Ethical considerations - Should I cite references/originators in my book?-

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Postby magicbar » 06/25/08 01:53 PM

I am writing a book that is intended for the general public that is (for now) intends to include magic effects I do and like. Should I cite references? Am I required to cite them? Does it matter to the public? Should I get into/incite the morass of argument of who did what and who did what first? It seems there is always some gadfly or scholar that wants to raise a ruckus about some sleight or effect that someone else has no right to print or explain without permission. Then there is the area of public domain vs. copyright.

I am positive that I will not lift another's writing without due credit. I will cite a reference if I saw them do it or know they wrote it - if I think it matters to the reader. I will probably put a list of books or people's names of those I admire (per se) that if the reader likes what I wrote should seek out. I will not be held accountable for some aspect of something I did not know prior to publication.

For example, I use a great presentation for an effect that I first learned from an Acopolyse but I also see on the Genii tricks you can do section that is not credited. Everyone has books filled with 50 card tricks found in dozens of other books. I will absolutely beat down any unknown that tries to discredit me for let's say, my version of such and such an effect simply because I did not read every book on the subject.

But if it is for the general public, in an easy to digest manner, should a writer be obligated to cite refs, ad nauseum, just to avoid the wrath of the magic community or some laywer that wants to make a case?

thoughts anyone? everyone?
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/25/08 03:31 PM

I'm not gonna ask why you feel a need to discuss conjuring methods with the world at large.

Taking this to a current extreme position, one could freely describe in detail the elaborate setup for Hooker's animation act without so much as mentioning the guy if it's going in a layman's book or journal. After all that's pretty much what Angelo Lewis did with his "Modern Magic" and other books.

Interesting little world we have here. IMHO mentioning any methods to the world at large is probably a betrayal of the trust one was given by this community and not a laudable act - but again that's just my position.
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Postby Randy » 06/25/08 03:40 PM

Dear Magicbar,

With regards to listed a reference, you mention a couple of times in your post that you would do it "if I think it matters to the reader" and "Does it matter to the public". My question to you is do you think it matters to the creator? Just something to think about. I am sincere when I wish you luck on your book.
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Postby John LeBlanc » 06/25/08 04:15 PM

As with so much having to do with magic, just because you can do something does not mean you should do something. Without knowing your underlying purpose for writing such a book to begin with, I'll go with siding with Jonathan's response above.

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Postby mai-ling » 06/25/08 04:35 PM

yes, it matters.
no matter who your readership is.
you will remember my name
world's youngest illusionista

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Postby magicbar » 06/26/08 04:25 AM

just to put the discussion into perspective...

I'm writing a bartender guide that may include some bar tricks as well. In the main text I will probably just explain the effect and method so the reader can learn enough to perform it. I might have a bibliography or footnotes that ref to other general texts or sources if they wish to learn more but I might not if I think it will add questionable cost to the project or disenchant the reader. These are some of the bar magic effects I like and do but will stick to general/easy stuff since most readers are more likely to be bartenders rather than magicians.

Considering all the magic books that are filled with public domain magic or 'classics' that go uncredited I am just trying to get the skinny on legal aspects and ethical considerations. Like I mentioned above, I am not lifting anothers' written word, I am writing about stuff I do. I may have originally learned it from somewhere else but through presentation and technique changes I, like others, made it my own. For instance, the 5 card tear it up trick that is in the free tricks on this Genii site [without credit]is also in Apocalypse titled, Will the Cards Match? - my presentation is wildly different. I do an effect that I saw Allan Ackerman do (and may have written in one of his books) but I do a presentation to his mechanics to where I think it is a different effect altogether. I have thought up presentations to many standard bar stunts that have appeared in many texts which I eventually read years later in C. Lang Neil's The Modern Conjuror when I finally had access to that book. So where is a potential problem or pitfall?

