I posted it here once before but couldn't locate it...

Some years ago I was on a magician's-only mailing list, where the discussion got to P&T's bullet-catching trick, one of the members told us the following.

Magicians are generally divided into two categories, theoreticians and practitioners, though everyone has to have some aspects of both. The writer was mainly a theoretician, and had been working on one aspect of the bullet catching trick - a partial aspect of it.

P&T found out somehow that he was working on his ideas, and literally showed up at his door one day. They proceeded to pump him about his idea and any stray ideas he had about the trick.

Then they vanished. He heard they'd talked to some other people, had been learning about ballistics, about other studies.

Then he gets a card in the mail inviting him to a very private opening. He goes to a Broadway space that's dark, but open just for this one night. There are a few dozen people there, most of whom he knows by sight at least. There they see P&T's justly celebrated bullet-catching trick.

Bear in mind that there have been no financial negotiations or contracts signed. In the party after the show, my informant realized that Teller (an accomplished pickpocket) had slipped something into his pocket. When he got home, he looked at it - it was an envelope containing a check for what he described as "four times what I ever expected to earn for this trick."

For me, the bullet catching trick was the apex of P&T's career. If you've seen it, they start with a recap of the history of the trick - one that's extremely well-known to anyone in the fraternity, because of the grim trail of death involving it. What P&T know but don't say is that it's pretty easy to create a bullet-catching trick that works 99% of the time... but if you do the effect thousands of times then one day...

Houdini was one of many magicians who explored this trick, but was unable to figure out a way to make it foolproof and so dropped it (despite any impressions you might have gotten from bad movies, Houdini never failed at anything in his adult career, but that was because he made sure he never did anything that he wasn't 100% sure he could achieve...) In this trick, P&T quote a famous, moving letter from the great magician Kellar to Houdini that reads, “Don’t try the damn bullet catching trick, no matter how sure you may feel of its success. There is always the biggest kind of risk that some dog will ‘job’ you. And we can’t afford to lose Houdini.”

By doing this show as a regular part of their act, P&T hit legendary status after decades of being at the top of the field by literally "doing the trick that Houdini could not".

Moreover, if you see the performance, it's a complete baffler. It seems to be set up to be as fair and transparent as possible, the guns are loaded by the audience and never concealed for a second, the bullets and cartridges clearly and legitimately marked by audience members (and I am sure that there are no plants). I have some ideas about small parts of it, but I basically can't explain it at all.

Thanks for reading, and hope this leads you to greater appreciate of the next magic trick you see (particularly if it's mine).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2012 [111 favorites]


What is claimed is the dramatic presentation in general, not the specific mechanics of the illusion.

Right, that's what I was trying to get at. Bakardy's presentation is only like Teller's in that there's a flower whose shadow is projected behind it and which is affected by invisible means. Which you could argue is the meat of the illusion, but I'm not so sure, when the act is really quite different. The shadow in Teller's illusion is the star of the show, whereas it's just window dressing in Bakardy's act.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:38 AM on September 18, 2012


Oh, and one further note on something the article refers to obliquely.

Houdini, a man who completely deserves his reputation as the greatest magician ever, was indeed the first person to use copyrights to protect his work.

The trick was the water torture escape, which I was lucky enough to get a chance to see live some fifty years later when the late lamented Doug Henning was touring it, supposedly using the original equipment, as part of The Magic Show.

Houdini wanted to protect the trick, but a patent forces you to reveal the details. (Reading through the patent on David Copperfield's flying is almost more amazing than the trick itself. :-D)

But he realized that you could, as people have pointed out, copyright the specific performance of the trick as a theatrical presentation - which in many ways is better because it prevents people from doing the same trick using a different mechanism.

So Houdini rented a dark Broadway house for a day (just like P&T), sold a single ticket (legendarily it was to some random tourist who just wandered in), presented just that one trick to the single audience member, and then copyrighted it all.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:47 AM on September 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


Lest we forget the true meaning of a trick...
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 11:50 AM on September 18, 2012


Bakardy's presentation in the video linked in the FPP is certainly different than Teller's, but that was updated recently. The original solicitation video as described in the article sounds like it hewed much closer to Teller's original presentation.
posted by ckape at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2012


Tell me - if you wrote a book, would you accept it if someone else, say, Time-Warner took the text of your book and published it without paying you?

