The Fate of The Magic of Robert Harbin

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby NCMarsh » 01/08/08 12:10 AM

I'm interested in a conversation about The Magic of Robert Harbin.

500 copies were printed and sold 38 years ago (12 years before I was born). Harbin, apparently, was very fervent that these be the only copies ever printed (having the plates publicly destroyed.)

I understand that the Magic Circle is in possession of the rights; and that they can, should, and will do with those rights as they feel appropriate.

So this is an academic question, with zero to do with the future disposition of the book. But I am interested in some of the issues raised.

I mean this as an open and honest question:

How long should a creator's wishes for the dissemination of his work be respected? Is there a point at which work of a certain value becomes the property of the community? What is that point? Who is the community?

If the creator's wishes are to be respected in perpetuity; why do we value Mr. Harbin's rights more dearly than Mr. Hofzinser's? Would fairness not dictate that the Fischer books not be reprinted?

Other questions:

Should only 500 people, at any given moment in history, have access to this book?

As market pressure drives the price of individual copies up every time they exchange hands (a copy was recently listed on Ebay for $2500), are those who come to own the book in the future more likely to be working performers who will continue to put the material in front of breathing audiences, or collectors who will treat the physical book itself as a treasure and leave it in a display case?

The Zig Zag Girl:

It is ironic that the first page that comes up when you google "Zig Zag Girl" is the (incomplete) Wikipedia exposure of the piece, yet the only description of the piece by its creator is locked away in a long out-of-a-print limited edition.

Given the ubiquity of the prop, is it really better for magic to see a horde of undeceptive props built without the center gaff, being spun around silently and thoughtlessly to music? Or is it better to have a source with the correct information laid out by the master who created it, available to those willing to invest the time and attention to detail to extract maximum mystery and entertainment from the piece?

Mr. Harbin fought an avalanche to preserve the exclusivity and secrecy of his masterpiece. He was not successful.

We are at the point where, despite the fact that performance rights to Zig Zag are -- as I understand it -- only granted to the purchasers of the Harbin book; scale blueprints (which are labeled "Improved Zig Zag") are readily available from Paul Osborne and the prop is available from virtually any builder in the country.

Just as every Italian church seems to have a "fragment of the true cross" -- making for one big cross -- so too does every town in America have a performer (or two, or ten) who perform Zig Zag...surely every one of them own the book and thus have legitimate performance rights to the piece!

What, then, is really being protected? The secret, in its grossest and barest form, is out. The fight against the copyists is over and lost. If the most certain way to keep a secret is to put it in a book, why not have the correct description available to those willing to invest the work and attention to detail to maximize the mystery value of this master work?

As a sidenote: I think that, ironically, the over-exposure of the prop by copyists led directly to the difficulty and expense of locating the Harbin write-up. Harbin wrote the book, with its conditions on exclusivity, in response to the rip-offs. Had he not written the book during his lifetime, I strongly doubt that Eric Lewis would have excluded the piece -- along with much of the core professional repertoire of RH -- from The Genius of Robert Harbin

What are your thoughts?

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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 04:34 AM

The printing plates for the Harbin book were destroyed shortly after printing.

There were also a limited number of the books sold to magic society libraries for 10, but not sent until two years after the initial printing.

The Society of Irish Magicians had one of them, which disappeared a few years later. So if anyone has a copy with the "Society of Irish Magicians"
imprinted on its pages, it isn't yours.

Harbin's intention was that only owners of the book would have the right to own and perform the Zig Zag.

I have only been completely fooled three times in my life so badly that it shook me for weeks afterwards.

The first time was seeing Albert LeBas perform the "Zig Zag" on Irish TV in 1972, later the same year seeing Derek Latham (Gambani) perform "Where Do The Ducks Go" with what appeared to be a giant goose onstage at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin. The third was Max Maven and "The Four Sided Triangle" at a Blackpool convention gala show.

