Friday, May 11, 2007

The plot thickens...Geller & Co. still insist copyright infringement

The EFF's claims that only 3 seconds of the 14 minute video technically belong to Uri Geller and Explorologist Ltd are not going over well... in fact, in a press release from Explorologist's Lawyer, Richard Winelander, he says:

"The bottom line is Sapient did not ask for permission to use the copyrighted video--he does not own the portion of the video that deals with Dr. Hughes, it is important to note this was not the first YouTube complaint against Sapient."

It's also important to note, that this is not the first (and probably not the last) time Geller has tried to sue for damages based on dubious reasoning- Geller has sued for a number of things, not limited to suing Nintendo for creating a Pokemon with his name/symbols, and suing Ikea for a furniture line (with bent and twisted legs) called the "Uri Line" (both suits unsuccessful, by the way).

But the real kicker is, back in 1997-98, he complained to the Broadcasting Standards Commission in the UK that the episode of NOVA, "Secrets of the Psychics", treated him 'unfairly'. His claim was wholeheartedly rejected on the basis that they saw nothing wrong with Magicians duplicating his feats using plain, old fashioned trickery. In light of this fact, and the fact that Geller seems to enjoy making ridiculous legal claims, it's not hard to see why nobody is really taking his copyright claim seriously.

Meanwhile, I'm still wondering about whether NOVA originally had to get permission to use the clip, or if it fell comfortably within the boundaries of 'fair use'. If it's the former, then that is why Sapient has a problem. If it's the latter, then Geller has no right to complain. The easiest way would be to check the end credits of the episode itself, but alas, I have no copy. I'm also not an expert in copyright law.

Check out what James Randi has to say on the subject.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Uri Geller didn't see his lawsuit coming... EFF bites back about YouTube

Uri Geller, spoon-bending, sports-predicting, Pokemon-spiting psychic (or some people call him a magician) is now suffering a little bit of unpredicted karma. Having successfully had a video that (supposedly) explained his effects taken off of YouTube, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Federation) is now claiming that he had no case, and is suing him for misuse of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

Why? Well, apparently the clip in question, which was uploaded by the Rational Response Squad (a group of skeptics) is almost 14 minutes long, but only has 3 seconds of content that could be considered Uri Geller's. This could more than fall within the confines of fair use. Furthermore, the video clip features James Randi, author of "The Truth about Uri Geller", and long time skeptic of the paranormal, explaining how Geller does one of his tricks.

Geller signed his name 'under penalty of perjury' that he was 'the owner or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that allegedly infringed' when he filed his complaint. Since obviously he is not acting on behalf of his hardest critic, his claim is now being questioned and the EFF has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 'Brian Sapient', the YouTube user whose account was suspended for posting the video.

And thank you Cnet, for cluing me in to the actual video:

Incidentally, this is indeed a clip from Nova, and not only do I recognize James Randi, but I actually remember watching this episode multiple times on PBS when I was a kid.

The question in my mind, is, if this clip was on Nova first, then why didn't he sue THEM? Probably because, as a respected documentary television program, they had already considered the question of fair use.

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

He's going to hang around his favourite bar....on a rope 50ft in the air

(Via PR Web)

Magician/Ventriloquist Spencer Horsman will be stringing himself up 50 Feet in the air over Illusions Magic Bar & Lounge in South Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood. He'll be wrapped in not one, but TWO straitjackets, and attempt to free himself while hanging upside down.

The stunt will take place May 11th (one time only!) and presumably will be done without a net (the PR doesn't really mention one). Horsman will be fighting to beat the clock and free himself before he suffers from the amount of blood rushing to his head, which could cause lack of perception, or loss of consciousness.

Now, I'm going to do a little research on the subject of straitjackets here, as I'm fairly new to the subject, and so I can understand just how crazy this stunt is:

  • These sorts of escape stunts were popularized by Harry Houdini, who could dislocate both of his shoulders in order to escape from a straitjacket.
  • Possible Issues: in addition to blood running to one's head, wearing a straitjacket for long periods of time can cause blood to pool in the elbows or numbness in the hands. Muscles can become stiff and extremely painful.
  • Criss Angel did a similar stunt in 2003, suspended 100ft above the Miller Brewing Co. (but in only one straitjacket)
And of course, we might as well take a cue from the master:

The description to this video gives an interesting clue: " While requiring more strength to undo the buckles, this actually made it easier to get his arms over his head, the key to the escape." So what does this mean for a guy wearing TWO straitjackets? Would it work the same way?

By the same token (and with much less fanfare), Andrew Green, a performing arts student at Preston College in Lancashire, United Kingdom, will be trying to recreate Houdini's water torture chamber stunt to raise money for St. Catherine Hospice, a palliative care facility. The stunt involves being suspended upside down in a straitjacket inside a tank of water.

I'm sure, somewhere, Houdini is finding imitation to be the greatest form of flattery.

In this case though, I would say that suspending yourself 50ft in the air is not only amazing, it's a good way to promote your bar.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Close French election? No problem! Get a psychic!

(Via CNN/Reuters)

I wonder what Harry Houdini would say about this... (no doubt he'd be laughing)

Apparently the looming election in France is so close, that several psychics and fortune tellers are throwing in their own opinions about what the outcome will be. Since around 40% of the electorate is undecided, the polls are of no help, so why not?