That's not exactly what's going on here though, is it?

See, for example, Richard Leigh's lawsuit against Dan Brown. Brown's plot in the Da Vinci code was pretty much an outright lift of the story Leigh tells in Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Doesn't matter though, because you can't protect an idea, thankfully.

Why? Conceiving and perfecting that trick required Teller's imagination, expertise and hard work just as surely as writing a song or a novel would have done. Why should the intellectual property invested in his chosen field of creativity be any less protected by the law than these other artistic forms?

And Teller's performance is rightfully protected by intellectual property law. However, whose to say Teller is the only person capable of having this same idea? Or even that it *is* the same idea? And why should anyone have a monopoly on an idea anyway? Ideas are like mathematical equations in that they're just out there, waiting to be had by people. The fact that Teller's performance was first to the public arena doesn't even mean that he was the first to have the idea.

IP law is out of control. Expanding the number of things it covers is a bad thing -- not a good thing. Nobody is going to go and see Gerard Bakardy rather than Teller -- which is not to say that I don't understand Teller's feelings around this.

Also: All im Steynmeyer's books are great, but Hiding the Elephant is definitely the best.

Also also: great post. Thanks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is nothing original in watching Teller transform himself into a copyright troll. The stage craft is poor and the prestige is uninspired.
posted by humanfont at 12:08 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many people, including myself, believe he should consequently get the right to own that performance.

Permanently? That's the absurd part. We cannot have the government charged, for all eternity, with tracking down "criminals" who use something that is in their brain. The list keeps growing of things in my head that are owned by someone else. There has to be a time after which a particular item is now free for the taking because it belongs to all of us. If only for practical reasons.
posted by DU at 12:14 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Teller puts thousands of hours of his life into creating a performance. Many people, including myself, believe he should consequently get the right to own that performance. You might not believe so, but this belief isn't in any way "absurd".

Teller has put thousands of hours into learning to perform like Teller. Same as, say, Charlie Chaplin, or Fred Astaire. If I duplicated any of their performances, I wouldn't remotely threaten their investment.

On the other hand, if I put thousands of hours into being a great performer, what kind of stories should be off-limits? No two-minute dance sequences that tell a story Fred Astaire once told, even if the technique is different? No two-minute slapstick sequences that tell a story Charlie Chaplin once told? Because Teller isn't just claiming a copyright on a precise sequence of motions here -- he's claiming a copyright on all embodiments of the story "a person holding a knife cuts a piece of paper with the shadow of a flower, and petals fall off the real flower."

Copyright cuts across media. If this is valid, then it's hard to see why it wouldn't cover movies with a sequence like that ... and animations with a sequence like that ... and video-game cutscenes with a sequence like that ... and books with a sequence like that ... and songs with a sequence like that ... and so on.

That's what's unsettling, if not absurd. A written description of this trick in a novel by a great author wouldn't stop other great authors from incorporating their own description of the same trick in their own novels, and wouldn't stop Teller from performing it on stage. The copyright over a novel is extremely narrow. But Teller claims that his performance does preempt all other performances -- and if that's true, it also preempts both novels, even if they couldn't preempt each other.

It's not a comfortable place for copyright to go, to grant ownership over such a brief snippet of story. Copyright goes to similar places when it grants protection over a short sequence of notes, or over a general outline of a story about wizards, and those are uncomfortable too.
posted by jhc at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why should the intellectual property invested in his chosen field of creativity be any less protected by the law than these other artistic forms?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:34 PM on September 18, 2012


Dammit.

Shorter version, IP is a twelve year old saying "Don't dress like me" but with a monopoly on violence.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record, someone purporting to be Dogge has filed a response to one of Teller's pre-trial motions in the D.Nev. case (2:12-cv-00591). It doesn't appear to have come via the electronic filing system, and there hasn't been any appearance filed, but there is something.

