Magicians speak out on Mago Pop: “He is building his life on stolen material”

February 22, 2018

The past four years have seen a monumental rise in popularity for magician Antonio Diaz, including winning the Spanish National Magic Prize and the success of his own show, El Mago Pop (or, The Pop Illusionist), on Discovery Max in Spain. Since the launch of the show, his fan base has exploded, and he’s making about $1 million a month performing his Nothing is Impossible tour in Madrid. There’s just one problem: magicians say he’s stealing their tricks.

Over the past few weeks, GeniiOnline has spoken with several magicians, a few of whom have asked to remain anonymous, about their experiences having their performances allegedly lifted over the years. What they say paints a problematic picture, one that shows just how individuals can use loopholes in copyright law to build a career off the backs others’ hard work. (Diaz was contacted for comment for this piece but did not respond to our request by press time.)

Diaz is from Spain, and as such isn’t held to the same requirements regarding copyright law as performers in the United States. Although magic tricks are not expressly copyrightable, performances of those tricks can be. 

According to US law, the performance of a “dramatic work” is considered subject to copyright protections. The argument then lies in whether the performance of an original magic trick is considered a “dramatic work.” These specific copyright protections can be used to protect choreography, pantomime, and writings and recordings in an act. In a 2014 court case, Teller (of the famed Penn & Teller duo) took a Belgium magician named Gerard Dogge to court for allegedly copying his Shadows performance, a trick that Diaz has also been accused of copying. In that case, the court sided with Teller, specifically noting that although magic tricks themselves are not copyrightable, the pantomime of the performance was. The ruling was a victory for magicians looking to protect their tricks, but few are in a position to wage such a lengthy legal battle.

The most recent accusations regarding Diaz begin with two anonymous individuals who attended Diaz’s show in Madrid and were, as they told us via email, “dumbfounded” by what they saw. They claimed several of the tricks on display were lifted from David Copperfield’s show in Las Vegas. For example, they described that in one instance, Copperfield’s famous vanishing motorcycle trick was taken wholesale and “performed so poorly as to be laughable.” They also felt that the central narrative of his act was lifted from Copperfield’s show, which follows a young boy on a quest for redemption and uses magic to turn his dreams into reality.

In a recent interview with El Mundo, Diaz was asked about Copperfield being his role model. He replied, “Without a doubt. He is the most important illusionist of all time and we owe him a lot. He has made magic and has shown that he can sell as much as a great musical or a pop superstar.” It would appear, according to these anonymous sources, Diaz owes Copperfield quite a bit more than that.

It would be disgraceful for Diaz to perform these tricks even once, but he continuously shrugs off the disrespect he is showing his fellow magicians. Over the course of his career, multiple magicians have alleged that Diaz has used their tricks without permission. In one instance, two fellow Spanish illusionists took to Instagram to complain about trick theft:

One of the magicians, Joaquin Kotkin, claims that, although he has licensed his original tricks to other magicians, he has never given Diaz permission to use them. He licensed a trick featuring a live poisonous scorpion to David Copperfield, which means that only Copperfield and Kotkin are legally allowed to perform the trick—so imagine Kotkin’s surprise when he saw Diaz performing the trick without permission.

After the Instagram exchange, Diaz contacted Kotkin to apologize, acknowledging that the trick did in fact belong to Kotkin and was used without permission. Kotkin told us via email: “I sense [this is] his way to get away with this type of situation. Asking for forgiveness after being called out and justifying his actions by saying [he] was unaware about the rights of a particular trick, but I think this is his modus operandi.”

Kotkin was not the only Spanish magician to reply to the Instagram comment regarding Diaz. Aaron Crow went into detail via email about how he had heard of Diaz performing one of his tricks without permission and how he feels about the difference between imitation and homage:

I’ve been performing internationally since 2003, always working on creating one new act and on perfecting the ones I have thus far. After 14 years I have one full evening show as a showcase for that work. 

It is not the first time that my material has been stolen, copied or sold online…[but] none of these performers were high profile and this close to my backyard until now. So yes – I was really annoyed when colleagues sent me [the Instagram photo] of Mago Pop, this being exactly one week after seeing Joe Labero doing an act that is also, beyond any doubt inspired [by] my BowMan act. This from a guy pretending to live the millionaire lifestyle, driving another limo every week, but having to steal an act from a colleague?

The saying that copying is the highest form of flattery doesn’t really fly; for me it’s highly frustrating to see my signature acts and effects being exploited and tarnished by inferior quality knock off props, inferior methods and performance.

If big names like David Blaine and Criss Angel show me proper respect, reaching out and checking if they could do one of my effects or acts – and respected my wishes – why should it be any different for others? 

In addition to the aforementioned magicians, Diaz has also been noted as using tricks similar to Cyril Takayama’s Hamburger Grab (involving a trick that allows him to pull a real sandwich out of a video display) and SOMA’s Paper Shred, (a trick where he rips up a newspaper then magically puts it back together). SOMA is aware that Mago Pop is copying his newspaper trick. He told us via email that he has “messaged [Mago Pop] several times, [Mago Pop] replied nicely, and took off the videos from YouTube that included [SOMA’s] newspaper trick.”

Mago Pop also gave SOMA assurances that he would stop doing the trick, although he never did. SOMA is upset that Mago Pop is “copying several other famous magicians and there is almost nothing [magicians] can do about it. He is stealing intellectual property and building his life on stolen material.”

Legal protection for magic tricks is lacking, but copying another performer’s effect is against the mutually-agreed upon codes of ethics by many of the world’s magic organizations. Here’s what The International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians spell out in their code of ethical conduct:

  • Display ethical behavior in the presentation of magic to the public and in our conduct as magicians, including not interfering with or jeopardizing the performance of another magician, either through personal intervention or the unauthorized use of another’s creation.
  • Recognize and respect for rights of the creators, inventors, authors and owners of magic concepts, presentations, effect and literature, and their rights to have exclusive use of, or to grant permission for the use of by others of such creations.
  • Discourage advertisement in magical publication for any magical apparatus, effect, literature of other materials for which the advertiser does not have commercial rights.

Additionally, The Academy of Magical Arts clearly specifies that members are “to discourage manufacturers from producing unauthorized duplications of magical creations by others”, as well as “not to duplicate any effects identified with regular featured performers at the Academy nor use another magician’s original patter or routines”. AMA General Manager Joe Furlow added that members are to “recognize and respect the rights of authors and owners of magical concepts.”

Diaz is pretty clearly aware that he’s copying tricks from other performers, given that he’s apologized when he’s been confronted by the performers themselves. It seems highly unlikely that he’s blissfully ignorant of the impropriety of such imitation and must be as least somewhat cognizant that the magical community finds his behavior unethical. For whatever reason, he just doesn’t seem to care.

Magic can be both wonderful and entertaining, but also complicated and mired with licensing requirements and ethical boundaries. Claims in the allegations listed above about Antonio Diaz performing unlicensed magic tricks may not be violating copyright law, but are viewed as unethical in the world of magic. Magicians who have spoken about their original tricks being used without permission have expressed disappointment that a magician of Diaz’s stature would resort to using tricks without recognition of the creators. Sadly, there just isn’t much they can do as Diaz makes millions using the work of his peers.