The NYT runs a story on “Dueling Magicians”, describing Ricky Jay’s claims that Eric Walton has borrowed a few too many tricks. Walton’s reply: “This material has been out there…. The best magicians can do is take existing routines and sort of put our own spin on them.”
Interestingly, the subject of copyright never comes up — and that’s probably appropriate. While a magician’s patter while performing may be protectable expression, the tricks themselves are likely unprotectable ideas, methods, and processes. Of course that still leaves “selection and arrangement,” and it’s possible one act could mimic another so closely that it appropriated those expressive elements.
If it didn’t violate copyright, Walton’s act does seem to have tweaked some magicians’ ethical sense. Says Teller, of Penn and Teller:
If an act hasnt been prominently performed for a long time, and someone takes the trouble to bring it back from absolute death and put it into his act with fine touches, and which at least hasnt been seen by a current generation, he said, the gentlemanly thing to do is say, Thats his for now.
That said, he added, magicians are not unique in their absence of creativity.
I do hope he wasn’t referring to lawyers with that last jab.