Right now, this looks like it's far more likely to be a civil procedure case than a copyright or IP case. Federal magistrate judges do not take kindly to people playing games like Dogge seems to want to. Cryptic YouTube videos followed by libel cases filed in Europe? That's gonna tweak the judge right the f*ck off. A defendant--or plaintiff, for that matter--who refuses to participate in the litigation process can easily find a judgment entered against them. Rule 37 sanctions can be incredibly broad, up to and including an entry of judgment or significant fines for wasting the court's time. And Teller is represented by Greenburg Traurig, one of the biggest firms in the world, who is going to bury this guy with discovery requests. While a win is a win, a win based on Dogge being a bitch is not going to help anyone clarify the intersection of copyright law and performance magic.

Then there's the question of personal jurisdiction, i.e., whether the court has power over the litigants. Generally, private citizens can't be sued in fora where they do not reside and have not traveled. So one might ask why the District of Nevada has jurisdiction over Dogge. There's an argument to be made that his website creates that jurisdiction under Nevada's long arm statute, but it may not be an awesome one. I'd need to know more about the facts before opining at any length. Regardless, if you're going to assert a personal jurisdiction defense, you need to raise it right away and have that issue resolved before anything else happens. Personal jurisdiction can be waived--one can always consent to litigate in a forum, even if one does not strictly need to--and Dogge's September 11, 2012 filing opposing one of Teller's motions might count as a waiver.

Jurisdiction is also why Dogge's alleged lawsuit in Belgium is problematic. Teller is an American citizen and private individual with no obvious contacts in Belgium. Also, most courts tend to take a dim view of the idea that filing a lawsuit itself constitutes slander. That's not really how that works. If you don't like something someone has said about you in court, there are processes within the litigation system for dealing with that. Filing a separate lawsuit is not one of them.

TL;DR version: Teller's case has some potential flaws, both procedurally and substantively, but Dogge seems to be a big enough jackass that it might not matter. Being a jackass can cause you to lose cases you would otherwise win.
posted by valkyryn at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


I put my initials on one of those bullets in a P&T show................... Thanks for the post.
posted by ambient2 at 12:49 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure if it was an episode of Bullshit! or their Magic & Mystery Tour special, but they do a run through of the cup & ball trick. Once with red cups and a second time with clear cups. Watching the complex feints and sleight of hand at blazing speed during the revealing second run easily outshines the trick itself.

It's a rare performer that can still wow a crowd while showing exactly how it's done.
posted by dr_dank at 12:51 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cups and balls trick was fairly obvious (badly so) but I actually thought it was more amazing watching it with clear cups.

The bullet trick is just awesome.
posted by Malice at 1:05 PM on September 18, 2012


It's quite clear from watching the videos that it's a rip-off. Backwardly doesn't even deny that he copied an "older" trick. So whether you argue that performance should be copyrightable or not, if current law allows it, then Teller's got a case, module the international issues.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:16 PM on September 18, 2012


Seeing Penn & Teller was by far the highlight of my recent (and only) trip to Las Vegas, and we only went because we couldn't decide what Cirque show to see after Love. Man, am I glad for that. If I had seen that as a kid, I can easily see it launching a lifelong obsession. If you are in Vegas and haven't seen them, GO.

Also, maybe I am just sheltered, but maybe this is also not commonly known. Teller is not short. He appears to be about my height (5'8") or slightly taller. Penn is just an enormous ogre of a man.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:31 PM on September 18, 2012


The magic bullet trick. Holy cow.
posted by procrastination at 1:51 PM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


For the record, someone purporting to be Dogge has filed a response to one of Teller's pre-trial motions in the D.Nev. case (2:12-cv-00591). It doesn't appear to have come via the electronic filing system, and there hasn't been any appearance filed, but there is something.

That's just the way it's done. The Court issued the following instructions from the bench: Filing shall be by way of the Locked Records Room Trick.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:51 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any sufficiently advanced filing procedure is indistinguishable from magic.
posted by grouse at 2:53 PM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


A former Latin teacher? An accomplished pickpocket? A magic-trick-laden house with a skull on it?

I . . . I have the weirdest crush right now.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:59 PM on September 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


My wife and I went to the Penn and Teller show in Vegas: we're not Americans, and we're not into magic shows, but it was very American and very good.