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Some Magicians may have their Balloon Burst

(Via The TooWoomba Chronicle)

Here's a nasty thought- you build your livelihood on making kids happy with what you consider to be traditional, heart-warming child entertainment, and in the instant it takes for one toddler to bite a balloon animal and freak out from the loud noise, you suddenly have doubt cast on your artistry and possibly even inflated insurance rates.

Believe it or not, in the US there have been a series of successful lawsuits from parents against Balloon artists for "traumatizing" their children with the bang of a popping balloon.

One concerned Magician/Clown, Lynton Borland, has made a policy of not handing the balloon animals directly to the children.

It's a weird situation, but these days, those are the sorts of things that performers need to consider, especially when their audience is children.

What I'd like to know though, is how they successfully proved that a popping balloon could traumatize a child, long-term?

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Monday, April 16, 2007

A Magician Houdini would be very, very proud of

(Via The Spectrum)

A young magician from North Dakota is willing to give $100, 000 to any person at North Dakota State University who can prove they have psychic abilities. Dustin White, 18 years old, has been training as a magician, and wants to use his knowledge to prove that many psychics are merely frauds. He's including telepathy, telekenesis and talking to the dead; citing such suspicious television psychics as Sylvia Brown, or John Edward.

Now, some people might recall that Penn and Teller had a show called Bullshit- a program that put a skeptical spin on a number of topics, and one of the episodes they did tackled this issue. Of particular interest is the segment where they briefly mention how Crossing Over with John Edward works...and the legal ramifications involved in going into great detail about it, if you're lucky enough to have been at a taping.

In any case, this young magician is carrying on a tradition that does greater justice to Houdini's work, than digging up his body ever could.

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Superstition can be Contagious

(Via Reuters)

Cellphone subscribers in Pakistan are freaking out over a prank spam message telling them they could die from a virus transmitted via their cellphone. Warid Telecom has been jammed with calls from concerned subscribers- quite frankly they're stunned that people would even believe such a thing.

This somehow reminds me of Superman 3, where the villain was affecting the world's weather via satellites, which were being hacked by Richard Pryor. The bottom line here is that while an idea like that might seem silly to people who are familiar with a given technology, it might not seem so silly to those who have no idea.

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Yet another article about the Houdini Exhumation

(Via The Capital Times)

This time, the article is based on an interview with one of the authors of The Secret Life of Houdini, the book that started this whole thing, Larry Sloman. It gives a little bit of insight as to where he got his information- namely that the granddaughter of Mina 'Margery' Crandon supplied him with loads of correspondence between the Spiritualists and famed Magician Harry Houdini.

I do however think that it's a bit much for writer of this article to claim that Houdini's murder is a new idea. It's not. Houdini's conflict with the Spiritualists was widely known, and his death was peculiar enough to warrant suspicion. The idea he was poisoned, however, is indeed the product of the book.

I am now adding a Houdini label, since my number of posts on the subject is growing by the week.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A New Twist on the Houdini story

Two of the places that renowned magician Harry Houdini called home- New York and Appleton- have both just broken the story that relatives of Houdini's widow adamantly oppose the exhumation and are now taking steps against it.

Descendants of Bess Houdini, John and Jeffrey Wood, have openly stated that they believe the exhumation is unnecessary and merely an attempt to boost book sales on the part of the authors.

"The Secret Life of Houdini" poses that Houdini was murdered by a group of psychics, The Spiritualists, due to his continuous debunking of their practices. After reading the book, Houdini's Great Nephew George Hardeen decided that the exhumation would be a good idea.

The paperwork for the exhumation is set either to be filed next week (according to WLNS) or today (according to the Albuquerque Tribune). I'll post a more in depth analysis later.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

A little more perspective

Here's a much better article about the Houdini exhumation from the Washington Post, that I found via Magic Unlimited. Ironically, it ends on much the same note I did.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Russian Villagers paranoid over barcodes

(Via Reuters)

Some residents of the village Bogolyubovo, in Russia, have rejected new passports because they include a bar code. Why? Because the bar code on the passports included 'three sixes' (presumably three sets of six). Some of them also rejected newer pension stubs for the same reason.

Why all this worry? There was talk back in like 2000 that due to the prevalence of magnetic cards for just about everything (Debit, SIN, Health Card etc), that governments would combine them into a single number. This set a number of minds reeling, and many people speculated that it would come down to a single number tattooed on a person's body. Even wilder speculation predicted that the number would be three sets of six-digit numbers, and that it would have to be tattooed on either the wrist or the forehead.

All of this springs from the book of Revelation which says (13:16-18):
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

I wouldn't consider a passport to be a 'mark' necessarily, but it is such an important document, that one might need to carry it with them wherever they go.

Superstition can be a funny thing, especially in relation to technology, or other things we don't understand. I found a post on Chet's Magical Mysteries from last summer that tackled the issue of Hypnosis and Religion. He points out people are often hesitant to be hypnotized, because of the strange things they've heard about hypnotism.

Magicians, of course, have a responsibility to not abuse this lack of information, and to inform (as much as they can anyway) their participants in such a way as to make them feel comfortable.

This is a round-a-bout way of saying I think perhaps the villagers should have been brought up to date on how barcodes work, and what they've been used for so far in history.

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