What constitutes 'theft' in close up magic?

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Postby Marc Rehula » 09/01/06 11:08 AM

As someone who's new to the institution of magic, I see a strange dichotomy between publishing and performing.

As I read magic texts, I have come to learn and respect the need to cite sources and influences. Magicians comprise a community, and to 'steal' a move or a trick -- or even an effect -- I can definitely see as theft when publishing without permission.

But what about performance of that move or trick? No one on stage is obligagted to follow a trick with saying to the audience, 'Twisting the Aces is an effect that originates with Dai Vernon, but my handling is based more on Allan Ackerman's version on his DVD . . .'

I have a background in theater, so it makes me think: If you perform a monologue for a paying audience and do not pay for the rights, you are stealing. But if I perform someone else's card routine, exact patter or not, for a paying audience, am I not stealing? If not, why not?

For example. I know I can't publish Sidewinder, but if I purchase Paul Harris's Art of Astonishment, that's enough for me to perform Sidewinder? Lee Asher would get angry if I sold the Asher Twist in a booklet, but he'd likely welcome me telling him how a performance of it worked at a restaurant gig. When I step back and think about it, it just seems odd to me.

With many books, advertising that it contains 'commercial' material is a big selling point. Writers in magic presumably want their material performed for paying audiences. But I've read in this Forum about magicians concerned about theft in performance, so there must be SOME kind of line that can get crossed. Plus, performing written material in other mediums (especially theater) is clearly not allowed without explicit permission and usually payment. Why is magic so different?

With illusions, the issues are typically clearer, because illusions require plans, which can be copyrighted. But where are the lines for performing close-up magic? And why are publishing and performing treated so differently?
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Postby Pete Biro » 09/01/06 11:19 AM

If you purchase a trick, or find it in a book or in lecture notes you have bought, obviously you have the right to perform it.

What you can't, or shouldn't do, is take another performer's presentation, or lines (unless they were included in the purchased instructions).
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Postby Guest » 09/01/06 11:30 AM

Originally posted by mrehula:
... But where are the lines for performing ... magic? And why are publishing and performing treated so differently?
If something is released into print by its inventor or delegate, it is open for variations to follow. There is open discussion about the ethics of revealing technical or innovative data from earlier sources in derivative works (as opposed to citation) as such decreases the value of those works, especially if they are in print or available from the inventor.

For the most part in magic we don't treat our routines as play scripts and separate performance rights from technical data release. This too may change. For now at least when you buy a copy of the source for an item the performance rights are taken as purchased as well. There are some examples like Teller's shadow/rose where the work is treated as a play with separate performance rights.

No idea about giving audiences history lessons with conjuring demonstrations. They can go to the history channel for that kind of thing and IMHO such frames tend to blunt the impact of the magic.
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Postby Mark Collier » 09/01/06 11:37 AM

So now that Jonathan Townsend has finally published his fingertip coins across it is ok to publish variations?!?! I can't wait to see what people come up with. :)
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Postby Guest » 09/01/06 12:26 PM

Originally posted by Mark Collier:
So now that Jonathan Townsend has finally published his fingertip coins across it is ok to publish variations?!?! ...
There's alot of technical data (method/mechanics) and background with credits in that article. If folks have improvements on the aesthetic approach, presentation or methods to offer, I'm curious too.
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Postby Mark Collier » 09/01/06 01:06 PM

We need an emoticon that conveys sarcasm.
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Postby Guest » 09/01/06 01:24 PM

We have one Mark, it's the winking smilely (semicolon + close paren)

;)
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Postby Mark Collier » 09/01/06 01:34 PM

Oh, I was afraid that would be construed as flirting. Good to know. ;)
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Postby Guest » 09/02/06 12:55 PM

Oh crap! THAT'S why I'm getting those phone calls...

;)
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Postby Guest » 09/02/06 01:53 PM

If someone takes your coin purse, that is full of gaffed coins.... that is theft. :whack:
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Postby Guest » 09/02/06 02:08 PM

Originally posted by EdAndres:
If someone takes your coin purse...
Unless its full of your pocket change it might be a well intended intervention.
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Postby Guest » 09/05/06 09:56 AM

I saw a cartoon in the Sunday paper. It showed images of several magicians. Each was pointing at some other guy saying that so and so stole his trick. You see, the public is very aware that magicians accuse each other of stealing their stuff. The paper was published about 50 years ago.

Nothing has changed.

We have a practice where one can go into a store, buy a trick and call themseleves a magician.

It is a practice where some clubs solicit people off the street to join their club.

It is a practice where someone will do a trick for the guy that takes your money to get onto the toll road.

Traditionally, magic is just a confused industry.

