Illusion Redesigning & Rights and Why?

This entry is actually based on a response I made on a forum posted by a young magician for the US. It was regarding illusion redesigning rights and the rights to build an illusion based on an existing creation of someone else’s.

While Ning & I have a few original illusions, notably, our mega illusions such as the 50-storey teleportation, teleportation over the Singapore River and vanishing 5 people 24ft in the air, we also “reinvent” and redesign existing illusions to make them unique and our own.

The question was, when can you redesign or rebuild an existing illusion without paying the creator?

“360 Sawing” is one of those illusions that we are known internationally for. It is my rebuild and redesign of Gerry Frenette’s “Woman’s Revolution”. For the record:

1) I bought the original Woman’s Revolution illusion. With the buying of the illusion comes the inherent performance rights.

2) I redesigned the exterior with many add ons and more importantly rebuilt many inner components and replaced all parts. The only thing left from the original is the black oval track. Due to the changes, the technical handling is safer, smoother and does not require cover-ups in the head box like the original. It is also built to tour. So, unless one knows the exact workings, materials and parts, it is tough to tell from just the exterior. And, IMHO, the exterior “redesign” is quite significant.

So legally and ethically, anyone has any right to modify, change or rebuild an illusion they bought for their own use. Renaming “360 Sawing” for our own use is no different than calling a Sub Trunk “Metamorphosis”, “The Switch”, “The Exchange” etc. I do not think any creator insists that performers who buy an illusion have to call it by the same name.

Gerry was paid for his creation and has acknowledged that this is a positive redesign. So, if the creator calls it a redesign, I think it is safe to call the illusion a redesign.

So, how does one know if they need to buy an original illusion or idea from the creator before building an illusion (or any magic effect) for themselves. The short answer to the question is the test of reasonableness (aka common sense) based on good knowledge.

Good knowledge comes from research, observation and experience. If you have not acquired that knowledge yet, then you need to defer to someone who has demonstrated that good knowledge and you trust.

Assuming one has good knowledge, then it is basic common sense and often just requires you to look at the two illusions/ redesigns and see if it is the same illusion. It could be:

1) The inherent effects & methods that makes it unique (eg Steinmeyer’s Interlude, Andre Kole’s Head Mover)
2) The specific methods/ combination of methods and the specific exterior design that lends itself to the method (eg Summer’s Instant Babe)
3) The look of the technical handling that is specific to the illusion (eg John Taylor’s Suspended Animation)
4) An element that makes the illusion distinct even if the root effect or method at core is not completely new. (Eg the folding box of Steinmyer’s Origami, the all-round rotation in Woman’s Revolution”. Origami, stripped down to its root effect can be seen as a sword box. Woman’s Revolution stripped down to its root effect is a sawing in half.

Without over thinking or justifying, common sense and intuitiveness will tell a knowledgeable illusionist if two illusions are the “same”. A redesign is a redesign. It could be an idiosyncratic redesign or improvement but it is not a new illusion. If that is the case, you have to buy the original and then modify. (Magicians like Taylor Reed do that effectively all the time). Or talk to the creator and see if something can be worked out in terms of a design fee to build your redesign.

Of course, if you were inspired by an illusion and came up with something quite different, that would be different. It you came up with a sawing where the boxes were transparent and the girl is in a lying down position and the boxes revolve length-wise 360 degrees, I would not consider that a rip off of Women’s Revolution and would not need to pay for rights to build your own, although it is customary to credit your source of inspiration or even preceding independent effects of similar nature.

In my case, I knew what improvements and redesigns I wanted to do to Women’s Revolution before I bought it. But, I knew it was not a different illusion even though I considered it a big improvement in different ways. So, I bought it and rebuilt it. Gerry later contacted me saying that next time, I should just buy the uncompleted prop to save everyone time and money. But, I believe that was also only after he saw what we did to the prop and was confident we would not destroy his original design/ concept and in fact, made it better. And likewise, he can’t (or shouldn’t) sell my redesigned elements without checking back with me first and I know he would if someone asks him to build my version of Woman’s Revolution.

This is similar to Greg Frewin’s situation of Origami with his own touches added which is why you can buy the original model or Frewin’s version from Wellington at different prices which I assume incorporates some kind of fee to both Steinmeyer and Frewin.

If the inherent effect changes and there is no distinct element replicated, it would likely be safe that the illusion is “different”. This is of course a generalized statement.

Ultimately, many will argue that nothing is “new” which is ultimately true but that is IMO also a bit too simplistic view. So, it generally boils down to common sense based on good knowledge.

As with all areas of intellectual property rights, independent creations, subjectivity of “difference”, there will always be multiple grey areas. There will be instances where people will disagree. In which case, I would say see what the general sentiment is within the knowledgeable or established people in the industry and make an informed decision from there.

And, ultimately, it boils down to basic common sense, character and ethics.

We all subconsciously reinvent ideas without realizing it. Our brain may store something we read or watched ten years ago and that somehow gets processes as an “original” idea (think Inception) down the road. However, if it is pointed out to you with objective justification, try to rectify it and not be defensive.

I know of a local magician who ripped off many distinct elements of other magicians (both local and foreign) – character, costuming and even name! I have no idea what is going on in his head but so many people have highlighted this to me with eyes rolling and head shaking. It was not just an inspired look but a full-on rip off!

Here’s the irony, this magician lamented on Facebook one day that someone else was stealing his act/ image… Pot calling the kettle extremely black or just Karma.?It is funny, because he gets frustrated that someone steals his hard work and effort but knowingly steals others first. I don’t get it.

While I do “understand” why they feel they need to do so (in order to survive, it is easier to do something that is proven), I have observed that what holds a lot of people from getting real success in their field is because of their own inner demons and lack of character. Whether it is pirating acts/ products, ripping off character/ routines, bad mouthing others, stealing people’s identity to smear their name, cheating others of their money for their shows or having disregard for the art, they do not realize that these demons prevent them from gaining mainstream success or recognition from peers at an international level. Thankfully, in this respect, the world is fair.


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
This entry was posted in Design, Show Production and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Illusion Redesigning & Rights and Why?

  1. Chris Cheong says:

    Enjoying reading your post as usual JC! Good stuff.

    Chris Cheong

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