Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Secrets Revealed

Watch the video at the top of this post carefully. Can you work how it’s done? I can’t, and apart from some not very helpful suggestions about very small people, I haven’t seen any credible explanations either. I’m happy about that. We all know the disappointment when a trick that captivated us is explained. It’s deflating and often rather embarrassing – how could we not have noticed the huge orange under that small bowl? We like to be fooled because it puts us in an intriguing space where we are entertained and puzzled at the same time.

Secrets Not Revealed: How Magicians Protect Intellectual Property Without Law is an academic paper from Yale Law School, and as I’ve always been a sucker for a good magic act (and even for the smarty pants undercutting of the profession by Penn and Teller) I couldn’t resist a quick scan. While the magic angle pulled me in, I kept on reading because of the connections between how magicians feel about their intellectual property, how they protect it, and Lovemarks.

Jacob Loshin starts with a good question. If magicians have few legal rights to their intellectual property (and they don’t), why does innovation in magic still thrive (and it does)? Theoretically this shouldn’t work at all. If you don’t have legal protection, you don’t have any incentive to come up with new stuff because everyone will simply rip you off. So why doesn’t this theory work in practice with magic? Loshin gives a few reasons but two excited me most.

  • First, magicians have created a very strong community with its own rules, protocols and punishments. They seem to have an unwritten agreement about which tricks can be shared and which should remain secret. They have a self-governing system in which they are all the boss.

  • Second, all great magicians know that how the trick technically works is only half the story. The other half is how the trick is presented. The first part can be pulled apart and analyzed; the second part cannot because it demands personality, artistry and inspiration.
From the very beginning I knew that Lovemarks should never be tied down by legalities or proprietorial regulation. Lovemarks have to have their own magic. My position was always that if we were convinced that people own their Lovemarks, that principle had to guide the evolution of the idea of Lovemark itself. Like the mysteries of magic, Lovemarks have to be self-governing or their communities and their irresistible qualities, like personality and inspiration, will die.