Recently a few intellectuals have attempted to elevate the "art" to a level of a science where every development is recorded and the thread of achievement is known.

The only protection is the morals of those in the field.

The more fameous a person is the less they need to worry about their morals.

If one tries to make sense of it, one can't.

Al Schneider
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Postby Guest » 09/05/06 07:16 PM

Pete has hit the accepted norm right on the head.

If you purchase DVD, book, video or routine (assuming that the material on it is legitimately published) then you have the right to perform the routine -- with a couple of exceptions.

Some people who publish their routines ask that the purchaser refrain from performing them on television without obtaining permission.

The Magic Circle of London requires that people ask originators for permission to perform their routines. It's not a bad practice actually. You will seldom be turned down. And you will really shock these people, because nobody asks.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/06/06 09:17 AM

Once something has been published, it's generally considered fair game. Sure, someone can specify that you can't perform material in a book you've paid for on TV, but I have never heard of a successful prosecution if someone DID perform that material on TV.

People can write whatever they want--unless the law recognizes it, it means doodly-squat.

If I am going to publish a trick from someone and it uses a sleight of another person's (that's been published or put on a DVD), I will be describing the sleight within the trick. The precedent for doing this in our field goes way back.

If I am going to publish a trick and it uses a sleight that's been published or described anyplace, then that sleight will get described in the trick.

The gray area is when the only place a sleight has been described is in a booklet or on a DVD where it's the ONLY item described. Then the issue to contend with is whether describing the sleight in the course of a trick will in any way hurt sales of the creator's booklet or DVD. If the booklet or DVD has already been out for a few years, then describing the sleight in the course of a trick won't hurt sales because they're mostly over. Publicizing the sleight by redescribing it actually may spur a few sales of the creator's booklet or DVD.
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Postby Guest » 09/07/06 11:18 AM

This is silly. Magicians are incestuous cannibals. Noe one has the inclination/guts to do anything about it because virtually NO one is completely untainted by theft.

And as for sleights...Jeez, Louise...methods were stolen by the very people whose posters we pay thousands of dollars for. And current mass market books have LOADS of plagiarized material. No one has done a thing about it.

So, wheter you publish or not, if you come up with anything cool or new people will steal it as soon as they can figure it out. They may publish it to boot, and there's nothing you can do about it, unless you're willing to spend more money on legal fees than you could ever hope to collect.

(Here's a secret...Most of today's best and brightest thinkers in magic live in rented apartments or teeny-tiny little houses. THAT gives you an idea of how much money there is in creating magic, and how much you could recelive in "damages" if your published work was stolen.)

But stealing is not a problem in magic only...why do you think Eddie Van Halen would turn his back on the audience while playing "Eruption"? He didn't want guitarists to figure out his licks.

P&L
D
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Postby Pete Biro » 09/07/06 11:43 AM

Yah, like those Kellar Posters... what a thief he was. It goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay Back... Sad. The one thing no one can steal (well at least not easily) is your SOUL.
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Postby Guest » 09/07/06 12:48 PM

Originally posted by Pete Biro:
Yah, like those Kellar Posters... what a thief he was. It goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay Back... Sad. The one thing no one can steal (well at least not easily) is your SOUL.
For those who put so much of themselves into their work it must seem strange to find unwanted clones at the magic clubs and in the market.

Among other things it's a community tolerance of those who do the taking which brands us as unworthy of pity and degrades our craft among the others.
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Postby Guest » 09/07/06 11:37 PM

You are right, Dee. Everything you said is silly.

To simply state that theft is prevalent does not justify it, any more than gang activity in urban areas is justified simply because it exists.

If you publish someone else's material and claim it as your own, that is certainly theft.

I do agree with Richard Kaufmann's practice of explaining all sleights and moves used in a routine when you publish it. If you are publishing a routine, you certainly should publish enough information that the reader will be able to perform it. If you don't, why publish it at all?

Much of this can be determined by a simple application of common sense and decency.

If you know the method for something, and it has been taught to you by its originator with the agreement or understanding that you won't pass it around, then if you publish it without his/her consent, that's theft.
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Postby Dave Shepherd » 09/08/06 03:14 AM

I was recently stunned to see another magician of my acquaintance perform a card routine (a presentation for Ambitious Card) that I had come up with ten years ago at a magic club meeting--RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, in a group of about 8-10 people.

His was a clumsy rendition, but somehow he had gotten the presentation down step-by-step from seeing me do it in a restaurant once (I presume).

