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10 Epic Magic Trick Failures


5
Gerary Dogge's "Shadows"
Raymond Teller, the silent half of the magic duo Penn & Teller, onstage in New York in 2015. Steve Mack/Getty Images
Raymond Teller, the silent half of the magic duo Penn & Teller, onstage in New York in 2015. Steve Mack/Getty Images

Not every magical mishap lands someone in the hospital or the morgue. Magicians are people too, and they sometimes make just plain terrible choices – choices like stealing. This one might be more of a legal magic trick than a magical fail. Raymond Teller, of the magical duo Penn & Teller, successfully sued a Belgian magician for stealing one of his routines called "Shadows."

The trick involves a very specific setup and series of moves to give the illusion that Teller is pruning a flower by "cutting" its shadow rather than the flower itself. He mimes cutting the flower's shadow, and the audience sees the same leaves falling off the flower itself. Magician Gerary Dogge copied "Shadows" and posted a video of himself performing the trick on YouTube. Teller sued.

Here's the thing: You can't copyright a magic trick, and that's probably what Bakardy was banking on. Unfortunately for him, in March 2014 a Nevada judge ruled that "Shadows" was more a pantomime than a magic trick, and in the United States pantomimes can be copyrighted. It's the specifically planned moves that fall under copyright protection, much in the same way that the specific choreography of a dance performance can be protected. Teller had even registered "Shadows" as a pantomime with the U.S. Copyright Office back in 1983, along with a detailed illustration of the trick, which strengthened his case [source: Gardner].

A final default judgment came down in October 2014, and the judge ordered Dogge to pay Teller $15,000 plus $530,000 in attorney fees, and banned Dogge from performing "Shadows" in the future. The $15,000 was 10 percent of the damages that Teller sought, and the attorney fees were about half of what he wanted, but that's still a steep price to pay for one magic trick [source: Mazumdar]. Dogge's videos had received fewer than 30 total views on YouTube before the company took them down. More than half a million dollars for 30 views definitely classifies this as a total disaster.