Raymond Teller -Magic TrickA Dutch magician couldn’t play Houdini to get himself out of a complaint filed in Las Vegas, claiming copyright infringement.  The U.S. District Court in Sin City said the magician, though he evaded service, acknowledged the American legal action against him in his own counter-action in Europe, filed reply motions in the U.S., and received due notice of the complaint via email. This gives the U.S. federal court jurisdiction over Gerard Bakardy, aka Dogge, the defendant in a lawsuit filed by Raymond Teller, best-known as half of the magical Penn & Teller act, over a copyright-protected illusion called “Shadows.”

Teller registered his illusion with the copyright office in 1993. For it to be copyrighted, it had to be an original work, fixed in a tangible medium of expression, which would be a pantomime under copyright law. Teller claims to have created it as a teenager in his bedroom and since has performed it thousands of times for Vegas audiences. In the trick, the magician appears to cut the leaves from a projected shadow of a vase of flowers; those leaves simultaneously are seen falling from the actual flower standing before the projector screen. A European magician who calls himself Dogge and whose real name is Gerard Bakardy created a video of himself performing an illusion titled, ‘The Rose & Her Shadow.’ It is similar to ‘Shadows’ and offers $3,050 to expose the method behind ‘Shadows’ for to viewers.

Teller successfully got YouTube to take down the video, then contacted Dogge to inform him about potential copyright infringement. After they could not negotiate a settlement, Teller filed a lawsuit, claiming copyright and unfair competition under the Lanham Act in the federal district court in Las Vegas.  Teller hired a private investigator to find Dogge in Belgium, as well as retaining a Belgian law firm to serve him; neither was successful in locating him in Europe.

While evading personal service, Dogge learned of the suit and filed his own against Teller in Belgium, claiming defamation.  Teller filed an emergency motion for service by publication.  The court granted it, using Dogge’s email address associated with the YouTube video.  Because Dogge filed an answer to the complaint, he, effectively, waived the defenses of personal jurisdiction and service; the court found the three-prong test for personal jurisdiction was met and its exercise was reasonable.

Teller isn’t the only magician who has sued to keep secrets of his magic under wraps.  In 1994, David Copperfield sued Herbert Becker to prevent the publication of a book revealing the secrets behind the illusions magicians.  Becker won; Copperfield settled out of court. The publisher decided to release the book without revealing any of Copperfield’s secrets.