And the bullet trick was great and the highlight of the show: not just for the absolutely incomprehensible way it works, but for the two Americans they got to be the witnesses. Their astonishment and joy at the trick was delightful.
posted by alasdair at 3:17 PM on September 18, 2012


It bugs me that he's a "research fellow" at the Cato Institute. It bugs me because I like him, otherwise.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:42 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Enoch Soames on Guttenberg. That stunt at the library is unreal.
posted by dr_dank at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2012


More than one hundred magicians have legally included Origami in their acts after buying it and its secrets from the builder Steinmeyer has authorized to build it.... At least another thousand magicians have bought knockoffs built by a man in Indiana, and a guy in Sicily, and a team of reverse engineers in China.

"... when a person can't make a living by coming up with new material, that's when you have to wonder about the system. I would say that over the last few years, the last ten years, it's a net zero. I'm putting as much money into it as I'm getting out."

Interesting parallel to the rip-off culture of Piratebay and such. Of course there are more wannabee musicians and writers than magicians, and yes, there is a flood of music and written material right now, but this man's backing out of his peculiar creative idiom should give us some pause if nothing else.

You get what you pay for.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:33 PM on September 18, 2012


lupus_yonderboy: I don't mean this as a suggestion your story must be wrong, but the bullet catch Penn and Teller do is openly ascribed to Banachek, at least as far as I understand it.
posted by edd at 5:43 PM on September 18, 2012


We have this visceral reaction against Bakardy not because he violated Teller's copyright but because he committed plagiarism, meaning he represents Teller's work as his own.

There isn't any law against plagiarism for numerous reasons, like not being clearly enough defined, but nevertheless plagiarism represents the only actual "intellectual property" crime because only plagiarism involves depriving the creator.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:01 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This case is really difficult to figure out and weigh in on. Figuring out the original illusion was easier to do.

Teller can't patent the mechanics behind illusions because they wouldn't be illusions anymore. It certainly seems though, that in cases like this there should be some protection.

I think the difficulty in prosecuting something like this would be in proving that any damages were incurred. Is Teller actually going to lose or make less money as a result of the actions of Bakardi the Ass? Probably not.

OTOH, Barkardi uses the same exact props, the coke bottle and rose, and purports to know and is offering to sell the "secret". He's obviously an ass and I'd be angry with him too. Magician's Code anyone?
posted by snsranch at 6:13 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...everybody who's ever sewn a lady in half..."

Now, that would be a great trick.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:17 PM on September 18, 2012


"Teller is not short. He appears to be about my height (5'8") or slightly taller..."

In other words, short.

Speaking as a 6'5" ogre.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:31 PM on September 18, 2012


the fact that a magic trick can be copyrighted seems truly absurd.

I don't see why it seems more absurd that a magic trick can be copyrighted than that any other piece of art can be copyrighted. But then I love magic, and regard it as art. I also used to be an amateur magician so I have some understanding of just how much skill and work goes into these illusions. Maybe that helps.
posted by Decani at 6:54 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michael: Well, I don’t want to get into that part of your life anymore. Okay, listen, I just came here to tell you that this guy named Rollo pulled me over and made some threats.

G.O.B.: What kind of threats?

Michael: He said to say good-bye to your legs.

Michael: I don’t know whether this guy’s a mobster, a loan shark, something equally scary.

G.O.B.: Magician.

Michael: I think you’re confusing “scary” with “silly.” This guy was frightening. He was in a limo.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 7:02 PM on September 18, 2012


I'm no fan of near-perpetual copyright and dying industry giants that zealously over-use it to shakedown people without deep enough pockets to fight back. But after reading the article, I really don't think that's what's happening here. At all.

I also don't think copyright and its enforcement is an inherently bad thing, always, all the time, no matter what. I think it can be used for good. In my opinion, based on the article, Teller's suit -- if it's successful -- would be a paradigmatic example of copyright being recognized and enforced for the right reasons.
posted by treepour at 8:13 PM on September 18, 2012


"Invention is all fuzzy, sloppy stuff," Steinmeyer says.

Amen to fucking *that*. Fascinating article and post, Obscure Reference, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 PM on September 18, 2012


Teller is not short. He appears to be about my height (5'8") or slightly taller..."

