Monday, July 14, 2003

So, it's been "discovered" for the umpteenth time that Bob Dylan pinches elements of his songs from other sources -- sometimes with a nod and a wink to the originals, sometimes not. This was briefly a serious controversy in the 1960s. Now it's well known enough to anyone who could conceivably care that it's no big deal; after all, the folk music tradition that Dylan works in has worked like this, with elements of old songs being adapated and rearranged for new ones, for centuries. Or so I would have thought -- but there it is again in the New York Times.

So what makes this worthy of comment? When the "copyright industries" (publishing and recording) are lobbying Congress for yet another extension of copyright, they are in the habit of trotting out famous and well regarded artists to make their pitch, including Bob Dylan. And among the chief beneficiaries of these extensions is Disney -- which jealously guards its properties, including not just whole works, but elements like characters and tunes -- from exactly this sort of folk-art repurposing.

Dylan's a great artist, but I'm not sure anyone claims he's much of a lawyer. Perhaps he hasn't thought this entirely through...


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