Neil Patrick Harris Chats With Legendary Magician David Copperfield
Officially, Homer Liwag is “an acclaimed visual designer, photographer, cinematographer, and artist. For two decades he has codirected David Copperfield’s live and television work, and collaborated as his Design Director.” Homer is also a magician and filmmaker, and he’s going to blow your mind.
The world’s greatest stage magician, David Copperfield, had a long run of 17 TV specials before settling down into his permanent residency at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he still performs 15 shows a week. On one of his long-ago TV specials, he debuted a trick that would become a classic in the world of magic, “The Linking Cards,” created by the cleverest guy in the world, Paul Harris. Enjoy this blast from the past.
David Copperfield has been found not liable for the injuries sustained by British tourist, Gavin Cox, during a performance in 2013. Cox was suing Copperfield, two of his companies, MGM Grand Hotel, and a construction firm for damages and after he was injured while taking part a performance. All parties, including Cox himself, were found negligent by the jury, but Cox was deemed 100% responsible for his injuries.
Jury verdict Gavin Cox 100 % liable in #CoxVsMGM before #JudgeMarkDenton#DavidCopperfield pic.twitter.com/Ff1Kmzmdvq
— M Price (@LasVegasCourts) May 30, 2018
Cox claimed he tripped and sustained life-changing injuries after he was, “hurried with no guidance or instruction through a dark area under construction with cement dust and debris,” while taking part in “Thirteen,” one of Copperfield’s illusions. He also claimed that the injuries cost him some $400,000 in medical costs and that he now has to use an “oxygen lung” while sleeping in case he suddenly stops breathing. What probably didn’t help his case is that while Cox appeared to require assistance walking in the courtroom, Copperfield’s attorneys presented footage taken over the past few years of him walking outside completely unassisted.
The jury took just two hours to deliver a verdict.
The case caught the eye of the media after it became apparent that Copperfield would have to reveal the methodology behind Thirteen during the court proceedings.
Even though Copperfield was found not liable, the time, effort, and money required to defend himself in court was substantial. Several magicians believe that the high profile case will have a chilling effect on audience participation in shows, while others have suggested it might serve as a useful reminder that magicians need to protect themselves legally (WAIVERS, PEOPLE) whenever they involve a member of the public in their acts.
Copperfield has not performed the illusion since the case began.
Nothing is less magical than health and safety laws, but they’ve been an overbearing presence in the magic industry for decades. Whenever you involve a member of the audience without having them sign a waiver, you’re opening yourself up to potential legal trouble.
Like the trouble currently facing David Copperfield. The endlessly popular illusionist is currently fighting a civil suit brought by one Gavin Cox, who claims he received life-altering injuries while taking part in a trick during a performance in Las Vegas.
Cox claims he was “hurried with no guidance or introduction through a dark area under construction with cement dust and debris, causing him to slip and fall.” Copperfield had to reveal the methodology behind the trick as part of the court proceedings.
Magician Murray Sawchuck believes that saying Cox was injured “during” one of Copperfield’s tricks is a bit of a stretch, and that revealing the secret behind the trick was a waste of time because Cox’s injury “could have happened anywhere.”
What do you think? Should Copperfield be held liable for Mr. Cox’s injuries? And if he is, do you think this will have a chilling effect on audience participation? Sound off in the comments section.
If our complete run-down of everything that happened at The Academy of Magical Arts’ 50th Anniversary Awards Show is a bit too long for you and you just want to know won the shiny things, this is the article for you.
The big winner of the night was magic icon and television mainstay David Copperfield, who walked away with not only the grandest fellowship award the AMA has to offer, the Masters Fellowship, but also the first ever Magician of the Decade award.
Gifted comedian and sleight-of-hand magician David Williamson was crowned Magician of the Year. Williamson’s career spans dozens of TV shows, numerous stage shows, and years of touring. He’s got more awards than I can fit in this summary. Now he’s got one more.