Today's magic shop shelves are full of thinly veiled adaptations of another's work. I know some are of (what I call) the rip-off variety with minor changes to well-known material or incomplete or calculated credits limited to other works by the same publisher or their lecture circuit buddies. One might argue that once you read 100 books on the subject hardly anything is truly original and deserves to be credit-free. With that in mind I simply feel like adding a footnote of saying 'if you like magic and want to learn more - visit your local magic shop'.

As an aside, when one sees a performance how many times does the performer credit their repertoire? "For my next trick, Dai Vernon's, Twisting the Aces. After that I will do, Paul Curry's Out of this World, I will finish with 'some other guy's trick as well'. But first, I will do something that I synthesized from nearly two dozen books and I will not perform it until I have told you each and every one of the sources. Please stay awake until I finish crediting the trick."

So is there a line in the sand that can be drawn?
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/26/08 06:02 AM

Some in magic have specialized in performing behind the bar - and published impressive works describing the material they perform.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time
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Postby Jacky Kahan » 06/26/08 08:10 AM


I simply think it's just a question of respect for the art of magic. If you know the source, mention it, if you don't ... ask around, research it...
It's true that everything is reinvented all the time, but crediting magicians is a minimum we can do when publishing anything about magic..

My humble opinion...
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/26/08 10:37 AM

Why yes there is an ethical line and it's even stated plainly at the IBM and SAM sites regarding the ethics of magic. ... thics.html

from the SAM site:

7. We are opposed to the exposure of magic whether by purposeful acts or through careless or ill-prepared performance.

8. We are opposed to the piracy of magical creations.

Now as to whether the venal concerns of some on our little world make their sociopathic behavior somehow acceptable... that's a separate matter.

Your choices are your own. Why is anyone asking folks here to condone what has already been clearly stated from the start as exposure?

However, the larger book market and the larger market in general is not part of the market in magicdom there is really no need to fuss over "magician's rules" and so you are free to do as you please - as mentioned in an earlier post.

It is my considered opinion that the dual valued market in magic does not serve either the casual reader or the serious student and so your planned actions are ultimately in our best interests to make the "how to" of magic less generally accessible. Again - IMHO.
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Postby George Olson » 06/26/08 12:31 PM

Isn't there a lady in Florida that has an extensive Bar Magic web-site? I think she also has written a book. When my computer crashed some tine ago I lost her name and site. As I recall it was an excellant place for everything jokes, recipes, tricks etc.


Just found her site
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Postby Gord » 06/26/08 02:28 PM

Yes you should because it is the classy thing to do.

Simple as that.

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Postby Naphtalia » 06/26/08 06:23 PM

The way the question is asked leads me to believe that you're trying to find a reason to not have to do the references.

Even the best and most scholarly bibliographies are limited by the resources and materials at the researcher's disposal. You use the best information you have to provide the best resources to the person who proves interested in your topic.

As to the difference between an instructional guide providing references and needing to use them in a performance - that's weak! The purpose in a how-to book is to inform and providing guidance to source material is part of that. A performance whose primary goal is to entertain doesn't need those references. I would bet that the best performers know some of the history behind the material they're using.

I like Gord's response - it's the classy thing to do....

and my favorite professor who taught me that in researching where ideas came from, I might find out something I didn't know before about my topic.

Impropriety is the soul of wit.
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Postby Mark Collier » 06/27/08 12:25 PM

Sometimes I compare magicians to musicians.

If you are a musician performing someone else's song, you should at least know who wrote it.

I think a person who teaches magic should also teach respect for magic and it's history. Colleges have classes in music appreciation. I believe magicians who teach should teach magic appreciation as well.
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Postby Naphtalia » 06/27/08 05:56 PM

I will cite my friend Anna Smith who suggested the following reasons for citing sources to me in a conversation last night:

1. It's right and proper to give credit where it is due.

2. It establishes the authority of what is being said. It's not just the author's thoughts. It is an idea built on the educated reasoning of others.