In other words, short.

Speaking as a 6'5" ogre.


Well, ok. Not short relative to the general population.

You ogre.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:13 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I typed into google "what is the average adult male height in the United States?"

What came back was 5' 9".

I protest the classification of 5-8 as short.

(I am 5-9 so not precisely fair and balanced on this issue. Have you heard the okcupid and match dot com women claim almost all the dudes add two inches to their height in their profiles?)
posted by bukvich at 9:27 PM on September 18, 2012


I think this case really illustrates the difference between patents and copyright. Patents are meant to promote invention, which is why the inventor is required to describe and publish the new device. It's a time-limited monopoly, but the intent has always been that other people will copy the invention after the term expires. Copyright isn't there to promote publishing except indirectly (there is an infinite supply of bad books that could be published). It's there to allow people to profit from their creative work. The reasons for limiting the period of copyright are actually pretty weak (they mostly amount to administrative convenience), but that doesn't mean that we approve of plagiarism; we'd look down on someone who presented the works of some long-deceased poet as their own, even if the poems were out of copyright.

In this case a patent would be absolutely the wrong tool to protect the act. Patents are about promoting inventions, not protecting a mystery. Copyright, on the other hand, might be the way to go - if the performers are really copying Teller's performance, and not just his device. It seems to me that Teller is upset about both of these, but his problem is inherent to the nature of magic: it is a mystery, and you cannot patent a mystery.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:29 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


is it just me, or does this all seem like an elaborate hoax?
posted by dutch at 9:35 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The argument for limiting copyright terms is exactly the same as the argument for limiting patent terms: after the creator has had a temporary monopoly to compensate for creating the work others will be able to build on top of that work.
posted by ckape at 9:54 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cpape, I have some sympathy with that argument, but the reason patent terms are limited is because formerly people could (and did) get patents on fundamental machines and prevent further development. The same problem doesn't apply to copyrightable works: the world of literature is not materially deprived if I fail to publish my crossover fic in which the werewolves from J K Rowling's universe end up in the world of Twilight, leading to a pitched battle between Dementor-aided vampires and a motley band of mixed-world werewolves. I call it Siriusly Dark.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:59 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


the fact that a magic trick can be copyrighted seems truly absurd.

Liken it to copyrighting a play. Anyone can perform American Buffalo, but Mamet's entitled to his cut.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't come away from that article with anything other than the firm belief that Bakardy is another of Teller's (or Penn AND Teller's) many long-play hoaxes. Perhaps one that we may eventually come to find out about in a way they pre-orchestrated long ago, perhaps one of the many we probably still believe right now and will never know. Not unlike the tricks the article references that they do choose to reveal.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:01 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The same problem doesn't apply to copyrightable works: the world of literature is not materially deprived if I fail to publish my crossover fic in which the werewolves from J K Rowling's universe end up in the world of Twilight, leading to a pitched battle between Dementor-aided vampires and a motley band of mixed-world werewolves. I call it Siriusly Dark."

However, the world is deprived if an important work isn't able to be distributed to the public due to onerous or greedy publishers. Copyright comes from a place where intellectual property wasn't assumed, and thus the protection was transitory. Further, since the vast, vast, vast majority of art builds upon other art, it's worth making that process possible.

Copyright is a balancing of interests, and asserting specious straw men just kinda makes you look like you don't know what you're talking about and have an agenda to advance.

As for Bakardy, I guess it depends on what level of deference you think a rose with a bottle should get. I'm not necessarily against Teller here, Bakardy seems like a rip-off, but I don't know if it's a rip-off to the legally protected level.
posted by klangklangston at 10:40 AM on September 19, 2012


Copyright comes from a place where intellectual property wasn't assumed.

The historical problems with that statement are really too big to be adequately dealt with here. Suffice it to say that that proposition doesn't make any damned kind of sense.
posted by valkyryn at 10:54 AM on September 19, 2012


If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:26 AM on September 19, 2012


"The historical problems with that statement are really too big to be adequately dealt with here. Suffice it to say that that proposition doesn't make any damned kind of sense."