Cherished memories!
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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 04:52 AM

Does anybody know how many bootlegs of this title Al Mann produced?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/08/08 08:25 AM

The Magic Circle is adament that this book will never be reprinted, so don't hold your breath. It also doesn't fall into public domain for many years yet.
So, if you want a copy, you need to cough up the big bucks and buy an original.
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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 10:08 AM

Nathan;
So that you may perform the Harbin Zig-Zag with no feelings of guilt, I am willing to sell my copy #313 of the "Magic of Robert Harbin" to you for the current going rate of $2,500. My copy is in perfect condition and still in the original mailer. It includes the original agreement form, a thank you note from and signed by Harbin, the signed envelope from Harbin, and even my cancelled check signed by Harbin. The only thing not there is the tissue paper that originally wrapped the book.

Actually, there are other goodies in this book besides the Zig-Zag.

James P. Riser
5635 East Fairmount St.
Tucson, AZ 85712-4221

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Postby NCMarsh » 01/08/08 12:19 PM

Jim,

I appreciate the offer and do hope to have a copy of the book at some point in the future, but it isn't -- unfortunately -- in the cards at the moment.

A note on the pricing:

I don't know if it would be fair to describe $2,500 as the "going rate" for the book...that was the opening bid set by the seller at that auction and I do not know whether the piece was sold or not...I do know that a unique copy of the book (it was the review copy given by Harbin to Eric Mason prior to publication) was offered by Mario Carrandi on Ebay and only fetched $1,675 -- failing to meet the reserve.

It is also very difficult to assess the "going rate" based on Ebay...the competitive nature of Ebay artificially inflates prices. It is really only a barometer of what the most enthusiastic buyer at a single moment will pay...

N.

Following on Quentin Reynold's mention of the copies made available to magic society libraries:

Are there currently copies in society libraries that can be read/studied? I checked the Conjuring Arts Research Center's online catalog, to no avail...

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Postby Pete Biro » 01/08/08 02:59 PM

Having Harbin's book and a zig zag.. I respected his wished and when i decided I would no longer do the zig zag I destroyed it.
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 01/08/08 03:10 PM

Most of the normal copies sell between $900 -$1500 with $1100 as average.

I was 10 when it came out and it was $75 then.

Pete's copy is worth $1800-$2000.

I dont think any copy is worth $2500, that's trying to push the market.

Now I found thanks to Worldcat, there is a copy in the Milwaukee County Federated Library System in Milwaukee, WI. Cant check it out, but it's there. 793.8 H255
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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 03:41 PM

Re: Pricing

Not all copies on the market are in the same condition and complete with extras.

$2500 is, apparently, a reasonable price for the items offered and apparently the "going rate" for the complete package (not just a shop worn book).

See:
http://www.martinka.com/martinka/auctio ... p?ID=11359

A 10% buyer's fee was paid in addition to the $2525 final bid. That brings the total price up to $2777.

What I am offering is in better condition than the above auction item.

Those of us who have the complete package tend to monitor values on such items and compare apples to apples.

Jim
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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 07:16 PM

Ah yes, the Harbin book and how the Magic Circle came to own the rightsthanks in no small part to me.

Some years ago when I owned a small publishing company I want to reproduce the Harbin book legitimately so it could be advertised. I learned that Harbin had willed his literary output to the British Origami Society.

I contacted the Societys president (a lawyer) and explained to him that pirate copies of the Harbin book were readily available at magic conventions. I informed him of the existence of the Al Mann counterfeit and how it was considered by many a desirable collectible even given its genesis.

I also pointed out that Harbin produced the book in a different time, well before the popularity of magic took off. My position was that Harbin's literary heirs should benefit from the book as opposed to the thieves. Keeping it off the market would only benefit the pirates. By making a less expensive edition available the market for a copy would be greatly reduced and their rights reinforced.

The lawyer said he would bring it up at a meeting and that the Society would discuss it. Over the ensuing two and a half years I sent numerous letters with what I considered a fair offer: a 15% royalty and sales rights for the British Isles with copies sold to the Society at a 50% discount. I thought an edition of 500 or 1000 in large format trade paperback size would fill the need. I planned on pricing it just under $50 which was then a bit more than the $35 I heard a Xerox copy went for. I would not produce a hardback edition so the rarity of the original Harbin would not be affected.

