Magic and the internet certainly make strange bedfellows. Magic is known by it's desire to keep secrets, whereas the 'net is all about spreading information at lightning speed.
It only took 12 hours from the time David Blaine performed the "Beer Can Trick" on his 'Vertigo' TV Special for the secret of the trick to become available on the internet auction site eBay. The advertising read: "David Blaine - "Resealed" beer can effect from "Vertigo". Yes! As seen on TV this week."
As I have a vested interest in protecting the secret of this trick, I took a personal interest in this matter. The history of this effect is that Anders Moden first published it on the Electronic Grymoire on February 13, 1997. Few magicians were interested in his idea back then, I was one of the few who actually took the idea and modified and developed it further to suit my style. I even paid Anders for the right to include my version ('Soda Resurrection') of his trick ('Healed and Sealed') in the Ellis & Webster lecture notes '24 Years of Living Next Door to Ellis'. David Blaine also paid Anders for the exclusive rights to perform the trick on TV until the year 2005.
I contacted the man who was offering the secret of the trick for sale on eBay. His name is Stephen Pellegrino of St. Louis Magic, and this is what he had to say about the effect: "My principle is based on another effect that has nothing to do with a beer or soda can, that I adapted and is over 50 years old. I literally worked this out this morning." It sounds like he watched Blaine perform, figured out how the trick was done, then released it for sale as his own creation. A colleague of mine actually bought Mr Pellegrino's manuscript and strangely enough the method used was exactly the same as Anders' original trick. The only difference is that in Anders' version, the can is also crushed, and then uncrushes itself. This is what Blaine performed, but Mr Pellegrino may not have noticed and so he didn't include that part of the trick in his manuscript, so his customers would be within their rights to accuse him of false or misleading advertising.
Mr Pellegrino argued that the method was "over 50 years old" and to prove his point credits several people in the manuscript he offers for sale. Richard Stevenson is credited for a trick where a soda can's pull tab is removed and restored… though it has nothing to do with resealing a can. David Harkey is credited for an effect where you appear to be eating from a can. Paul Harris and Bill Herz are credited for a re-working of the climax to a John Kennedy effect. This is close to Anders' effect however, when Anders contacted Kennedy, John said "Your effect sounds different from mine. Nice idea!" All of these credits, and the omission of Anders' name, suggest that Pellegrino was trying to justify that the effect was "old" and therefore okay for him to sell.
A few days later the effect appeared on one of Steve Fearson's many web-sites, all re-packaged with slick new graphics, and re-named 'Re-Pop'. Mr Fearson wasn't selling it, but offering it free to anyone who bought one of his other products. Fearson denied he was cashing in on Blaine's success, saying: "I do not claim to be selling the same method that was used on the David Blaine special, Vertigo. My ad clearly states, "Recreate the magic you saw on TV". From that, someone decided to describe my ad as saying, "Get the same trick David Blaine did on 'Vertigo' for free".
A week later, out came a booklet called 'Three Secrets Revealed' with ads touting: "Did you see the David Blaine specials? Here is a new booklet with three great tricks. Just like David Blaine did on TV." This was featured on the websites of many major magic dealers and was again seeking to cash in on Blaine's success. This also featured "The UnCanny. Another oldie, but not quite as ancient. An empty beer or soda can refills itself." This booklet was written by a street performer named Stefan Keppner. Some of these dealers, when contacted, agreed to withdraw the book from sale.
So why is it, that in a business where we "protect our secrets", do so many of us rush out to tell our colleagues how the latest tricks are done… especially if there's a buck or two in it as well? It doesn't even matter whether we have any legal or ethical right to the secret or not. Mr Fearson said, on the public Genii Forum on the internet: "I don't belong to any of your organizations and I haven't infringed upon any copyrights. I am doing perfectly legal and in my opinion, quite ethical business." Mr Pellegrino used Copyright Law to point out that the actual text of an idea is protected by the law, but the idea itself is not. So, he is quite within his legal rights to rewrite the instructions of any trick in his own words, and sell it as his. There is not a darn thing the inventor of the trick can do about it. As Fearson said, on the public Genii Forum: "So kick me out of your clubs and blow me out your magic circles. I'll keep working."