Haruo Shimada was one of two magicians from Tokyo to win an award on Sunday. Shimada began performing in the late 50’s at just 18-years-old and has apparently never spoken during a performance. Half a century in the arts has earned him a Lifetime Achievement award.
Born in Tokyo some 35 years after Shimada, Shoot Ogawa discovered his love for magic at the age of ten and by 17 he was already winning magic awards in the US. He has toured the world, performed on all seven Japanese television channels and is a regular performer at The Magic Castle. In 2003 he became the youngest magician to win an AMA Close-up Magician of the Year award at just 27-years-old. On Sunday, he added the Stage Magician of the Year award to his trophy case.
This is Richard Turner’s second Close-Up Magician of the Year award. He won his first in 2015. He is also blind, and was recently the subject of critically acclaimed documentary, Dealt. Despite losing most of his vision during his childhood, Turner has went on to become an expert card manipulator and performer. He’s currently retired, but still performs semi-regularly at the Magic Castle.
Johnny “Ace Palmer” has won both The AMA Close-up Magician of the Year award and Lecturer of the Year award twice. He has performed on dozens of TV shows and in venues around the world. He is also the 2018 AMA Parlour Magician of the Year.
Sleight-of-hand magician, artist, actor and teacher, John Carney, has been Magician of the Year seven times during his storied career. This time he’s being honored for his skills as a lecturer. He regularly tours the world conducting seminars and giving lectures. He has written five books on performance magic.
Ray Anderson has entertained Austin, Texas for more than thirty years as the creative force Esther’s Follies. Eric Mead is a magical jack-of-all-trades who has created two TV shows of his own and appeared in dozens more. Both gentlemen came away with Performing Fellowships.
Both men were honored for their dedication to the preservation of magic artifacts and literature; Klosterman in his role as a private collector and merchant, and Lane in his capacity as Executive Librarian of the Magic Circle in London.
Kenner’s role as executive producer of David Copperfield’s shows for more than twenty years helped earned him his Creative Fellowship award.
David Ginn not only performs upwards of 300 shows a year, he’s a prolific author with over 80 books, audio recordings, and DVDs to his name. He’s also responsible for some 250 columns in magic and clowning trade publications. 40 years behind the keyboard have earned Ginn a Media Fellowship.
Magician and cardist Denis Behr, former AMA president Randy Sinnott, and British magician Wayne Dobson, all came away with awards of merit for their contributions to the art.
Kevin Li and Griffin Barry were honored for their excellence in the field of close-up magic.
Everyone here at GeniiOnline would like to extend our congratulations to everyone who won, or was nominated for, an award.
In almost every aspect of the entertainment industry, there are clearly-defined laws in place to protect intellectual property. You won’t see an up-and-coming musician with a library of YouTube videos performing a previously-recorded song and passing it off as their own on a talk show; it just doesn’t happen. And yet, in the realm of magic, these occurrences are not only embedded into the medium’s history; it’s something big-name, high-profile acts deal with regularly to this day.
In the eyes of the law, it doesn’t matter that successful illusions can take years to create, cost as much as a high-end car, and take a team of engineers to execute, because magic isn’t art, legally speaking. Many magicians don’t create their own illusions, instead purchasing them, often with exclusivity deals attached. Despite the clear monetary value, United States copyright laws state that you can’t copyright an idea, just the specific performance of that idea. Where does the idea end and performance begin? That’s where things get muddy.
Even David Copperfield, perhaps the most successful illusionist of all time, can’t stop amateur magicians from copying his tricks. Speaking with GeniiOnline about his own fight to protect his magic, he said, “I used to fly in my show and there was a guy in France who copied it. The background, the costume, the music, everything.” Other times, he’s seen people performing tricks he engineered on TV, only to be told by network execs that “everybody does that stuff.”