Maybe you should think it through again — the historical advent of copyright is pretty recent and we have a pretty ample historical record prior to that. But historically, grants of publication rights referred to the printers, not to the authors, and even then weren't really based on understanding intellectual property as property, but as a way to maintain state control over what was printed.

But a part of the initial American grant of copyright was the idea that by providing a temporary monopoly, more works would be created, thus enriching the public domain after the term has passed.

This is all pretty uncontroversial stuff, and I'm kinda baffled by your response.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not quite done with this article yet, but all the non-Teller stuff is sort of ruining magic for me. For example:
He is the man who taught David Copperfield how to make the Statue of Liberty disappear. Steinmeyer has also invented more than one hundred other illusions, many of which have become industry staples. His most famous is Origami, which he devised for Doug Henning. Copperfield also performed Origami, wearing a puffy white shirt; ... Smith does build a number of Steinmeyer's inventions, including the popular Windshear, in which the performer appears to climb through the blades of a spinning fan.) At least another thousand magicians have bought knockoffs built by a man in Indiana, and a guy in Sicily, and a team of reverse engineers in China.
I admit that, since the end of my magic-obsessed period in my early teens, I haven't really been following the industry. But it never occured to me that Copperfield, in particular, buys his illusions. I remember Windshear, in particular, completely knocking me out.

I mean, in effect it's really no different from having separate songwriters and performers, but there's a certain mystique built up around magicians as solitary tinkerers and inventors.
posted by muddgirl at 2:35 PM on September 19, 2012


(Or really that's not even a good analogy - Copperfield is hopefully just buying the mechanics and not the illusion itself, the
little plots with a twist at the end that's both implausible and yet logical
posted by muddgirl at 2:38 PM on September 19, 2012


... there's a certain mystique built up around magicians as solitary tinkerers and inventors.

See also, tinkerers and inventors.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:41 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Teller's about 5' 7". He only looks really short because Penn is so tall.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:59 PM on September 19, 2012


I'm not normally good at figuring out magic tricks, but the bullet catching trick, while pretty cool looking and, I'm certain, very hard to actually do, was pretty easy to figure out, at least going by the video linked up above.
posted by Bugbread at 6:07 PM on September 19, 2012


For me, the big tell was how they announced the initials and drawings.

But for me, knowing how a trick is done doesn't diminish the awe I have for seeing them pulled off. I remember seeing some close magic at a meet-up that was incredibly easy to figure out the mechanics, but just astounding to see actually performed.
posted by klangklangston at 7:27 PM on September 19, 2012


For me, knowing how a trick is done makes it more enjoyable. Sure, I enjoy magic tricks from time to time when I can't figure them out, just like I enjoy movies with cliffhanger endings or murder mysteries where you aren't presented enough information to figure out who the killer is, and the author doesn't tell you either. But personally, I can only take so much of that. I much prefer whodunnits, because the joy of figuring something out is greater, for me, than the joy of saying "Who knows?"
posted by Bugbread at 7:40 PM on September 19, 2012


Do you guys want to share with us? I certainly don't know how it's done.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:15 PM on September 19, 2012


adamdschneider: "Do you guys want to share with us? I certainly don't know how it's done."

I'm not sure my guess is entirely correct, but, from the video linked above:

(First, I should note that what Penn calls "bullets" are actually cartridges, which are composed of a case and a bullet. This distinction will make the explanation easier) (Also, the below is only Penn's half of the trick. Teller's half is identical, so I've omitted it.) There is one part I'm a bit curious about. At 5:09, for absolutely no reason, Penn puts both his hands in the bullet proof vest for one second, only to pull them right out again and pick up the goggles. The problem is, magicians just don't do things for absolutely no reason. Normally, I'd suspect that he palmed the bullet at this point, perhaps transferring it to the goggles, but there's no time between this point and the putting on of the vest in which he could have slipped it into his mouth. So there would be no advantage in pre-palming it. Is he just checking that it's there, or which side it's on? Curious.
posted by Bugbread at 10:34 PM on September 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Klangklangston wrote: asserting specious straw men just kinda makes you look like you don't know what you're talking about and have an agenda to advance.

