Intellectual property (IP) law probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you think of Harry Houdini. One probably envisions dramatic performances involving straightjackets, water barrels, or sleight of hand illusions. However, Houdini’s greatest trick may have been leveraging IP to his personal advantage.
While many know of the magician for his impressive feats of escape, the Hungarian-born immigrant was also an avid inventor. Harry Houdini, born Erik Weitz, came of age during the Industrial Revolution. As a product of his time, Houdini had high esteem for feats of mechanical engineering. This, along with a few other incentives discussed later, led him to patent the machines he created for his magic performances.
He designed created new machines that would dazzle his audiences with exciting performances. Patenting his inventions served a few important functions for Houdini. But before describing those functions, let’s first explain how patents work and what they do.
In my last post I analyzed whether the design of a quilt top meets the statutory requirements for copyright protection and determined that it does. But there are still some unanswered questions. For example, if I wanted to create and sell a pattern with instructions on how to make my original quilt, would that also be protected under copyright law? And, if so, what might infringe?
On March 26, 2021, the Second Circuit ruled that a decades-old series of prints created by Andy Warhol depicting music legend Prince infringed the copyrighted photograph by Lynn Goldsmith on which the series was based. Warhol’s series of prints takes Goldsmith’s traditional, black and white portrait of the singer and superimposes it with his signature pop art stylization. Goldsmith did not find out that Warhol had used her image until Prince died in 2016. The court’s decision overturned a district court ruling which declared Warhol’s works legal under the fair use doctrine. But what exactly is the fair use doctrine, and why was it so important in this case? Let’s find out.