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Protecting magic secrets can be tricky proposition

Lu Chen, one of China's most popular magicians, performs a magic show. (Zou Hong/ China Daily)

Publication Date : 29-01-2014


One of China's most popular acts has grown hesitant of performing because his illusions lack proper legal protection


Internationally renowned magician Lu Chen is a staple of the annual Chinese New Year's Gala, his illusions inspiring many to seek out the secrets behind them.

This is what has Lu worried, the magician said.

One of China's most popular acts, Lu has performed his magic tricks in the annual gala four times. But he has grown hesitant to return to stage this year because his illusions lack proper legal protection.

After each gala, various accounts pop up online purporting to demonstrate how his illusions were performed.

"The Spring Festival Gala is my largest challenge, not the content, but the performance itself," Lu told Nanning Evening News at a recent interview.

"People will try to find the flaws in my performance by reviewing the videos frame by frame, which is very terrible and to some extent ruins the mystery that the traditional magic works to attain," he said.

There is no way to stop it because Lu has not filed any patent applications for his methods nor are there any dedicated laws and regulations in the field to protect the secrets of magicians, his agent said.

Many of the accounts on the Internet are wrong, but Lu said he is more worried about his secrets being revealed by other magicians.

Famous Chinese magician Cheng Yi said magicians worldwide should follow Thurston's three rules of magic - never tell how a trick is done, never repeat a trick for the same audience and never tell your audience what you are going to do ahead of time.

But some magicians do not treat the professional ethic seriously, such as US illusionist Val Valentino.

Valentino gained fame under the stage name Masked Magician after starring in three episodes exposing long-guarded magic secrets in 1997, according to a report from the Global Intellectual Property Business magazine.

The program sparked a new round of discussions about rights protection.

Theft is rampant in the field of magic because intellectual property laws cannot offer much help to magicians, not only in China but also in almost all countries, insiders said.

If a magician wants to enjoy the exclusive rights to a magic performance and gadgets he invented, a patent application, including all related details, or "self-exposure", is needed, according to Chinese laws.

However, patent information is open to the public, so it cannot protect the secrets of magicians, only reveal them.

Furthermore, although magic tricks are within the protection range of the copyright law, only behaviors of broadcasting, downloading and spreading the unauthorized magic programs violate the law, but exposing the tricks does not.

The trade secret law, too, can only prevent those who gain and share the magic secrets by improper means. It is not helpful if one copies the secrets by figuring them out when sitting in the audience or watching the television.

More efforts to make related improvements in the IP laws are necessary, and magicians "should also consider things more thoroughly to better protect their innovation", the intellectual property magazine noted.

For example, world-renowned illusionist David Copperfield signs confidentiality agreements with all his team members and related staff, including the cleaners, from the theaters where he performs as well as some audience members sitting in specific areas.

Anyone who leaks the secrets will be liable for huge financial damages, according to the magazine.


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