Stolen Magic Trick Starts Lawsuit

Teller Sues for Theft of a Magic Trick – Teller, of the famous duo Penn & Teller, is suing Gerard Dogge for copyright infringement. Dogge is accused of taking a trick called Shadows and posting it on YouTube under the title The Rose & Her Shadow, offering to reveal the trick for $3,050

Penn registered the details of the trick with the US Copyright Office in 1983. He did this by writing down the details, illustrating the illusion, and registering it as a literary work. Copyright protection requires that the work is fixed in a tangible medium. An idea alone is not protectable under copyright law. This means that a speech or musical performance isn’t copyrightable, per se. However, if the speech or musical performance is recorded in some medium, it becomes protectable. In addition, the lyrics, once written down, are also protectable.

Copyright also grants the exclusive right to publicly perform a literary work. The Copyright Office states, “To ‘perform’ a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process….” The courts have never determined whether a magic trick is capable of falling within this definition. Penn would have to convince a court that the actual performance of the trick is protectable.

The method of performing a trick is patentable. The downside is that, once patented, the trick becomes public knowledge. While a patent holder could prevent others from using the trick, once the public knows the secret, it loses its luster.