Though modern technology makes it easy to upload and share tricks with the world, this certainly isn’t a new problem; magicians have been stealing each other’s tricks for centuries. Copperfield, who owns a Vegas museum that houses the world’s largest collection of magic memorabilia, is well-versed in its history, and cited several examples of old-school thievery. Early 20th-century magician Horace Goldin spent years protecting the concept for which he was most famous—sawing a woman in half—but even the origins of that illusion have been questioned. Going back to the 1800s, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin saw many of his creations, including ethereal levitation, stolen and sold off to competitors.
“At the time in Europe, you had to travel to the city” to see a magic act, Copperfield pointed out. In the days before Wi-Fi, high-def smartphone cameras, and YouTube, it took a significant amount of effort just to see another performer’s show, let alone reverse engineer it. It still happened, as history can attest, but it wasn’t as simple as rewatching a clip over and over while Googling tutorials. “Here with the internet, it’s instant. You can screengrab videos you see on TV and measure the prop and rebuild it and watch the performance and see what the music is and literally copy and lift it.”
Part of the problem with trying to protect tricks, he says, is deciding whether or not it’s worth the effort to even fight. Copperfield isn’t one to let others steal his hard work, but it’s not a straightforward battle. “I sued him in France and won, and he had to pay me every single time he did it,” he said of the knockoff flyer. In America, that’s still an option, but fighting takes a significant investment of time and money—time and money that should be spent coming up with new illusions, not protecting old ones. If magic were legally declared an art form, protecting one’s illusions would be less of a headache.
It’s not just about calling something “art” for the sake of it; it’s what that status represents. Legally, it would come with the kind of protections granted to most other forms of entertainment, which gives artists a clear path forward in cases of theft and more easily penalizes perpetrators. And there’s no doubt that Copperfield is an entertainer; he’s got dozens of Emmy nominations, 11 Guinness World Records, and even a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He’s also by far the highest-earning magician in the world, having made over $61 million in 2017 alone (double what second-place act Penn & Teller netted). If it’s a struggle for someone of his fame and resources to protect his act, what hope does an up-and-coming illusionist have?
As if the awards and titles aren’t enough, Copperfield’s name is now attached to a different kind of title: Resolution 642, which aims to “recognize magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure.” Introduced in 2016 and sponsored by Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, Resolution 642 cites Copperfield alongside Harry Houdini as one of the most successful magicians of the last 200 years, and states that he “has impacted every aspect of the global entertainment industry” and “through his magic, inspires great positive change in the lives of Americans.” On top of legally declaring magic an art form, H.Res 642 “supports efforts to make certain that magic is preserved, understood, and promulgated”—in other words, protected from would-be illusionists looking to cash in on someone else’s efforts.
“Eventually we’ll get this bill passed in Congress… the congressmen and congresswomen are working with me on this, to help legitimize and protect [magic] from a legal standpoint so that we’ll have the designation of a true art form, like jazz and music, which have more clear protections,” Copperfield said. At the moment, the resolution appears to be on hold, awaiting a less tumultuous political climate; as he puts it, “I think it’s best to wait till the time is right and then go in there when people are more relaxed and less stressed.”
He knows that H.Res 642 won’t be an instant solution, but he thinks it will go a long way towards protecting himself and other magicians. “It’s not just about the money, it’s about time and work… [the audience] doesn’t know the amount of trial and error it takes.”
In the meantime, Copperfield is always working on new material, trying to look forward rather than back. “Years ago it bothered me a lot more… I spent seven years working on one illusion and people are copying it. So I focused on this resort I have in the Bahamas, I focused my energy on that, rather than creating new magic… for a while it really changed my path.” In moving forward, Copperfield has focused on illusions with “a complexity that’s hard to duplicate,” using ideas like aliens, dinosaurs, and time travel, things that you won’t find in any classic magic book. “For me, the only solution I have is to kind of outrun myself and try to get over the frustration, to keep moving forward and going to new areas.” Currently, that means performing several nights a week in Las Vegas to rave reviews, showing the world that, law or no law, magic thieves can’t keep him down.
A lawsuit against David Copperfield has forced the revelation of specific details behind one of his illusions to the public, according to a story by Associated Press via The Hollywood Reporter.