It left me absolutely speechless. I guess, too, that it put me in pretty good company. I'm not really a creator/inventor, and this presentation was a product of long work, but there it was, being stolen in front of my very eyes.
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Postby Guest » 09/08/06 10:06 AM

Originally posted by Bill Palmer:
You are right, Dee. Everything you said is silly.

To simply state that theft is prevalent does not justify it, any more than gang activity in urban areas is justified simply because it exists.
To imply that I indicated it was "justified" is a mis-reading of what I said. I simply said it was so.

And sadly, the only place you can really win a theft case is in the alley behind the convention hotel.

I'm not saying any of that is "justified" it just is.

And yeah, Pete, from what I read in "Glorious Deception" Kellar and Hermann's acts ended up with more cribs than a maternity ward. More lifts than an elevator factory. More...well, you get the point. And the main beneficiary seems to have been Robinson's salary.

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D
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Postby Brad Henderson » 09/08/06 12:28 PM

Ok, here is something to consider. You see a performer do an amazing rendition of a trick.
you have never seen it before. You then start poking around and find out it was published years ago by someone else. Is it then ok to start doing that trick?

For example, Sam the Bellhop was on the shelves for years but no one wanted it until they saw Malone do it. The Koorwinder Car had been around for years, but no one wanted it until they saw Tamariz do it.

Is there something "wrong" in using another performer's act as a smorgasbord for one's own trick selection, even if those tricks may have been hidden in books for years?

I think so. What say you?
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Postby Guest » 09/08/06 04:03 PM

DeeBrennan said :
And as for sleights...Jeez, Louise...methods were stolen by the very people whose posters we pay thousands of dollars for. And current mass market books have LOADS of plagiarized material. No one has done a thing about it.
Well, I'm willing to do something.... we have a site www.magicbooks.be it's FREE and available to PUT all the records straight.... All the help is welcome ! If you have good sources...please ... let all know! ;)

I think that since FISM, we should have about 1000 books & magazines more online available for research... (+4000 total and growing everyday)

Hope this helps
Jacky
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Postby Guest » 09/09/06 10:00 AM

Originally posted by Brad Henderson:
Ok, here is something to consider. You see a performer do an amazing rendition of a trick.
you have never seen it before. You then start poking around and find out it was published years ago by someone else. Is it then ok to start doing that trick?

For example, Sam the Bellhop was on the shelves for years but no one wanted it until they saw Malone do it. The Koorwinder Car had been around for years, but no one wanted it until they saw Tamariz do it.

Is there something "wrong" in using another performer's act as a smorgasbord for one's own trick selection, even if those tricks may have been hidden in books for years?

I think so. What say you?
Actually, Sam the Bellhop was the performing property of Frank Everhart who was at the Ivanhoe Bar in Chicago for over 20 years doing it probably before Bill Malone was born. The Bellhop routine/story, without the unnecessary cuts and flourishes added by Malone, became so associated with Everhart that it became a requested encore piece.

Frakson once told me he intervened in an argument between two magicians, each accusing the other of theft of material. Frakson told them that he knew the originator of the material they were both using.

The best way to avoid other magicians "appropriating" your material is not to perform for them. Working a magic convention with material that can be stolen is just foolish, yet magicians do it all the time, getting upset when others take their lines, presentations, and ideas.

If they want to steal from you, at least make them buy a ticket and attend your show like everyone else.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 09/09/06 12:13 PM

Yes, David. I am aware of that(and would think most on this board would be as well). But that is the point exactly. Sam the Bellhop was NOT Malone's, just as the car was NOT Tamariz's. They were both commercially available (and largely fogotten). Tamariz and Malone both saw something in these tricks that most had overlooked and consequently honed them into wonderful pieces of magic. (Again, to be clear, we are talking about seeing material in performance - not a lecture- and specifically material that was not created by the performer and released/published by them.)

We, as a community it seems, would rather wait for others to do our homework for us than seek out material either through our own ingenuity or scholarship. We wait until we see Malone perform Sam the Bellhop -in any version - before we even consider looking into story decks. We wait until Tamariz does the car before anyone even thinks of trying it out on their own. The same can be true of a lot of the Kaps material. No one thinks about it until they see Bargatze do the bills or Conover the coins. Then the manuscripts go flying off the dealers shelves. (And this is not just closeup. We have all seem people covet tricks after seeing a stage magician work. Blackstone's act was terribly well picked over. After he came to town, all the locals were trying to add birdcages, hanks, and a pickpocketing routine.)

In my mind, deciding to do a trick - regardless of whether it is a dealer's item, already published in a book, or whereever, because we see another performer do it first is coopting THEIR VISION from them.

The smart thing to do, and the one almost never done, would be to ask the performer who "inspired" you if it were ok for you to work on the idea. No one wants to do that. Why? Maybe they are afraid they will be told they shouldn't; and we know how magicians feel when they are told something is not for them.

