In 2014, an undercover investigator identified Las Vegas headlining magician Jan Rouven Fuechtener as a pedophile in possession of some 3,500 pornographic videos and images, some of which involved children young enough to attend kindergarten.
FBI Agents found more child pornography when they searched his Las Vegas home following his arrest in March, 2016. That isn’t even the most damning evidence against the German magician: He pleaded guilty to several federal charges of possessing and disseminating child pornography later that year.
Fuechtener has apparently changed his mind since then, but a federal judge recently rejected his bid to have that guilty plea withdrawn. He now faces anywhere from 24 years to the rest of his life in a federal prison, a lifetime on the sexual offenders registry, nigh-guaranteed deportation, and an order to pay out $5,000 to each child identified in the case. There are 85 of them.
Fuechtener made his guilty plea during an FBI agent’s testimony about images found in password-protected files on computers seized from his house. While we can’t speculate as to the motive for his guilty plea, we can take a fair guess at the reason for its retraction; in 2017, he accused his lawyers of misleading him about the consequences of the plea. He claims he was never told that extra time could be added to his sentence based on the number of images found in his possession, or his admission that he shared the pornography, and attempted to destroy evidence before his arrest.
Fuechtener’s husband Frank Dietmar Alfter was named in the case as an unindicted co-conspirator, and has since left the country.
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.
— 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.
Joe Modestou has spent the last two-and-a-half-years fighting an illegal gambling charge brought against him by Cyprian police. He was finally acquitted late last week, with the judge adding that the prosecution should have “done better research.”
Modestou, a corporate magician and former casino croupier, was the director and operator of Magicasino Cyprus, a company that staged “fun” gambling events, often for corporate clients.
Modestou insists that no actual gambling took place at the events – they were either for charity or stakes were provided as part of the event and could only be traded for prizes. He also notes that the only monetary compensation he received was his pre-arranged fee, and that none of his equipment was of a professional grade. That didn’t stop Cyprian police from confiscating his equipment and charging him with operating an illegal casino after somebody filed a complaint about an event he set up for British shopping outlet Debanhams back in 2015. At the event, people who visited his merchandise stand would receive five tokens. Anyone who managed to gamble their way to 150 tokens would receive a €5 voucher for use in that same shop.
Since the court case began, Modestou has had to travel across the country to appear in court nearly 15 times, with each hearing lasting less than an hour. Now he’s finally exonerated, Modestou is considering suing the government to recoup both his lost earnings and the damage down to his reputation. As he said on Facebook:
To add insult to injury, Modestou didn’t even get his equipment back. It was destroyed in a fire along with a room full of evidence back in February.
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.
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.
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.”