Bob Dylan's No Fake, Joni

Every artist steals, remakes others' work: Sean Willentz
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2010 8:01 AM CDT
Bob Dylan's No Fake, Joni
FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2006 file photo, Bob Dylan performs at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I. Dylan is a recipient of a 2009 National Medal of Arts.   (AP Photo/Stew Milne, File)

Sorry, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan's no more a phony than any other artist, historian Sean Wilentz writes for the Daily Beast. "The idea that Dylan is a faker, unless everything he wrote came out of his own imagination—word for word, note for note—is absurd," Wilentz writes. "By those standards, Franz Kafka is an unscrupulous plagiarist as is Aaron Copland and every jazz great."

Copyright law says that altering the meaning of a copyrighted work can constitute fair use, so Dylan's habit of pulling and reworking melodies and lyrics from the likes of Bing Crosby, William Shakespeare, and Ovid isn't plagiarism, Wilentz notes. But "this isn’t a just matter of law or ethics. It’s a matter of the illusions we make in order to live, which is one definition of art. Dylan, an artist, steals what he loves and then loves what he steals by making it new." (Read more Bob Dylan stories.)

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