Admittedly, as we are dealing with published material and elements of motivation, none of this could ever be enforced. This is an internal dialogue. "Why do I want to do this trick? Is it because of something my work has uncovered and my vision sees as having potential, or am I taking from the labors and vision of others? "

I wish more magicians would ask themselves this question.
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Postby NCMarsh » 09/09/06 01:54 PM

Brad,

I am convinced that this can be theft, I am not convinced -- however -- that the line is clear and that it is always theft.

I think it is more clearly theft the more closely the performer is identified with the piece (with Bellhop it is a signature piece), the more obscure the originally published effect (the performer's labor, in really exploring the published record, is much greater and is clearly directed -- in part -- at finding something different), and the less the imitator invests of himself in the piece.

Best,

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/09/06 04:33 PM

This is a good thread: Let's keep it going.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 09/09/06 06:15 PM

Originally posted by Nathan Coe Marsh:
Brad,

I am convinced that this [b]can
be theft, I am not convinced -- however -- that the line is clear and that it is always theft.

I think it is more clearly theft the more closely the performer is identified with the piece (with Bellhop it is a signature piece), the more obscure the originally published effect (the performer's labor, in really exploring the published record, is much greater and is clearly directed -- in part -- at finding something different), and the less the imitator invests of himself in the piece.

Best,

N. [/b]
One can never tell where the motivation for working on an effect originated. So, the line will always be unclear from those looking from the outside. But I contend, when we look within, the answers - if we choose to be honest with ourselves - are readily apparent.

But to the last of your post, I do not see why it should matter whether or not a trick is a signature effect. If I want to do a trick because I saw someone else do it, I am benefitting from their labor and vision, not my own. Why does it matter if it is their closer, opener, or a throw away?

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Postby Guest » 09/10/06 04:27 AM

If Malone is going to use Everhart's trick then he should at least learn to do it properly.

He shouldn't do all those fancy flourishes and then do false shuffles. It makes it obvious that trickery is involved in the shuffles. Flourishes should be used intelligently. This is one occasion when they aren't.

It takes a great magician like myself to notice these things.

I'd just thought I'd mention it.

Cheerio.................
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Postby Guest » 09/10/06 12:58 PM

Not mentioned, but contributing to the endless parrot-like quality of many magicians, are dealers. When Frakson and later, Cardini, popularized the production of lighted cigarettes, dealers quickly advertised devices that would let the amateur produce the "same effect." Not true, of course, but the dealers sold loads of cigarette droppers, even one with a built-in battery-operated lighter. It was nonsense and nothing like what Frakson and Cardini used, but amateurs bought them anyway.

This has happened throughout the history of magic, both theatrical and amateur. Cardini was easily the most copied magician of the 1930s & 40s. Cantu began the dove production craze with Channing Pollack being the finest exponent of the effect. With his success, Pollack became the most copied magician of the early 1950s, diluting the market for his type of act.

The idea of asking the performer who "inspired" us is a waste of time because who says the "inspiring performer" didn't lift the material from someone else...and they might not tell you the truth. I know from personal experience.

Years ago I saw an amateur in the Mid-West do a mental effect that I liked very much. I immediately saw how I could perform it to better effect than he did, but I wanted to do the right thing. I offered to buy a license for the effect which I thought was original with him. He refused, saying he wanted to "keep it for himself." Fine, I had no problem with that even though I lived and performed 2,000 miles away. Originators have that right. I made no effort to reverse-engineer the trick.

A few months later I learned that it was a commercially-available effect at a price far below what I'd offered. (It is not possible to know everything that's available because you can't read every ad or thumb through every catalog). The guy lied to me by implying that the effect was his. It wasn't, he did it exactly as the instructions dictated. So much for asking.

The problem is, most "magicians" lack the necessary projective imagination to envision material they read in a book. They can't see it in their mind's eye. They must see it actually performed.

Added to that, most don't perform nearly enough to polish an item to high quality. Some are simply too lazy to work up their own presentations. It's much easier to take from someone else.

I've experienced it myself several times. As I've mentioned on other threads, in my early days as a working close-up entertainer I was crazy for Allerton material. I did his Jumping Flower and Vanishing Cage in close-up. I made the mistake of doing them at the Magic Castle. The Jumping Flower was "appropriated" by several Castle members, including one of the bartenders and the three local shops sold out of Lindhorst cages within six weeks.

These effect had been sitting in the Allerton book, ignored by the local magic community until they saw me do them. Floyd Thayer used to say that he knew where Cardini was performing by the postmarks on the orders for billiard balls.