I thought everyone would walk away a winner: Harbins book would be protected, his literary heirs would benefit, and buyers would be able to buy a legitimate copy and Id make a couple of bucks on the deal as well.

Finally, after endless frustration at being told the matter would be discussed at an upcoming meeting, I called the lawyer directly by Transatlantic telephone. He didnt much care to be put on the spot. By letter some weeks later he informed me that he had decided to make his position moot by handing the book rights over to the Magic Circle, where it resides today. When I was informed of this I realized that Id been put back to square one and abandoned the project. The pirates and thieves won and some could argue that without any attempt at enforcing the copyright the Harbin book has passed into the public domain.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/08/08 07:27 PM

It has not passed into public domain, and is fully protected for years to come. (This has been investigated.)
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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 07:43 PM

Nathan, elements of this discussion seem to have some parallels with a portion of another thread starting here .

Regarding your should 500 people have access at any given moment question, in cases where secrets are disseminated in books, the author or publisher makes the how many decision when the print run is determined. In some cases, the market dictates the print run; in other cases and this undoubtedly happened with Harbins book the edition is decided by considerations such as secrecy, exclusiveness, value and reputation.

Like it or not, the ultimate answer that trumps all is provided by copyright laws: after the passage of a prescribed period of time, all people should have access to the work in question.

Some quibbles:

To be sure, market pressure drives prices, but it doesnt always drive prices up. For example, nowadays one can purchase vintage editions of certain Hoffmann and Goldston titles for less than what they sold for in the 1980s.

If the copy offered for sale by my friend Mario is unique, then every inscribed copy of Harbins book is unique. Thats not meant to say that the Harbin/Mason copy isnt a very interesting association copy. It certainly is. But to call it unique is just marketing hype. The Huntingtons copies of Sports and Pastimes (London, 1676) and Thomas Johnsons Dainty Conceits (London, 1630) are the only known copies and thus each may be justifiably considered unique at least until additional copies surface.

Assessing the going rate for a book can sometimes be very difficult. But for Harbins book its not so difficult, and Rick Ruhls estimate of the current price range for normal copies seems pretty accurate based on my experience. All due respect to Jim, but implying that a single auction result establishes the going rate makes little sense, especially in light of the argument that one must compare apples to apples.

The idea that one must compare apples to apples in the process of determining market price (i.e., Jims going rate) certainly seems legitimate and rational. But I would argue that if you are going to compare apples to apples, you cant stop at comparing the item being sold you must also consider the circumstances of the sale. The validity of such an approach is obvious. If a seller desperately needs money, hell often sell for a lesser price. But do we argue that such a fire sale establishes market value? Of course not. What about the person with more money than time who says I want it now, no matter what the cost. Does the high price he/she paid to immediately extract his quarry establish the going rate? Of course not.

So the circumstances of a sale are very important when it comes to questions of market value. As a side note, Id guess that if someone looked at the bid history for the copy sold by Martinkas, one would find that only two bidders were involved in the bidding past the $1,500 mark. I have often found that with auction websites, a good indicator of the fair market price of an item is the amount at which the vast majority of the bidders dropped out of the bidding.

Is Jims copy worth the $2,500 he is asking? I dont think so. But what I think doesnt matter. By arguing that $2,500 is the going rate, Jim is essentially saying that his is a fair price and reflective of the market. Since we know there is a demand for Harbins book, time and a little publicity will eventually tell us if Jim is correct. If Jim isnt able to sell his copy at his asking price, then that will tell us something about the true going rate of a copy of Harbins book in the condition that Jim describes.
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Postby Guest » 01/08/08 10:11 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
It has not passed into public domain, and is fully protected for years to come. (This has been investigated.)
"Fully protected?" Are you kidding?

Where and when has the copyright been enforced?

