Florida residents probably know Teller as the one-named silent half of the magic act Penn & Teller. As a recent court case reveals, he’s also a pioneer in entertainment law.
Teller recently won a preliminary round in his lawsuit against another magician whom Teller accused of infringing his copyright on a magic trick. What’s remarkable about this victory is that magic tricks aren’t, technically speaking, protected by copyright law.
However, copyright law does provide protection for pantomimes. This term typically comes up in terms of traditional theater, but Teller has successfully argued that the magic trick in question qualifies for copyright protection as a pantomime. In fact, he registered the trick as such in 1983 under the title “Shadows.”
When performing “Shadows,” Teller appears to snip the leaves off a rose without touching it, simply by holding a knife to the flower’s shadow. A magician in Belgium uploaded a video of himself performing a similar trick and offered to sell the secret of how he achieved the illusion for more than $3,000. Teller filed suit against the Belgian performer and a federal judge found that Teller’s copyright is valid and the suit can go forward. If Teller is victorious in a trial, he could be awarded up to $150,000 in statutory damages.
Interestingly, one piece of information remains elusive in all the legal paperwork going around in this case. Teller still has not revealed how he achieves the illusion.
Florida’s entertainment industry is full of creative people doing interesting work. Attorneys working for entertainment industry professionals have to be creative as well, coming up with novel approaches to new problems and helping their clients to avoid legal setbacks in the future.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Teller Wins Lawsuit Over Copied Magic Trick Performance,” Eriq Gardner, March 21, 2014