In a perfect world, everyone would be imaginative and willing to work on their own versions of effects, but this isn't a perfect world and people aren't introspective. Asking them to be so is a waste of time. If you want to keep something yours, don't perform around magicians. It's as simple as that.
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Postby Guest » 09/11/06 10:17 PM

Just a thought.

I am disturbed about one taking anothers material and calling it there own.

But, is there another point of view of this?

Is there any chance that magic and magicians could present a common front to the outside world. Could we be thought of as a sharing community where we share ideas and give credit where credit is due?

The idea behind all of this transfer of information is that magic as a whole would improve as the material we perform improves.

I for one would like to see the image of magic pulled up in the public eye.

Al Schneider
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Postby Guest » 09/12/06 12:26 PM

INIMITABLITY?

This hastily drafted ramble merely touches on points worthy of deeper analysis and longer discussions. The enduring problem about stealing in magicdom and what may be permissible to use has a long history. A quotation Ive long used isWe are parasites of our precursorswhich unfortunately has a pejorative ring to it. How we choose to act in this parasitic relation can be telling. When we get support, sustenance, advantage, significant knowledge in such a relation (because of accessibility) and do not equally reciprocate or play by agreed upon rules, the character of this kind of parasitism should be considered selfish and condemnable.

Imitation is a common way anybody learns ANYTHING. Magicians, certainly not being exceptions, as beginners largely learn by seeing other magicians perform or explain. What is seen is based on IDEAS and CONCEPTS, expressed in SCHEMES and PROCEDURES, accompanied by scripted or spontaneous TALK. When considered as strictly being ideas or concepts, they are momentarily regarded as ABSTRACT things. They are considered to be FREELY-floating entities (Platonic Ideals?) available-for-the-taking.

Magic dealers of course SELL many of these ideas, concepts, schemes, props, and patter. In other words, they COMMODIFY these things and attach prices to them. And in the COMMERCE of magic it is implicit in the TRANSACTION that a SANCTION existsthe sanction being that the buyer can to do anything he wishes with whatever he purchased. This, as most of us eventually realize, becomes a banshee-screaming Pandoras Box.

Of course, initiates want access to everything. Then once they have gained access and know precious secrets, they want the backrooms of magicdom to shut forever. They do not want anyone else to know the secrets they now know. (When I learned how the Brainwave deck was done, I thought: Houdini would have paid big bucks to know the secret of this phenomenal trick and would do everything in his power to suppress its secret.)

Back in the old days when privileged access to secrets was the norm, insiders protected them; and for the most part they honored the signature work of colleagues and fellow insiders. Those betraying this trust were ostracized and shunned. (There were of course exceptions.)

Also, in the not-so-distant past, amateurs did not routinely interfere with professionals. They did not invade their turf, steal their lines or material (unless they thought they could get away with it), or publish other magicians ideas without permission. (Notice that I said, routinely. Plagiarism and rip-offs have always existed; however, it was not as rampant as today.)

Sad Example: Don Alan was raised in the old tradition where amateurs bought stuff from dealers and then performed for friends or at parochial venues. In other words, they performed classics and new stuff, but they did not perform the Chinese Sticks exactly like Roy Benson or do the billiard balls like Buckingham in larger public venues or on national television. When Don Alan became famous, he was grateful to Frances Ireland for her steadfast support and help. To express his gratitude he gave her permission to sell many of his signature PRESENTATIONS such as the Bowl Routine and Ranch Bird. Since these tricks were seen on television, Magic Inc. (Irelands) sold lots of these routines to magicians, who immediately glommed onto them and IMITATED Donchapter and verse. One Chicago magician completely copied Dons entire act.

So, whats the upshot?

At time passed there were many Don-Alan clones and some of them competed for the same jobs Don had been working. After awhile Don became bitter, disenchanted and disengaged.

When we were working on his book, I had the temerity to tell Don that the best way to avoid imitation is to be inimitable. Then you are the sole owner of a franchise that is ESSENTIALLY YOU. End of story.

Recently there was an interesting show on Bravo called The 100 Greatest TV Characterspeople such as Lucy, Archie Bunker, Ralph Cramden, Ed Norton, the Fugitive, the Fonz, Frazier, etc. One commentator said, When you (as a viewer) cannot imagine another actor playing a certain character, then the actor known for playing that character OWNS the part. Again, end of story.

There have been only a few inimitable magicians.
The rest, alas, struggle to express themselves the best they can, hoping that whatever is uniquely theirs will shine through what they have learned through imitation and expropriationincluding the borrowed and the bought.

Ethical issues are complicated and questions that arise are easier to pose than to answer.

Onward
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