Magic, Ethics and Wedding Dances

While the internet is buzzing about Justin Willman’s fantastic and brilliantly done wedding dance during which he performs an effect known within the industry as ‘Invisible Chair’ by Danny Cole. Most “insiders” assumed that Justin had asked Danny for permission to use this effect but he did not. Danny’s effect was based on an earlier version called the ‘Yoga Lean’ developed by Enrico de la Vega and Chris Congora and performed on the TV series ‘THEM’ in 2003 on which both Danny and Justin appeared.

Justin asked Enrico for permission to do the effect and then, as he said ” I worked hard to ensure that my effect didn’t replicate Danny’s invisible chair, or Cyril’s one-legged matrix. All similar in concept and methods, but distinctly different effects.”

Did he succeed? Will people who have seen the wedding video now assume that Justin is the creator and Danny is the imitator? Probably.

Should he have also spoken to Danny first, as they are both friends and colleagues, simply out of professional courtesy? Maybe.

However, those issues will be debated for some time to come. What it does shine a light on is the incredible lack of ethics within the magic industry itself. Danny’s illusion, for example, has been widely copied and there are at least two extremely disreputable magic manufacturing companies selling it for around $1000 a pop. Danny has chosen to keep the effect as an exclusive piece in his act and generally knocks back those who do the right thing and ask him for permission to add it to their show. Unfortunately, there are many people who think they have a right to other people’s work. His effect has not only been copied by well known magicians in their TV specials, but also by street performers everywhere, advertising agencies and even the Chinese Olympics! All without Danny receiving any payment for his creation or even a credit. (And no, nothing would have changed if he’d copyrighted or patented the effect except that his lawyer would be very busy indeed).

Some use the argument that he is being unfair by refusing to share, that he is restricting the progress of art, that he “didn’t invent it anyway”, and many other attempts at justifying their desire to add an effect they didn’t create to their show.

Does the creator of a work have the right to restrict it’s use?

In the world of music – absolutely! We know who wrote songs (both the lyrics and the music) because these things are recorded and credited on sheet music, album covers and Wikipedia. The music world even has large organisations whose sole purpose is to collect and distribute royalties to musicians. But do you know who invented the trick where the pen goes through the dollar bill or the coin without harming it*?


How about the plastic box that splits a cigarette or a pencil in three pieces and then joins it back together**?


No sooner than someone comes up with a brand new magic effect for their own act…

  1. Everyone, the public and other magicians, wants to know how it’s done.
  2. Many magicians want to add it into their act immediately, thus creating a demand.
  3. Some magic manufacturers want to make money from it in any way they can so they either rewrite a fictitious history of the effect to justify bringing out their own version, or they just have exact copies made.

I went through the very same process with Anders Moden’s ‘Recycled Soda’ (as it was originally called) back in 2002 – feel free to catch up here.

Now bear in mind I am not talking about magic effects that are released on the market. When you purchase a trick from the creator you are paying him or her for the rights to perform that effect, or even remake it to suit your needs. (Not, of course, to release your slightly different version of the trick without talking to him or her first).

When a trick is released on the market, sadly, there are still unethical magic manufacturers who will simply make cheap copies of the effect and flood the market and there are still magicians who either can’t afford to buy the original, or are just cheap, who will support the ripoff manufacturers and keep them in business.

In my fantasy world, this would stop right now.

In reality, the concept of ‘respect’ comes a very distant second to ‘self.’

What I am talking about are situations where a performer comes up with a unique magic effect that sets his or her effect apart from the rest of the pack. An illusion like Danny’s ‘Invisible Chair’, a routine like Lance Burton’s Dove Act , a gag like Mac King’s ‘Naked Houdini Rope Escape’, or even a unique look like ‘Piff the Magic Dragon’.

All of these have been copied, exactly, without permission by countless performers.

This does not make it right.

Let me say that again…


If you see someone do a bit you think would be perfect in your show – talk to them. Send them an email. Ask politely. If they say no, respect that. After all, this is an art form, why do something exactly the same as somebody else anyway. Are you a cover band?

Even if you were a cover band… a “cover magician”… you would have to have permission from and pay royalties to the creator of the effect to perform it anyway. If you bought the trick from a legitimate magic shop, you’re ready to go. If you asked the creator and got permission in writing, go for it.

It’s really not that hard.

You can buy a magic teaching DVD and then put those tricks you saw on the DVD into your show. A magician performing his or her act on TV or on a DVD and NOT explaining it is NOT a teaching DVD…

You can make all the excuses in the world:

  • “But I use a different colored deck”
  • “It’s an old trick in Tarbell somewhere… probably…”
  • “I don’t think he really invented it anyway…”
  • “If he wanted to protect it he should have copyrighted it!”
  • “If he wanted to protect it he shouldn’t have performed it!”
  • “Everybody else is doing it”
  • “But he stole someone else’s trick once”
  • “He should stop the Chinese from making the copies first instead of targeting us little guys”
  • “It’s too expensive”
  • “I figured out how to do it anyway”



Give others the respect that you would like them to give you.

Communicate. Ask permission. Respect their wishes. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said no to people but then helped them to develop something totally unique and perfect for their act.

Create your own magic… and hopefully, in my fantasy world at least, you won’t get ripped off either.




Oh… and try to keep the secrets secret too… just a thought




* John Cornelius (1993)

** Hiroshi Kondo (Tenyo, 1981)

Check out MagicFakers to learn a little about the people behind many of the effects you may already have in your act today.


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