So how do inventors of magic protect themselves? On the website www.magicinventors.com Chuck Leach has a section headed 'Legal Dept.' which explains: "The purpose of the Legal & Ethics Fund will be to generate issues, information and resources to try and improve the protection of magic intellectual property." Great. However, Chuck also runs the website 'Secrets Revealed' which advertises "Did you ever wonder how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear? Or about his other amazing illusions? A magician won't tell you these secrets. But we will! These are the secrets you really wanted to know. The ones even the Masked Magician was afraid to reveal! The magicians are steaming mad about this site. But we don't care! If you want to know the secrets, we're going to tell you… everything!"
I asked Chuck Leach: "What rights do you have to give away the secret of Copperfield's Statue of Liberty vanish, and how do you think doing so will enhance magic?" Chuck's reply was: "Are you implying that I have no right to explain how that illusion is done? There is no patent on that illusion sir, and it is not illegal to explain the method to it. And as for how it enhances magic? The method to that illusion is one of the few secrets in magic that is actually exciting to learn. It is truly ingenious and learning it inspires a fledgling magician to learn even more about the art."
I also asked him: "Are the tricks simply "revealed'/explained, or do the visitors to your site have to buy the props/secrets (like the 'Twisting Arm Illusion' or the 'Balducci Levitation')" Chuck said: "I don't know what props you are referring to when you talk about those two illusions as there are none involved. The methods are revealed and explained, if it makes you happy we can call it teaching. And yes, they have to buy the secrets. As a matter of fact, you could hardly call my sites exposure sites since there is absolutely nothing exposed until you do pay. So I guess that answers your question, yes they have to pay before learning. My sites are a part of the Magic Secrets Network, run by Magicheck.com which is a site that supplies magic webmasters with the ability to create a gateway page that customers can't pass through without a password. A password costs them $29.95 for a one year period. But you must already know this if you visited my site, so why are you asking?"
(I wonder how Mr Leach would feel if another website were to "reveal" the secret passwords to his site for free?)
Yes, if you pay $29.95 Mr Leach will tell you how Blaine, Copperfield etc do their tricks. Who runs Magicheck? Steve Fearson. However, Steve won't let just anyone in. You must first read and agree to The Magician's Oath before he'll accept your $29.95.
His site explains: "The magician's code is a statement of ethical guidelines designed to help keep the art of magic alive and healthy. We require that you agree to our stated code of ethics before subscribing. Although the traditional magician's code is not enforcable by legal means, some of the issues regarding copyright infringement and the internet are, and we reserve the right to cancel your membership if it is found that you have purposefully violated any part of the code."
The code you need to agree to is "based on" one established by the IBM in 1993 and before they'll tell you how the "big boys" tricks are done you are required to agree that: "I understand that The Magic Secrets Network uses the terms "Exposure" and "Secrets Revealed" as tools to draw as many people as possible to the art through web searches and advertisements, introducing them to magic, and concepts like the magician's code of ethics as well. But Magicheck does not condone exposure for exposure's sake. The Magic Secrets Network is a learning facility. During a performance, the use of such terms should generally be avoided." Another clause talks about the need for respect within the magic community: " I agree that the originator or inventor of a trick should be credited when possible. If there is a performer who has become associated with the effect through outstanding performances, they may be credited as well. This should be done out of respect but also to encourage future inventors by letting them know that we respect their work and the community will not forget their contributions."
Steve Fearson, on the public Genii Forum, also had a word for magic inventors: "It doesn't matter what you invent, if you don't do anything with it you're not going to be recognized for it. Generally, the guy who does the footwork will get the credit. That holds true for marketing as well as performing. And you'll be lucky indeed if you find a guy like Mike Ammar or myself, who is willing to give credit once you've let it slip away."
Anders Moden should be so lucky.
Steve Fearson has the final word: "The fact is that unless you work harder than me, the future of magic and the net is in my hands."
The original 'Healed and Sealed' by Anders Moden can be purchased at: http://home5.swipnet.se/~w-52256/healedandsealed.html
Tim Ellis's 'Soda Resurrection' can be found in the book TIMELESS MAGIC and purchased here http://www.timellismagic.com/magicians/magic-shop/