Francis Cugat’s original 1925 cover of “The Great Gatsby,” now in the public domain
Before coming to law school, I only had a vague understanding of what the public domain was. Mostly, it seemed like a phrase people would throw around when describing music that was insanely old. However, a few of my friends make music in their spare time and seeing how they used music they found within the public domain” helped me understand its importance and how it functions.
Using the internet, my friend would find songs that were in the public domain. He would slice and dice particular sections from them. He would then add the sounds into his own sound mix, often changing the pitch and adding effects as he went along. The final product would sound unrecognizable, and usually really cool. (If you want an example of how musicians do this, this link offers some excellent examples of how to use public domain music. It also has a sound example that shows the unique sound a sample creates).
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.