3. It provides an autobiography of the author by giving insight to what she or he has read, heard or watched. By providing that intellectual autobiography, the reader better understands what brought the author to the place he or she is.

4. It provides the reader a jumping off place to further his or her explorations into a topic.

I especially liked the autobiography idea as a reason to cite. It was something I had not previously considered.


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Postby Bill Palmer » 06/27/08 07:31 PM

When you write a trick up in a book or you teach it in a video, you should credit the people who originated it, to the best of your ability.

When you perform a trick, it really isn't necessary to introduce it by crediting the inventor, because the crediting is not part of the performance. It would get in the way of the entertainment value of the routine. For example, you would not say, "and now, I would like to present Robert Harbin's 'Super-X Plus' or the 'Walkaway Suspension,' which may have been inspired by Jack Gwynnne's Cabaret Suspension." In most cases, there are other scripting considerations that must be attended to.

Singers seldom credit the people who write the standard songs they sing, because it isn't part of the performance.

If you feel that you should credit the originators of your material when you perform, then put it on a "credits" sheet that you distribute at your performances.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 06/28/08 04:55 PM

I think you should give credit for the creators of the tricks that you publish, because it benefits your readers. If they like a certain trick, they may want to seek out other tricks by the same creator. It also benefits magic and the world as a whole, because it promotes an understanding of the history and value of the creation.

When Rich Cowley performed in the Close Up room at the Magic Castle a few months back, he printed up programs which listed each of the effects and included credits for the magicians who created the tricks he was performing.

Re: the "exposure" of tricks to "non-magicians." All I can say is thank God that there are magicians who expose secret methods to non-magicians, because if there weren't, Jonathan Townsend could never have become a magician, and that would be a shame.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/28/08 07:00 PM

Pete McCabe wrote:...there are magicians who expose secret methods to non-magicians, because if there weren't, (so and so) could never have become a magician, and that would be a shame.

Some of us got our indoctrination via amateur theater by doing plays with the occasional effect work like the Foy rigging in Peter Pan (guess who played John) or perhaps by way of film making and film studies where storytelling makes use of composition, editing and transition and the out of sequence filming schedule teaches other aspects. Others may start in conjuring via magic(k) proper where representations help in the rite. Others may start through a diligent study of ancient history where one finds that some old temples were set up to make the presence of the local gods palpable. Some join us by way of the study of conflict where perspective and the limits of information and deployment greatly affect outcomes. Others by way of their need for functional duplicity in their lives - say in the intelligence community where some of one's actions do need to go unnoticed.

There are many paths into the magic shop, and more which are not mentioned above. Finding a cookbook of clever in the library or being treated as a target market in need of social crutches are just two of the paths.

However we get here - it's still all about how we treat people.

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Postby magicbar » 06/29/08 04:03 PM

I appreciate all the continued comments. I did go to the SAM/IBM sites to read their perspective and I am familiar with Miss Charming's bar trick book - I own it and was saving it as one example of how material is credited (or not). Like many of you I have pubs that have profuse crediting (e.g., Racherbaumer, Minch, Cervon, Kaufman), ample crediting (Hugard, Bobo - although some may argue about accuracy) and other and like many we have the sketchy-to-zero crediting examples in general texts and 'The Magic of Me'-type books (e.g., Charming,

I don't consider my book to be an exposure book that simply wants to reveal methods - usually with an agenda to negatively impact). It is a teaching text. Yet, considering my audience and their propensity to get deep into magic rather than just learn a few tricks to get more tips/gratuity I will probably keep to some public domain magic to which have attached my own presentations. My book will probably come under the category of a beverage/cookbook. If I wanted to put out the book with the core market as magic enthusiasts I would go the route of extensive credits so these people can trace and develop their interests.

At this point the guidelines to adhere to are those that along the lines of copyright laws so one does not get sued and social grace to fellow tradesmen so one does not get negative PR.
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