Bob Dylan has angrily responded to charges he plagiarized some of his lyrics, calling critics “wussies and pussies” and saying musical appropriation is “part of the folk tradition.”
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.”
Another key line: “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. … It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.” Our question: How does this make Jonah Lehrer feel?
With respect, that’s not a very good question. If you’re making things up (like Jonah Lehrer) and trying to pass them off as factually accurate, you’re violating all sorts of journalistic ethics. If, on the other hand, you’re concerned that Bob Dylan’s songs might not be very good journalism, you’re being silly.
Some professions have very stringent plagiarism standards. Academics, journalists, and students all have serious prohibitions on plagiarism for very good reason. The reasons simply don’t hold for artists. It’s worth asking whether Dylan violated copyright law—but plagiarism is simply the wrong lens.