Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Plagiarizing the Plagiarist: On Quoting Bob Dylan in Legal Opinions

Robert Allen Zimmerman, the kid from Hibbing, Minnesota,  is without a doubt a giant among 20th century songwriters.  He is on one level a supreme genius and on the other hand one of the thieves of time or in other words: plagiarist.  With his emergence in 1961 Bob Dylan was aping Woody Guthrie and other leading folk singers and borrowing from Dylan Thomas or as he said, "This is the land of the free."  Legendary songwriter Joni Mitchell trashed Dylan as a plagiarist in this April, 2010 La Times interview reviving arguments about Dylan, plagiarism, and art.  I realize, of course, that a blogger talking about plagiarism is pretty ironic.  Hell, maybe that's what Dylan was all along, . . . a blogger before his time.

For a law blawger it's amusing to take note that a study by law professor Alex Long at the University of Texas that combed legal opinions quoting music lyrics.  The research confirms that Judges (and presumably clever law clerks) "in apparent efforts to add rhetorical flourish to their rulings, judges [quote Dylan's lyrics]" most frequently.  Or put another way, to be hip and cool.

Once again, hat tip to the ABAJournal website.


  1. Best take on this story thus far. Dylan's plagiarism has been litigated and there is a website with video of his agent or manager being crossexamined. Funny that judges think Dylan lyrics should be in their rulings

  2. But I would not feel so all alone!!!!

  3. good artists borrow, great artists steal. Malcolm Gladwell hit the nail on the head when he wrote

    "The final dishonesty of the plagiarism fundamentalists is to encourage us to pretend that these chains of influence and evolution do not exist, and that a writer's words have a virgin birth and an eternal life. "

    And there's probably much more to the story on Joni Mitchell's issues with the freewheeling Bob.

  4. "Every artist is a cannibal. Every poet is a thief." -U2