What pirates have been stopped?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/09/08 08:33 AM

I am not kidding. Copyright protection is nothing like Trademark protection.
Trademark protection rests upon the basis that if you don't use and protect your trademark, you lose it.
Copyright protection has no such implicit requirement.
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Postby NCMarsh » 01/09/08 12:21 PM

Clay,

Thanks for your input

When I read the Carrandi listing, I came away with the impression that this was a galley/draft of the book given to Mason to read before writing his foreword...thus not a part of the 500 copy print run and possibly the only such copy still extant...

I don't have the time right now to re-read the listing...so I may simply have mis-interpreted it...but that was the reason for repeating Mr. Carrandi's designation of "unique"...

Best,

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Postby Guest » 01/09/08 04:57 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
I am not kidding. Copyright protection is nothing like Trademark protection.
Trademark protection rests upon the basis that if you don't use and protect your trademark, you lose it.
Copyright protection has no such implicit requirement.
What protection are you talking about? Copyright no longer exists given the ubiquity of the Internet and the willingness of groups and individuals to spend their time scanning and uploading whole books and make them available by bit torrent download for free.

I spent some time investigating the problem and was told by the Special Agent in charge of the Copyright Squad of the local FBI office near my last home that unless the aggrieved partys loss was in the millions, they wouldnt investigate. I found the major source of downloadable magic and mentalism books originating in Russia where US law has no effect.

Two torrents I examined contained the entire Card College series, most Vernon books, Sankeys books, several Harry Lorayne titles, most books published by Stephen Minch and hundreds more. All in all, the two torrents had more than 600 books and pamphlets, most in pdf format. While some of the material was in the public domain, the vast majority wasnt. It was mind numbing.

The FBI agent told me that the best the publishers could do was make a report to Washington where it would be filed. I asked what good that would do and he said it would be part of the next study of the problem. In other words, it wouldnt do any good at all.

Copyright is dead for the individual and small publisher. Whatever protection copyright provides will be afforded only to those corporations large enough to spend the time and money enforcing it.
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Postby Donal Chayce » 01/09/08 07:08 PM

Originally posted by David Alexander:
What protection are you talking about? Copyright no longer exists given the ubiquity of the Internet and the willingness of groups and individuals to spend their time scanning and uploading whole books and make them available by bit torrent download for free.

...

Copyright is dead for the individual and small publisher. Whatever protection copyright provides will be afforded only to those corporations large enough to spend the time and money enforcing it.
With all due respect, the fact that the FBI may elect to not get involved in a case of copyright theft unless it involves a significant financial loss to the copyright owner does not negate copyright law. The copyright owner may still bring suit in a civil court f, and if they can prove that their copyright was violated, they will undoubtedly be awarded damages, both actual and, in many cases, punitive.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/09/08 07:32 PM

Trying to collect damages is another thing. A little tough to get money awarded to the copyright holder from Russia or China. :mad:
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Postby Guest » 01/09/08 07:44 PM

Donal,

Bringing an action in US Federal Court is massively expensive, almost always beyond the damages incurred by the piracy. Finding and suing a defendant in this country is one thing....collecting if you get a judgment is quite another.

US courts have no jurisdiction in Russia or China. For years India was not a signatory to the Bern Convention and pirating books was widely done. There was no recourse for the aggrevied parties.

Again, copyright is dead unless you're a major corportation with the time and money to enforce your rights, and maybe not even then if the pirates are deep in another country. For the rest of us, it's a fantasy that we're protected.
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Postby Guest » 01/10/08 02:06 PM

Pete Biro said

Having Harbin's book and a zig zag.. I respected his wished and when i decided I would no longer do the zig zag I destroyed it.
You wouldn't be the first magician to destroy the Zig Zag.
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Postby Donal Chayce » 01/10/08 05:23 PM

Originally posted by Eoin O'Hare:
Pete Biro said

Having Harbin's book and a zig zag.. I respected his wished and when i decided I would no longer do the zig zag I destroyed it.
You wouldn't be the first magician to destroy the Zig Zag.
Ain't it the truth?!

