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Intellectual property intersects with show business

You marvel at the magic trick. You dance to the killer guitar riff. You laugh at the stand-up comic’s punch line or watch in awe as the chorus line moves as one.

That’s what you’re watching. What you’re also watching but don’t see is the complex legal infrastructure that underlies all of those things and helps to ensure that your favorite entertainers will not only enjoy the benefits of their creativity right now but also will be encouraged to come up with even more stuff for you to enjoy later.

The magician’s illusion, the musician’s song, the comic’s jokes and the choreographer’s steps all can be protected under an area of law called intellectual property. Although it’s similar to the way the law protects the authors of, say, printed books by copyright, applying intellectual property tools to the more ephemeral area of live entertainment can be complicated.


The illusion features Teller cutting petals off of the shadow of a rose as petals fall simultaneously from a real rose. Mark Tratos, a veteran Las Vegas entertainment attorney who represented Teller in the action, said that while a magic trick isn’t eligible for copyright protection, an illusion can receive copyright protection “if you integrate either choreography or pantomime.”

From a copyright perspective, “nobody cares about the mechanical specifics” — here, the mechanism by which the real petals were made to drop and the shadow petals fell. Rather, Tratos said, the relevant thing is “what does it look like? What is the thing that’s happening that makes you go, ‘Oh my goodness, How is that possible?’ That’s where the real magic is.”

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