Bob Dylan: People Claiming I Plagiarized Them Are Pussies

from the meow dept

I know two things about Bob Dylan. First, my father loves him and thinks he's the kind of lyrical mastermind that makes puppies weep or something. Second, man does that guy like to contradict himself. Mike recently wrote up a more general piece about how copyright law goes against how we as a people create and mentioned in passing how Bob Dylan is often cited as a gift bestowed upon the masses by copyright, despite his appropriation of others' work in his lyrics. Well guess what, Mike? Bob Dylan thinks you're a pussy!

Yes, reader redrum writes in about a wonderful story in which Bob Dylan flatly states that those who have accused him of plagiarism are “wussies and pussies.”

20120418IMG_1457-Microphone placement shoot
“Meow I would not feeeeel, so all alooooone!”
Image source: CC BY 2.0
No, not like that. He meant it in the demeaning ignorant way, proving his power over prose with such eloquence I haven't seen since college, when a stoned fraternity brother explained to me how awesome hazing is. In any case, the interview apparently went much deeper than simple misogyny.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine for its Friday edition, the influential singer-songwriter made his first public comments on the accusations, saying that in folk and jazz music “quotation is a rich and enriching tradition.”

“Everyone else can do it but not me,” he complained. “There are different rules for me.”

It's a fair point by Dylan, I think. I mean, so what if he appropriated lyrics like “I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound” almost verbatim from the biography of a Japanese mobster? That seriously isn't a big deal. And, yes, perhaps it seemed kind of strange when Dylan offered the world a painting exhibit he said was from scenes of his travels, when they were actually scenes from other people's photographs. But big deal. That's often how culture works. No harm, no foul.

The problem, of course, is that there are some people who think this kind of appropriation isn't okay. That it takes away from culture, rather than adding to it. That words have the right to be owned and art should be protected. One such person, who would disagree with Bob Dylan in this case, is Bob Dylan. As we've previously discussed:

He didn't just filch songs from other people's repertoires; he stole their arrangements. (As late as 1992, he lifted Nic Jones's arrangement of Canadee-I-O, wholesale and without acknowledgment.) He did this on both sides of the Atlantic. The great Martin Carthy, who has also just turned 70, taught him Scarborough Fair, which Dylan then recycled as Girl from the North Country. 

But he treated his own songs as private property: what's yours is mine and what's mine is my own. The assertion of his individualism involved in “going electric” was in part a way of defining Dylan entirely as an individual artist and therefore as the sole owner of his own songs. 

And that's the Bob Dylan we disagree with. Of course appropriating words, or photographs, or whatever as pieces to a larger cultural output is the way folk music works. And art. And writing. And film. We all stand on the shoulders, to some degree, of those that came before us. It's a good thing. As much as Dylan is contradicting himself, he's correct to push back on those accusing him of plagiarism. But he might also have to revisit his own views on the way people use his work as well.

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Comments on “Bob Dylan: People Claiming I Plagiarized Them Are Pussies”

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Average Bob Dylan says:

Just Like a Pirate

Hey Masnick, he’s my friend
Yes I believe I’ll go troll him again
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that he knew me when
I was hungry
And it was his blog

You make love just like a pirate
And you take just like a pirate
You ache just like a pirate
But you break just like someone who’s using the Internet as designed, to exchange data packets wholesale with other consenting adults

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Dylan as a puss

Of course, it probably had something to do with the fact that Jimi often transformed someone else’s songs from “meh” to “Holy Christ How Cool Was That”…

The way culture really should be. Once we put the two-year-olds (“I want my toy and nobody else can have it,”) back into pre-school and limit the derivative works clause of copyright law to works which are not transformative, we will get back to being adults and growing from each other’s use of the limited culture we all share. There is no reason fan-fiction should be illegal, and no reason that copying and building on simple ideas should be outlawed.

This is the very concept of education and of knowledge, we build on everything that came before…nobody, and I mean nobody, came out of the womb knowing everything they now know, and everyone copied from others to get the knowledge they know now. This, fundamentally, is why those here who preach “go come up with something completely new” are idiots. They haven’t come up with something completely new themselves, it is impossible, and I am sure deep down they know it, but they don’t care. They got theirs, and that is all they care about.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Dylan as a puss

Without derivative works we wouldn’t have calculus. Thankfully no one tied up algebra with IP laws.

Lucky for us, Copyright in its modern form didn’t exist during the time Algebra or Calculus was formulated/discovered. At the very best, “Copyright” was a curse that an author would place in their book to prevent folks from copying it at the time.

I loved Carl Sagan’s story about the Library of Alexandria, in COSMOS. Had the Egyptian Government *not* practiced infringement (though copyright didn’t exist at the time,) by copying anything and everything they could, the pool of knowledge at the time would have not expanded and all of our collective knowledge of the times would have disappeared into obscurity. It is because of the Library of Alexandria and the willful, mass copying of works that we have stories from Homer or scientific discoveries like Ptolomy that we base our modern science and culture on. It is sad that the Library of Alexandria burned down and many of the works were lost…how much more could we know now if that material had survived. Sure, many of the works were of their time, but I know of a few folks who would love to know how Archimedes destroyed the fleets at the Siege of Syracuse or more of the history and science stories of Babylon.

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