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Postby Guest » 01/10/08 06:40 PM

Nathan:

Im 99+% sure it was not a pre-publication draft, merely a copy signed to Mason from Harbin. And if you read the thread that developed out of Marios post here on GF (which advertised the copy on eBay), its pretty clear that everyone else had the same impression.

If it was a galley or draft, it could not properly be considered a copy out of the edition. As a book collector, I like seeing early drafts of a book, but only as a matter of historical interest. In my opinion, things like galleys are not so valuable, at least in the world of magic literature.

Clay

P.S. This is the link to Mario's Harbin page.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/10/08 07:40 PM

I don't know about that. I do know that galleys and advanced reading copies of Houdini books seem to always command a much better price than the first edition. Of the general magic tiles I have owned, galleys and ARC's, they brought nice prices too.

I think it's the mystique that gets the higher levels. :genii:
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/10/08 07:54 PM

Here's one to throw sand into everyone's vaseline.

I've seen on more than one occasion the Al Mann book sell for much more than the original. They were side by side. I would think the Mann edition( :o ) has a lower print run. ;)

Or maybe because Al didn't make you destroy your Zig-Zag when you were done with it? :whack:
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 01/12/08 12:03 PM

According to current copyright law.

A book published in 1970 will have a 28 year first term copyright, then an automatic second term of 67 years.

So it will be 2065 before it becomes public domain. Hey, I'll only be 105!! LOL
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/12/08 12:24 PM

Copyright law in the UK differs from US copyright law.
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 01/12/08 01:22 PM

I stand corrected, it looks like the UK is life of the author plus 70 years. Now since the copyright has been transfered to the Magic Circle, then that even complexs it more.
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Postby Guest » 01/12/08 03:23 PM

No, it doesn't change anything. That's the law regardless of who or what inherits the copyright.
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 01/12/08 04:07 PM

So that would mean it's in public domain in 2048, correct?
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Postby Guest » 01/12/08 07:21 PM

All of this is essentially immaterial since the book has been widely copied for years and, to my knowledge, no one has been enjoined by the previous or current copyright owners.

I have no doubt it will be available on the Internet sometime in the future.
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 01/12/08 08:25 PM

The only real place to test that out would be in court. Say you may 1000 softcover copies, made from scans of the orginial book, sold it for $200 each, then sent 35% to the Magic Circle. Only then would they have to go to court and sue for copyright infringement.

Then that would be the true test. None of us know if the Magic Circle would do that. My best guess is that they would, which would be easier than going after the thousands of xerox copies that are around. After all, theyd only have to sue 1 person and not 10000
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Postby Guest » 01/12/08 10:45 PM

Rick, Im not sure youre responding to David, because he only said that hes unaware of any actions being brought in the past.

To imply that, legally, The Magic Circle has to wait until someone again pirates the Harbin book means that you have legal knowledge beyond mine. I do not know if there is a statute of limitations for prosecuting a claim of copyright infringement. That said, I agree if you are suggesting that its unlikely that The Magic Circle would go after one who makes and distributes a single photocopy of the book.
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Postby Rick Ruhl » 01/12/08 10:53 PM

Yes I was. David seems to think that the copyright holds no water in today's time.

The only way to put that to a test is to make and publish copy of the book, sell it and see if The Magic Circle files suit. This is pure and simple the only legal way to prove his theory.

Are you aware of the Magic Circle file suit in the past for any of the copies, and did they or Harbin file when the Al Mann copies were sold?

Personally, I wouldn't take a chance. Too many good and bad lawyers would be involved. And since it is copyright infrigment, no matter what the 'internet' thinks, you'd lose in a matter of seconds.

I've owned my software company for 20 years and I always have my IP laywer near if the need be. I have to deal with piracy all the time and I have went after some ebay dealers who would try to pirate older versions of my software.
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Postby Guest » 01/13/08 12:22 AM

"Yes I was. David seems to think that the copyright holds no water in today's time."

A distinction must be made between remedies the law affords and remedies which are (or are not) actually sought in real life under a given set of circumstances.

