Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dylan/Nobel: "borrowings" as "daring and original signatures" ?

Of relevance to intellectual property are some comments made in Dylan/Nobel episode.

From the Weekly Standard:

Andrews also quotes a University of Minnesota music professor, who told the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "His [Nobel] lecture is wild and strange. It's meant to be a post-modern work of art. Any kind of a collage technique is fair game."

It's an argument as old as Dylan's plagiarism: the song-writer is a magpie, gathering influences and material from sources far and wide and making them his own through the magic of his genius. There's merit to the argument, if it's taken as a commonplace: All creative activity owes something to the creative activity of others. No less a personage than the former president of the Poetry Foundation once told Warmuth that Dylan's "borrowings" are "among the most daring and original signatures of his art." But you got to hit a limit somewhere. And I think you hit it when the act of claiming someone else's work as your own is called "original."

The classic formulation of the pro-Dylan argument was produced more than 15 years ago, during another Dylan plagiarism scandal, by a music critic for the New York Times: "The hoopla over [Dylan's plagiarism] is a symptom of a growing misunderstanding about culture's ownership and evolution, a misunderstanding that has accelerated as humanity's oral tradition migrates to the Internet. Ideas aren't meant to be carved in stone and left inviolate; they're meant to stimulate the next idea and the next."

Though wrong about everything else, this Times writer was right on the money when he mentioned the subject of "ownership." It is the nub of the matter. When Dylan takes other people's stuff for his own work, he doesn't just pass it along so that others in the "folk tradition" can then take it and claim it for their own, as part of the long glorious evolution of culture. No, he copyrights it. He makes people who want to use it pay for it. And he's got a nice big house in Malibu to prove it.



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