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Fine line of copyright infringement in magic shows

Magic performances are common in Las Vegas, and many would argue that they are one of the primary reasons tourists visit the city. Because of the high value in these shows, entertainers sometimes go to great lengths to ensure that these performances’ secrets remain secure, often by guarding against intellectual property infringement. When entertainers become aware that their protected work is being used by someone else, they sometimes turn to civil litigation to halt this unlicensed use.

Teller, of the famous Penn and Teller illusionist duo, is currently pursuing a lawsuit that addresses the fine line between what is and is not copyrightable in magic shows. The magician has been performing a show called “Shadows” for decades, and is now suing a Belgian entertainer for copying the trick in a YouTube video. While a magic trick is not technically copyrightable, the pantomime performance that accompanies it can be a protected intellectual property.

Recently, a court issued a summary judgment in Teller’s favor by deeming that his pantomime was protected by copyright law. The next step in the case will probably be a determination of damages. These could be capped at $30,000 or $150,000, depending on whether a jury finds that the defendant willfully misappropriated Teller’s copyright.

Some entertainers spend years perfecting their craft. In order to protect the products of this work, they may choose to pursue national or international business litigation to settle an intellectual property dispute. For those who believe they have a valid intellectual property claim based on an international business dispute, it may be beneficial to speak with an attorney.

Source: Hollywood Reporter, “Teller Wins Lawsuit Over Copied Magic Trick Performance,” Eriq Gardner, Mar. 21, 2014

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