Private Eye - Performance #5
Private Eye - Performance #6

Ethics in magic - The debate begins

One of the most controversial areas of magic is that of ethics. It's frequently discussed, and many aspects are often agreed upon, and yet unethical behaviour seems to be on the increase year after year.

So I'd like to look at a couple of areas of the magicians life and get your thoughts and feedback too. This is just a starting point and I'm sure you have many other questions to ask, but I'd love to get a general consensus and create some kind of an article on ethics... so please take a few moments to consider these points and send us your comments.

Let the discussion begin!

DVDS - I think most people agree that it is unethical to copy a teaching DVD or to download one from the internet without paying for it. Here are two other questions to consider though:

  1. Is it ethical for a magic club to have DVDs in their library and loan them out (which can mean fewer sales for the creator of the DVD which affects his or her income). (Also, many DVDs say 'Not For Rental' on them. Should they be excluded from club libraries?)
  2. If you get a trick from a DVD (or a book) that you borrowed from someone else and you want to put the trick in your show... should you buy a copy of the DVD (or book) for yourself (out of respect for the creator?)

TRICKS - Most people agree that it is best to buy the "original" version of a trick or illusion rather than a cheap copy of it. Obviously, if the new version is a significant improvement on the original, and credits the original, then it is essentially a "new" trick, but we're talking about direct copies here.

  1. But what if the copy works better than the original?
  2. What if the original is no longer available?

ROUTINES - Many performers, both professional and hobbyist, buy tricks and perform them with the routine that came with it. Fair enough.

  1. What do you do if you see someone else do a presentation you like? How much of the routine is okay to take without asking them? A gag, a slice of patter, a particular handling, the whole premise?
  2. Do you just assume that it's probably a generic bit and fair game to take?
  3. Do you assume they wrote it and speak to them after the show to find out where it came from?
  4. Do you let them know you'd love to use the bit and ask their permission?
  5. If they say no, do you agree with it?
  6. If you see someone do a bit you were working on, and you know they didn't pinch it from you, do you ditch the idea and work on something else in order to be more original, or continue developing your idea and run the risk that people will think you pinched it from the other performer?
  7. If a performer is getting a reputation for doing a certain trick, that is generic or available in the shops, and a client asks you if you can do that trick for them in your show, do you add it for them in that show only?
  8. If a performer is getting a reputation for doing a certain trick, that is generic or available in the shops, and you know that by adding that trick to your show you'll get more work, do you add it?

PROMOTIONAL CLAIMS - Many performers have the "real story" about how they got into magic, and a more interesting version of the story they use for publicity purposes. This slight stretching of the truth seems okay. But where is the line drawn? Which of these claims, in your opinion, has crossed the line?

  1. The performer claims to be good friends with Copperfield or Blaine and says they taught him a few tricks.
  2. The performer claims they have won various awards - which they haven't.
  3. The performer "upgrades" certain awards from being "Winner of close up competition" to "National champion magician".
  4. The performer edits certain quotes to make them sound much better (like movie promoters often do with reviews).
  5. The performer claims to have worked at certain venues or on certain TV shows when they haven't.
  6. The performer claims to have "performed" at a venue (when they simply did a trick in the foyer and were not on the bill) or to have "appeared" on a TV show (when they were actually in the audience or just were glimpsed on camera).

FEES - Some performers have set fees for certain shows, others are very flexible in their pricing and try to get as much as they can for each individual gig.

  1. Is it okay to charge more for a gig if you think you can get it? Or do you run the risk that bookers might talk to each other and wonder why one paid $200 and the other $2000 for exactly the same show?
  2. If you have set prices, do agents take their commissions out of your fee (which is good for the agent) or have them add their commission on top of your fee (which is bad for the agent because the client is paying extra for their service).
  3. Is it okay to ditch a gig if you get a higher paid gig on the same day?
  4. If you do that, is it okay if you send the first client a replacement magician?
  5. If you do that, can you take a commission from the replacement magicians fee... and how much?
  6. If you do that, should you explain to the client the real reason you won't be showing up, or make up an excuse instead like "I had a bad back"... then hope the client doesn't find out you were performing somewhere else on the night?
  7. If you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (like a TV show or a 6 month contract) and you can do it because of a previously booked gig, do you just cancel the earlier show, replace yourself with another magician, or explain the situation to the client and abide with whatever they decide?

AGENTS - There are good agents and bad agents.. let's assume those we deal with are all good in the following questions:

  1. If an agent asks you to hold a certain date for a client and you agree, but then you get a call from that client about that date, do you refer them to the agent or just take the booking direct?
  2. If an existing client of yours can't find your number and tracks you down via an agent and books you through them, is it right to pay the commission to the agent?
  3. What about future gigs from that client... do you need to run them though that agent as well?
  4. Is it ethical to offer agents added incentives to recommend you over other performers (ie: Higher commissions, cash bonuses, Myer vouchers, presents etc).

Then there are bad agents...

  1. If you find out that an agent is taking a higher commission on a gig than what they have told you (ie: are ripping you off) does that mean you allegiance to that agent (ie: that all future work from that client goes through the agent) is over?

OTHER PERFORMERS - Do we see other magicians as colleagues or competition...

  1. Is it okay to "bag" other magicians to get a job, and if so, where do you draw the line?
  2. If you know the other act is terrible, do you say that to the client, or do you let them find out for themselves and hope they come back to you next time?
  3. Is it okay to drop your price lower than a competitor in order to get a job?
  4. Is it okay to offer your services as an agency or bureau, and take the prime jobs for yourself handing out the "scraps" to other acts?
  5. If you do act as a bureau and a client calls asking for a specific act, and you have no work at all, is it okay to say they are not available and take the gig yourself?

TEACHING MAGIC - Often we are asked to teach a trick for TV or a magazine.

  1. What tricks are okay to teach?