This policy answers the question; when is it okay for me to publish my magic creations based on the ideas of somebody else? This is a personal policy, meant to guide my behaviour according to my own ethics. Your mileage may vary.
There are two fundamental beliefs behind this policy.
- Creators deserve to profit from their work. I believe those who create and innovate magical ideas must have an exclusive opportunity to benefit from their own inventions.
- Magic benefits from the open exchange of ideas. We see further by standing on the shoulders of giants. The collected wisdom of the magic world advances incrementally, building on the work of others.
These two beliefs are at odds with one another. As such, this policy defines my rules for how ideas transfer from exclusive to public domain.
The common practice
When magicians gather, the common practice is that a magical idea is openly discussed when it is generally believed to be “an old idea.”
That begs the question, “how old is old?” The answer will swing wildly to suit the people in the room at the time. In most cases it is a general feeling more than fact, as the actual date of origin is often an unknown factor.
The problem arises when we think about the large gap between a magician’s appetite for new ideas, and the magic inventor’s expected product lifespan. To the consumer, an old idea may be last year’s new release, while an inventor may be looking to earn revenue from their ideas for more than a decade.
My personal practice
This policy sets forth my personal rules to determine when a magical idea becomes community property, at which point I can share, and build upon it with a clear conscience. There are three stages of protection offered to the creator of the idea, with each term lasting 20 years.
It begins with the publication of the idea. This can be written in a book or magazine, on video, or offered as an individual trick or prop. The key being that the idea is expressly shared with the magic community.
0 to 20 years after publication - Exclusive Rights
Similar to a patent term, the creator has 20 years to exclusively benefit from their creation.
What I’m allowed to do: The idea is not mine to share. Mention the idea’s existence, directing people to purchase the original source.
What I’m not allowed to do: Share any secrets of the published idea without explicit permission from the creator.
20 to 40 years after publication – Remix Rights
The creator remains the official source for anyone looking to purchase the idea, while opening up the idea for creative adaptations.
What I’m allowed to do: Adapt the idea and publish my variation, so long as it markedly changes the idea to become a unique work. I may discuss and share the original idea only as it relates to my variation.
What I’m not allowed to do: Share and teach the original idea without variation.
40+ years after publication – Community Rights
The creator has had ample opportunity to profit from their idea. This idea is now out in the open for the magic community to share freely.
What I’m allowed to do: I may share and teach the original idea as it was published, or with my variations.
What I’m not allowed to do: While the idea may be “public domain” any published work is still under copyright law, the original source cannot be shared.
Any of the above may be over-ruled by receiving permission from the creator (or current rights holder) to share an idea.
Some practical examples
Jim Steinmeyer’s “Nine Card Problem” was published in 1993. At time of writing, it is 28 years old, landing it in the Remix Rights category. My policy suggests it is okay for me to share and publish my adaptation of his idea.
Deddy Corbuzier released “Free Will,” a very popular mentalism concept which has spawned many, many variations, in 2004. According to my policy, that remains in the Exclusive Rights category until 2024. As such, any variation I may come up with will be kept to myself for now.
Al Baker’s “Magical Filtration of Four Half Dollars” (Coins Through Table) was published in 1941, making it 80 years old and fair game for me to offer a complete step-by-step tutorial.
Ultimately, this is a personal policy based on what allows me to feel good about sharing ideas while being respectful of creators. I feel the 20 and 40 year terms are more generous to original creators than the common practice of “old ideas.” I’d rather err on the side of patience, and there is no shortage of old magic to discover!
Following these guidelines I feel I’ll be making a positive advancement to magic, without stepping on any toes.
Any questions about this policy, or concerns about the ideas shared on this site, may be directed to Ryan Pilling
First Draft: February 2021