Harry Houdini and the great copyright escape
We might think of intellectual property as a modern concept, but the politics surrounding the ownership of innovations at the turn of the 20th century was in a bloodbath. With patent trolls like Thomas Edison and Charles Goodyear claiming the intellectual property of others – to the tune of huge profits and clout – it’s no wonder that protecting your inventions is a priority for innovators in the world. ‘time.
Since there was no process to patent or draft magic tricks, famous illusionist Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz / Erich Weiss) found a way to perform a little legal sleight of hand to protect his deception. professional. In 1911, he developed a famous act, titled “The Chinese Water Torture Cell”, featuring the magician’s feet locked in stocks before being suspended in the air from his ankles with a restraint brace, then lowered into a glass tank. overflows with water. The restraint is locked at the top of the cell.
As Houdini learned from a previous trick, called Milk Can Escape, owning a patent for a trick hasn’t done much to stop imitators from stealing its thunder. Thus, for the Chinese Water Torture Cell, he adopted a new approach. Before going public with the tour in 1912, Houdini first performed the escape in front of a one-person audience under the guise of a one-act play he called Houdini upside down! He then copyrighted the piece, securing ownership of the lathe it contained. It was only then that he was ready to make the act a public performance, beginning the escape at Circus Busch in Berlin, Germany on September 21, 1912. He continued to perform this signature escape until his death in 1926, and although several films portray his death in the torture cell, it had nothing to do with his death in reality.
The Chinese water torture cell was one of three famous illusions that the Hungarian immigrant and magician registered as “skits,” or short plays, with the US Copyright Office between 1911 and 1914. Dramatic compositions have been eligible for copyright protection since 1856, and Houdini’s approach assured him that he had legal grounds to protect his legacy – a practice he pursued aggressively, according to historical rumor. . The scripts for Houdini’s sketches are now kept in the Reader’s Collection of the Drama Repositories of the Library of Congress’s copyright office, but the lesson for those who wish to leave their mark on the world is clear: There is not enough to innovate in art, but also to innovate systems that allow artists to take advantage of their own intellectual property. It is suspected that Mr Houdini would be busy hitting his own NFTs if he were alive today.