The suit is a result of an accident which allegedly occurred back during a Copperfield performance in 2013. Gavin Cox was chosen at random to participate in the closing illusion of the night, where Copperfield causes a group of audience members disappear from the stage. According to Cox, he was injured when he was “was hurried with no guidance or instruction through a dark area under construction with cement dust and debris, causing him to slip and fall.” He is currently seeking unspecified damages as a result.
We’d previously reported that Cox’s trial against Copperfield was finally headed to court after several years of delays, and that the illusionist might be required to reveal the secret behind this trick to the public. Efforts by Copperfield’s lawyers to close proceedings to the public in order to “protect performance secrets” have unfortunately failed, according to the report, and that “[m]agicians, media members and lawyers were disqualified to protect the secrecy of the trick that [friend and producer Chris] Kenner estimated Copperfield performed tens of thousands of times over 20 years.”
The AP report shared some specifics on how the illusion was performed, as revealed during public testimony:
Practiced stagehands with flashlights hurried randomly chosen participants through dark curtains, down unfamiliar passageways, around corners, outdoors, indoors and through an MGM Grand resort kitchen in time to re-enter the back of the theater for their “reappearance” during the show finale, Kenner testified.
Kenner also confirmed to Cox’s attorney Benedict Morelli that participants weren’t told what to expect before they began running their route.
MGM Grand Hotel attorney Jerry Popovich told jurors that Copperfield had walked through the area minutes before, and would have reported to stagehands if there were any other obstacles or expected dangers on the route. Popovich also stated that Copperfield no longer uses this illusion to close the show.
The trial is still underway, with Copperfield likely to take the stand as early as this afternoon. We will continue to update this story as new details emerge.
The Academy of Magical Arts is hosting its yearly bash to honor the best of the business in the magic world this weekend. The 50th annual AMA Awards Show is happening on Sunday, April 22 at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. There will be an after-party at, where else, the Magic Castle following the ceremony. Although the event is open to the public, those tickets have already disappeared like a palmed coin. AMA members can still contact the Magic Castle for their tickets.
Larry Wilmore, who is a magician in addition to an actor, comedian, writer, and producer, will host the ceremony at the Orpheum. David Copperfield will be honored as Magician of the Decade in addition to receiving the AMA Masters Fellowship. David Williamson has been selected as Magician of the Year. Other awards for the best close-up magician, parlour magician, stage magician, and lecturer of the year will be announced at the event, and the nominees are quite the who’s who of contemporary performers:
Close-Up Magician of the Year Nominees:
Parlour Magician of the Year Nominees:
Johnny Ace Palmer
Stage Magician of the Year Nominees:
Lecturer of the Year Nominees:
Back in 2013, Gavin Cox and his wife went to see David Copperfield perform at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Mr. Cox was one of thirteen audience members selected to disappear during the magician’s final trick of the night, Lucky 13. Unfortunately, Cox was injured during the performance, and according to Law & Crime, Copperfield may be required to reveal the secret behind the trick in an upcoming court case.
Cox claims to have been injured during the trick when he “was hurried with no guidance or instruction through a dark area under construction with cement dust and debris, causing him to slip and fall.”
The accident was apparently bad enough that Cox required on-site medical attention and, according to an interview with the Daily Mail in 2016, now has to wear an “oxygen lung” while sleeping in case he suddenly stops breathing.
Cox is seeking damages from Copperfield, the hotel, and the construction company working on the venue at the time. He claims the defendants failed to keep the area he was ushered through well-lit and free of obstructions, and that they should have warned the audience about any potential danger the trick posed.
The case has made it to court and jury selection is set to begin later today. It’s expected that Copperfield will have to reveal the mechanics of the trick as part of the proceedings.
“I’m going to have a good time questioning Mr. Copperfield, because he may try, but I’m not going into any box,” Cox’s attorney, Benedict Morelli, told The New York Post in 2017. “I do believe that certain secrets are going to come out.”