I can't speak for David, but I'll bet you my last dollar that (1) he is not saying that copyright laws fail to provide an aggrieved party with remedies and (2) he is saying that with today's technology, it is easier than ever to pirate or illegally distribute or illegally make available copyrighted works and that, for a variety of reasons (perhaps most notably, cost), it is impractical for many aggrieved parties to avail themselves of the remedies afforded by copyright laws.

If I'm wrong about my pithy interpretation of David's views on this, I'll eat my hat!

I also do not know of any legal action ever taken by The Magic Circle in response to the circulation of pirated copies of Harbin's book, by Mann or anybody else.

C.
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Postby Guest » 01/13/08 09:11 AM

Originally posted by Magicam:

I can't speak for David, but I'll bet you my last dollar that (1) he is [b]not
saying that copyright laws fail to provide an aggrieved party with remedies and (2) he is saying that with today's technology, it is easier than ever to pirate or illegally distribute or illegally make available copyrighted works and that, for a variety of reasons (perhaps most notably, cost), it is impractical for many aggrieved parties to avail themselves of the remedies afforded by copyright laws.

If I'm wrong about my pithy interpretation of David's views on this, I'll eat my hat!
[/b]
Clay's hat is quite safe for that is exactly what I was saying. I read the law last night and it is very clear, there are injunctive remedies and there are punitive remedies (see http://www.copyright.gov/ for the particulars)...HOWEVER, the action must be brought by the aggrieved party. The government will not enforce the law unless you are a large corporation and the infringement is in the millionsand thats what Ive been getting at.

For the little guy copyright enforcement is so massively expensive to pursue that the so-called protection isnt any protection at all. Stopping a seller on eBay is indicative of nothing as one infamous magic character managed to stop eBay from selling items he claimed ownership of until his claims were shown to be nonsense.

As far as testing the law, it's been done...repeatedlyfor years. There are numerous pirates out there who've stolen the work of others and NOTHING has been done to them because it is too expensive for the small publisher or individual.

One other thought: I cannot imagine anyone dumb enough to pirate a book and then send the copyright owners a royalty announcing to them the pirate's existence and giving them money to start an action if they were so inclined.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 01/13/08 09:48 AM

I'm with David on this one. It's just too small-time to pursue.

Now, selling copies on Ebay may be easier to stop. Let's remember the guy who kept getting used Fox cups auctions stopped by using VERO. This went on for years until enough people yipped and put an end to that BS.
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Postby Guest » 01/13/08 03:52 PM

Thanks, Kevin. That's who I was referencing in my post above. Stopping an eBay sale is nothing like stopping a pirate...two very different things.
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Postby Allen Tipton » 07/21/08 09:31 AM

First guys the title of the book is
'Magic of Robert Harbin'
There is no 'The' in the title.
English copyright, at the moment, covers upto 70 years after the author's death.
But as the rights were left to The Magic Circle they can extend this.
My friend, from teenage days, Christopher Woodward UK. who is a professional magician ( married to Maurice Fogel's daughter)
has kept track of who has which copy;( i.e the books are numbered & signed by RH) for future references.
I bought my copy after the 2 year limit for 20 (in todays exchange $40) My friend, another professional magician, brought it to the opening night of my production of the musical, Salad Days. How I got through the opening knowing the secrets of The Zig Zag Lady etc. was sitting a few rows beyond the foorlights I'll never know.
If you have a copy let me know your name & the book number & I'll pass it on to Chris.
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Postby Jim Martin » 07/12/11 05:08 PM

In case you haven't seen this, up for auction (with a current bid of $2,000.00), copy #453:

http://cgi.ebay.com/Very-Rare-Signed-Ma ... 3a67dacef9
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Postby Jim Martin » 07/12/11 08:36 PM

Read 'em and weep: End of auction - US $2,572.00

It looks like a beautiful copy - congrats to all.

(And am I alone in wondering why the Magic Circle doesn't broker a deal to rerelease some kind of edition? Sorry.)
Jim Martin
St. Louis MO
Jim Martin
 
Posts: 455
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: St. Louis

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