Texas Congressman Pulls Rabbit out of a Hat: Introduces Legislation to Recognize Magic as a National Treasure

On March 14th, Texas congressman Rep. Pete Sessions introduced a House resolution that, if passed, would officially recognize magic as “a rare and valuable art form and national treasure.” The proposed bill cites the impact of magic on both technology and broader arts & culture, and references famous American magicians Harry Houdini and David Copperfield.

Sessions’ resolution carries more than symbolic implications. The Society of American Magicians (SAM) argues that official recognition will help magicians get grants for their work, often ineligible for funding that is earmarked for “bona fide art forms.” Such recognition might also support magicians in earning copyright protection for their illusions. Because illusions fall in the category of uncopyrightable ideas, systems, and methods, they are typically considered ineligible for copyright protection. Interestingly enough, Teller from the famous magic duo Penn and Teller won copyright protection of his “Shadows” trick, but only by defending “Shadows” as a dramatic pantomime rather than expressly as an illusion. SAM hopes that Sessions’ legislation, which defines magic as an innate art form, will help magicians to circumvent this limitation.

SAM has been pushing for congressional recognition of magic since the 1960s. Let’s see if this bill does the “trick.”

H.R. 642, 114th Cong. (as referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, March 14, 2016)

Dan Turkel, The unlikely story of a Texas mayor who got David Copperfield on board with a push to recognize magic as a ‘national treasure’, Business Insider (March 16, 2016), http://www.businessinsider.com/congress-magic-art-resolution-2016-3.

Sydney Beckman, A Rose by Any Other Name: How an Illusionist Used Copyright Law as a Patent, 14 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 357, 365 (2015).