Indian magicians and piracy: Ingredients for a controversy

Indian magicians, and Indian Magic, were made proud, when the March 2004 issue of the Linking Ring (The official publication of theInternational Brotherhood of Magicians) carried a feature article titled “Moral Magicians of India,” which documented how the magicians of this country were involved in social and development communication.

By coincidence, the same issue also (through a report submitted by Ring 206) documented that Magician Alex (a.k.a Dr Alex) has purportedly earned an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records, for the Longest Magic Show by an Individual Performer for a Paying Audience.

And before anybody could bask in this glory of an Indian mention in the Linking Ring (We have very few mentions, especially as feature articles…), we have been enbroiled in what is a serious controversy, to say the least.

The ‘Ring Report’ submitted by Ring 206 and published in pages 135-136 of the The Linking Ring, states:

On 9th January 2005, Dr. Alex our Vice President staged his Solo Illusion show for four hours non-stop. Dr. Alex is having almost all latest illusions performed by famous magicians throughout the world. In India he is the only proud owner of a number of old and latest illusions. He is also popularly known for holding the Guinness World Record by performing the longest magic show non-stop for 24 hours.

Andre Kole, billed as World Renowned Illusionist and Magician, has (quite rightly) taken serious exception to the “unauthorised” and “pirated” use of some of Andre Kole’s original illusions by Magician Alex. These illusions were visible for all through the photographs that accompanied the report by Ring 206.

Kole, in an open letter addressed to Walter Blaney, and other highly esteemed practitioners of the art of magic, (published in Tim Quinlan’s, complains to the international magic fraternity and the IBM Ethics & Grievances Committee about the “thievery” and “piracy” of his orignial inventions, and writes:

But another major concern for the I.B.M. is the fact that Dr. Alex is the Vice-President of I.B.M. Ring 206. Clearly he is in violation of the I.B.M.’s Code of Ethics. According to the IBM website, Dr. Alex has clearly violated two of the six rules as agreed to by the I.B.M. Board of Directors in joint cooperation with the Society of American Magicians as agreed on May 8, 1993. These two rules are as follows:

2. Display ethical behavior in the presentation of magic to the public and in our conduct as magicians, including not interfering with or jeopardizing the performance of another magician either through personal intervention or the unauthorized use of another’s creation.

3. Recognize and respect for rights of the creators, inventors, authors, and owners of magic concepts, presentations, effects and literature, and their rights to have exclusive use of, or to grant permission for the use by others of such creations.

Even if no more evidence were presented, these two facts are enough to warrant disciplinary action against Dr. Alex.

Fact #1: The two photographs appearing in the March issue of The Linking Ring can clearly be identified as my original illusions.

Fact #2: I did not grant permission to Dr. Alex to build or perform these illusions and, therefore, they are an “unauthorized use of another’s creation.”

Dr. Alex has displayed a clear disregard for the respectful and hard-working magicians/inventors in the magic community and has violated our Code of Ethics. This can only cause disillusionment and sincere disappointment to those who feel betrayed by a leader in magic who has undermined both the secrecy and ethics that have been (or should be) a hallmark of the I.B.M. and our profession.

This whole debacle has implications and ramifications that will affect the creativity, building, performing, selling, and legal aspects of the overall magical entertainment profession.

The members of the I.B.M. Ethics and Grievance Committees have been informed of this situation and have already begun their investigation of this matter. Given the clear violations of our Code of Ethics, these committees are obligated to issue some type of reprimand and sanction.

In the letter, Andre also draws attention (using Magician K Lal’s felicitation as an example) to the fact that senior magicians of India have also been using “pirated” versions of famous illusions, like David Copperfield‘s Death Saw Illusion.

Sadly, Andre in closing the letter writes:

I am very grieved that this Dr. Alex situation had to take place in India. Of the 79 countries in which I have performed, India has always been my favorite country to visit. I have performed in India during five of my world tours. I love the people there and all of the magicians I have met in India have been extremely friendly and hospitable. So, it is with deep regret this unpleasant situation had to take place in that country.

While the entire episode is sad and unfortunate, I cannot help but wonder, is this all linked to the innate urge in most of us (especially us, Indian magicians) to gain a quick, fast, and sudden publicity?

We can safely say, that we have NEVER been prudent in making claims… whether they were about our shows, our props, or World Records (taking nothing away from Alex’s exhausting feat… and his purported entry into the Guiness Book).

Reading the local papers here we hear of a world record holding magician in every second article we read… And sadly, most of us claim to hold a Guinness Book of World Record entry.

Sad because a visit to the relevant page on the Guinness websitereveals that most of these entries DO NOT even exist! Errr… Do we mean we have a copy of the book at home?

Like I said, I can’t help but feel that this is a case of biting more than one can chew… Here, it is about wanting to gain more publicity and fame, without understanding the pros and cons thereto.

Again, ain’t most of the illusions performed by the top performers in the country “personal remakes” of illusions performed by the world’s very famous magicians? This is a sad, but true fact.

Of course, we are only talking of the look and feel, and the similarity of the effects… not the mechanisms (secrets) on which they rely.

This is because most see videos of foreign performers, and when they like an effect, they “decipher” it to the best of their abilities and understanding… and build a version that resembles and almost duplicates what the original does. And we must admit, that at best they come only very near to the original in terms of the effect and workings.

Is this a violation of the copyrights and patents law as they are being implemented and enforced today? Or is there a technicality involved in this?

Which brings me to my next question… Questions I am asking more to myself than anybody else, but I would surely like to hear from some of my friends, and know your thoughts.

Now with India enforcing the Patents Law, how do things change for the Indian magician, and Indian Magic? For the better, or for worse?

And as I talk of all this, I really can’t help but wonder if any remuneration (royalty?) was paid to the inventors of the classics of magic (which included some great effects from India, especially the Indian Basket trick), or do we today safely say that these “copies” were done “and improved upon” before patents and copyrights came into effect?

Before I end, (to minimise any confusions on my stand) let me reiterate my support to Andre Kole (who has been an influential friend, especially to my research), and that I continue to stand by the vision as set by the erstwhile World Alliance of Magicians.

Looking forward to your thoughts, answers, and flak.