As a performer of magic, Intellectual Property (IP) has always been a contentious issue. Many of my fellow performers believe that IP protects their creations. They believe that it ensures no one uses the effect without paying the proper price to gain access to the secrets of the illusions. I never shared that perspective, and now the magic community is seeing why.
The United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), situated a mere twenty minutes from my house, has recently announced a crackdown on the lifeblood of many magicians. The USPCC has decided that no alterations to their cards shall be permitted any longer. As an email from Ellusionist, a notable magic retailer, states: “No gaffing, no staining, no shadows, fades or alterations of any kind.” These cards the USPCC has banned are not necessarily “trick cards.” Rather, they are creative takes on the classic Bicycle playing cards. In other words, the USPCC has just stunted performative creativity among all magicians.
How Intellectual Property Ruins Magic
It is certainly possible to continue performing with these restrictions. But stringent IP enforcement has made it to where a magician’s imagination is no longer the limit of card magic. Rather, the limit is now up to USPCC, which has decided that any and all alterations of their cards makes it more difficult for them to spot bootlegs and other IP violations, even though every mass-produced novelty deck using the Bicycle framework has been made in partnership with the USPCC. Twilight Angels, a beautiful effect, allows for the magician to alter the back of a signed card. The audience reactions are typically nothing short of pure joy.
The USPCC’s new policy effectively bans the production of this effect. Only current owners will be able to do this trick. Twilight Angels is only one of thousands, if not millions of effects that the USPCC’s new IP enforcements will ban. In addition, the creation of new visual effects to dazzle a magician’s audience is all but impossible.
Most magicians believed that Intellectual Property would protect their creations. They thought it would ensure that unauthorized teaching of their tricks did not occur. Perhaps it has done so, but I must ask if it was worth it. It is harder now more than ever for small-time magicians to create their own effects in an effort to make a name for themselves. Off the top of my head, I can think of several creations of my own that, had they not been created before this ban, would now be a violation of the USPCC’s Intellectual Property rights.
For magicians, the USPCC has artificially created a roadblock to innovation. It simply isn’t worth it to me that my creations be protected from unauthorized reproduction if that same system has the ability to stop me from creating the illusions to begin with. The fact is Intellectual Property has failed to protect magicians and is actively harming our ability to make new creations that enable our performances to continue. Magicians don’t need Intellectual Property.
How Freedom Can Save Magic
Magic creators rely on people paying money to learn how to perform effects they create. Of course, Intellectual Property is an easy way to protect said product. That neither makes it the best way nor the only way to protect their bottom line. Every benefit creators gain through IP can just as easily be attained through contracts. For example, if I purchase the instructions on performing Twilight Angels, the creator can create a contract that states that I agree not to expose this secret to other performers. How do I agree to the contract? I agree to it by purchasing the product. This simple alternative would not only protect creators, but it would also protect creators from the IP abuse we are seeing today.
Not only would this system do that, but it would also empower magicians to improve upon each other’s product. In magic, no illusion is truly original. Every creation I have seen carries with it inspiration from other performers. Intellectual Property has not helped the art of magic to expand and develop new creations. Rather, it has precluded magicians from a world in which magic is as popular as music and as well-viewed as sports. Magic needs an injection of new blood, not a protection of the monoliths like the United States Playing Card Company who don’t have the best interests of the art form at heart.
We should be thankful that the only restrictions the USPCC can place on other magicians is their card designs and various visual effects one can perform by altering the appearance of the cards. But this incident shows that the art of magic is not safe. At any moment, any other product, such as coins, may fall victim to IP and there goes even more of the magic industry. Imagine, if you will, if the USPCC decides to say that their cards and their designs are inherently for gambling. Therefore, the USPCC will only allow casinos to use their products. Just like that, all card magic and all the small time card games are gone. This is completely possible within the grand scheme of things. Fortunately, the USPCC would lose more money than they would gain through a move like this.
I have been a magician for around ten years. When I got to the point that I was creating my own illusions, it was a beautiful thing. Many magicians will now never know the joy of creating your own effects due to strict Intellectual Property rules such as the new restrictions from the United States Playing Card Company. Magic and Magicians alike deserve better. We can be better. Without intellectual property, magicians can enter a new era of innovation. The illusions would be truly beautiful. Only freedom can create this magical future.