Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Professional Courtesy In Magic

In light of finding out someone ripped my magic off today, and after having him flaunt it in my face that he did precisely that, I figured it would just be fair that I write this...

.:On Professional Courtesy: An Ethical Issue:.

There are many issues on professional courtesy in magic, whether undercutting other magicians and the like, but allow me to discuss the most glaring one: outright plagiarism of other magicians.

In the age of torrents and YouTube and piracy, people seem to forget their manners. The internet is indeed the perfect place for people to act as if the rules of propriety and respect don’t apply, but just because everybody does it does not make it right.

As magicians, especially professional magicians, we invest into our material. From purchasing videos and books to watching seminars, learning from other fellow performers, learning the history of our routines, and never performing routines if we can’t do them justice.

Magic has always been an industry of secrets, and we have seen unscrupulous magicians in the past, dating all the way back to the heyday of Vaudeville, who would actually steal each other’s routines. While we do not have true ownership of our tricks, the presentations we employ, and even the inspiration for routines we come up with or appropriate for ourselves, are issues that we must be sensitive towards.

We are no longer in an era where people actively sabotage each other in the realm of magic solely to get ahead in this industry. There is indeed still competition, but in general, competition has not eliminated the concept of simple professional courtesy to each other. If we know a particular magician has developed a reputation based on a particular routine or presentation, we don’t try to upstage them by using the same routine on their time. It’s common professional courtesy.

I remember when Mr. Sonny Minoza taught me one of his prized routines, the one where he stands and has several people push a stick he is holding, and they are unable to push Mr. Minoza. I am unaware if this is originally his, but he taught me the routine, and gave me the blessing to perform it, except on television. Out of respect to the man, I complied, and he has never had a problem with me when it comes to that. Even during a Comedy Cartel show where Mr. JB Dela Cruz performed psychokinesis, despite requests that I perform the same thing after the show for some friends of a comedian, I declined, citing that another performer has done the same thing a while ago. Consider that I have built a reputation as a performer based on the psychokinesis routine, and you would get an idea of how stringent I am when it comes to giving due respect to fellow magicians.

While some people may rightly point out that I have no legal leg to stand on, I was never a legalist when it comes to my love for magic. What I have always emphasized, though, was the need to be an ethical performer, such that we do not act in a way that degrades the art form of magic, nor act in a way oppressive to our other fellow magicians. It’s basic good manners and right conduct. You don’t have to be a magician or an ethicist to know that if someone gave you a good idea, you thank them for it, or better yet, ask their permission to use it, especially if you’re making money off of it. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Do you?

Look... if you didn’t pay to learn your magic, whether you learned it from YouTube or a friend taught it to you, learn to give the source credit. If you actually have a way to reach the actual source of the routine, you actually ought to ask their permission for it, because that’s their intellectual property. Even a simple translation of patter from English to Filipino already means that the new Filipino patter you’re using is already the Filipino speaker’s intellectual property. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s not yours and you didn’t pay for it, you ask permission and you give credit. This is their livelihood. If you want it to be your livelihood as well, you better learn to respect the intellectual property rights of your fellow professionals.

I’ve been beset with acts of sheer unprofessionalism in the past. Whether it’s an unprofessional client who strings you along until the last possible minute and then backs out on booking you, or an unprofessional colleague who actually grandstands and performs one of your routines despite the fact that you booked him not as a magician but as an aura reader, I’ve experienced these disappointing acts.

By no means did I tolerate them then. By no means will I tolerate them now. As a professional, I hold myself to a higher standard. I do not believe I should expect any less from a fellow "professional".

This particular performer has done this to another magician before, and I’m sure that I won’t be the last person he’d rip off from. He ripped off this other magician’s routine, then had the nerve to ask this other magician if he could get the music this other magician used when he performed the routine. This is outrageous! Why are we tolerating this kind of behaviour? The routining, the wording, everything about the magic act is somebody’s intellectual property. Ripping that off wholesale is just shameful and a slap in the face of all the magicians who work hard to improve their craft.

As a professional, I have always emphasized ethical behaviour, and key to that is respect for the art form and for the artists. Even though my stand on exposure has always been liberal, I have never used that as an excuse to disrespect other performers and thinkers. I invested time, money, and even my intellect into coming up with routines that fit my personality and fit my character onstage, using words that suit my character best. If I learned something by watching, say, a YouTube video, I make sure to credit, or if I can reach the performer, ask permission from the performer, to use a certain approach or nuance to a given effect.

Simply put, when in doubt, I research. That way, I can credit and ask permission. If I want to get anywhere in this industry, throwing away my professionalism is the worst thing I can do, because being unprofessional assures me that I will not only earn the ire of my contemporaries, but I will also alienate my clients who expect me to be on my best behaviour. When you’re being paid an average worker’s entire monthly salary for a mere half-hour of your time, there is no reason to take shortcuts and to shortchange the people who have it made it possible for you to have that kind of livelihood.

As a person who is only getting into standup comedy, I actually see that there is so much more leeway in magic when it comes to intellectual property. Since many magic routines incorporate the same principles, since so many performers technically sell not only the routine but their performance itself, we seem to think that we are entitled to rip off anything we see from other performers. Standup comedy, being the way it is, is downright strict: you don’t use another comedian’s jokes, period. Would I say that magicians have been spoiled and don’t understand what it means to respect another person’s body of work? I would say that some magicians are, but certainly not all.

Newsflash: we are not entitled to do whatever we want to do just because. When you’re being paid thousands of bucks to do what you do, is it so much to ask for a little credit from the people who gave you the idea to do what you do? Or is it already second nature for you to screw them over and not care about their livelihood, their efforts, and their intellectual property? If it is, really, you’re in the wrong line of work. If you can’t respect the art form and the artists, magic is not for you.

As a performer who has been nothing but respectful to everyone in the industry, as a performer who refuses to speak ill of contemporaries to laypeople, as a performer who has taken the pains to write his own material and line up his routines painstakingly to maximize his client’s entertainment, and ultimately, as a performer who takes pride in his body of work, I have done nothing but show my utmost love and respect for my art form.

With this kind of respect I have given to my art, am I supposed to take lightly any disrespect to me as an artist?

I don’t think so.

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