Unfounded assertions like this poison the well of public discourse. In this case it's stupid: do you think I am a magician? Or a publisher? or a ... no, those won't do; I can't imagine "an agenda" you think is both subtle and compelling enough to make someone dishonestly argue about the exact reason limitless copyrights are a bad idea. But assertions like yours are always bad, because they impute bad faith to participants in the conversation and thereby change the topic from one of ideas to one of personalities.

I'm calling you out on this one because the subject is trivial and your accusation meaningless. Perhaps by doing so you'll be less likely to suggest that I have an "agenda" when I'm talking about something more important.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:25 PM on September 19, 2012


even then weren't really based on understanding intellectual property as property, but as a way to maintain state control over what was printed.

Distinction without a difference. I spent three years writing about this in law school. The monarchy certainly cared about controlling the press, but the term "literary property" goes all the way back to the time of the Stationers Guild in the mid 1550s, when printers instituted their own form of self-regulating trade control. That "control over what was printed" was absolutely viewed as a species of property right. The monopoly wasn't just on printing copies of particular works, but printing period. The Stationers didn't want competition in the operation of presses. There was a kind of a trade off "Look, king, we'll exert some control over what gets printed if you give us a monopoly on deciding who gets to print." And that monopoly too was considered a valuable property right, just as patents royal of other kinds were.

The term "property" in the early modern period had a far more expansive definition than it does today and included concepts of reputation, credibility, and dignity. "Propriety" is almost a better modern term, though one can see the connection in that "proprietor" is still someone who manages "property."
posted by valkyryn at 1:53 PM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


"That "control over what was printed" was absolutely viewed as a species of property right. The monopoly wasn't just on printing copies of particular works, but printing period. The Stationers didn't want competition in the operation of presses. There was a kind of a trade off "Look, king, we'll exert some control over what gets printed if you give us a monopoly on deciding who gets to print." And that monopoly too was considered a valuable property right, just as patents royal of other kinds were."

You're conflating what I wrote — I didn't say that printing wasn't considered property, but that it wasn't intellectual property. The very fact that the right vests in the printer, and not the author, should be enough for you to recognize that. That's not a distinction without a difference — if it were, no intellectual property would ever revert to its creator nor to the public domain. And again, the monopolies granted by the crown were also transitory, though there the conception wasn't of a public domain but rather a royal one.

That's even more evident when you consider your further example of early modern conception of property as including things like reputation and dignity — the argument that one would have a property right to dignity in a modern society is absurd on its face. That different things were considered under the rubric of property does not mean that they were intellectual property.

Finally, it's worth going back to the plain wording of the copyright clause of the US Constitution, where copyright isn't addressed as an assumed property, but as an enumerated power of the government.
posted by klangklangston at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say that printing wasn't considered property, but that it wasn't intellectual property.

Then you're using "intellectual property" in some idiosyncratic way I've never encountered before, and I've been neck deep in the history and philosophy of IP for the better part of half a decade. If you get to define your terms without referencing the commonly understood definitions of the discourse, then this is pointless.

And again, the monopolies granted by the crown were also transitory

No, they weren't. They were effectively permanent. It took an act of Parliament in 1710 and a pair of House of Lords decisions in the 1780s before perpetual copyright was finally killed.

The concept of a public domain is far newer than the concept of intellectual property.

copyright isn't addressed as an assumed property, but as an enumerated power of the government.

Have you even heard of the Statute of Anne? Or Millar v. Taylor and Donaldson v. Becket? Because it really doesn't sound like you have.
posted by valkyryn at 5:22 PM on September 20, 2012


the world of literature is not materially deprived if I fail to publish my crossover fic in which the werewolves from J K Rowling's universe end up in the world of Twilight, leading to a pitched battle between Dementor-aided vampires and a motley band of mixed-world werewolves.

It's impossible to know how deprived the world is by the non-existence of any given work. I'd probably have said much the same thing about an elevator pitch for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone -- the world would not be materially deprived if this were never published -- and I'd have been drastically wrong (whatever you think of the literary merits of Rowling's work).
posted by straight at 4:44 PM on September 21, 2012


Materially changed, certainly. Materially deprived...? Eh.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:37 PM on September 21, 2012


« Older Once upon a time, there was a wizard who knew what...  |  Jeans.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments