Bob Dylan Accused of Plagiarism

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 10, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Is it the free stealing Bob Dylan? Some lyrics from Dylan's 2001 Grammy-winning album Love and Theft may have been taken from a book by an obscure Japanese author.

For instance, in the song Floater, Dylan writes, "My old man, he's like some feudal lord." Can't you just hear him saying that? The book, Confessions of a Yakuza (search) has a passage that says, "My old man would sit there like a feudal lord." That's just one of at least a dozen similarities.

Jonathan Eig, The Wall Street Journal reporter who helped break the story is with us. And that is today's big question — Did Bob Dylan plagiarize a Japanese author?

JONATHAN EIG, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, if you define plagiarism as using the work of someone else and taking credit for it, then you might make the case that Dylan did plagiarize. He certainly didn't give any credit to Junichi Saga (search) for these lines and he lifted them pretty directly from the book.

GIBSON: I don't want anybody to think that this whole claim is based on one instance. Let me show you some more. "What good are you," Dylan says, "if you can't stand up to some old businessman?" And in Junichi Saga's book, Confessions of a Yakuza, he says, "Do you think I could call myself a yakuza if I couldn't stand up to some businessman?" Now, is there any evidence, Jonathan, that Bob Dylan was in Japan and might have picked up a copy of this book and might have read it? Might have just decided, “I have a few chord changes here, I'll just take some lyrics?”

EIG: There's no way to know, really. Dylan has played in Japan many times, of course. And he's famous for sort of sponging lyrics from other people. But usually he does it much more selectively and more scattered. He'll take a phrase here and there. He'll take phrases from lots of different books and magazines and just sprinkle them into songs. It is very unusual for him to take so many lines from one book and put them in one album. You have to believe he saw this book.

GIBSON: Okay. Because I'm going to get all this e-mail from these Dylan, people…

EIG: I'm getting them, too.

GIBSON: All right. "I am not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound," Bob Dylan sings in Floater. And Saga writes in Confessions of a Yakuza, "I'm not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded." It seems to me if me and you were in court before a judge, this would be an open-and-shut case.

EIG: It seems pretty clear that he read the book. It's pretty hard to believe that he could have come up with this many lines from one book on his own.

GIBSON: What does that mean? I know there's been litigation of George Harrison lifting some James Taylor lines and, eventually, after a long lawsuit, he was ordered to pay some royalties. It really was a James Taylor song. This has happened before. What is more important here? The fact that Dylan might have to pay this guy some money or that Dylan fans are suddenly waking up to see their hero is lifting lines out of a John Grisham book or whatever?

EIG: I think the legal issues at the moment, anyway, are moot because Saga says that he's not interested in pursuing any kind of litigation. He's thrilled, actually, that Bob Dylan cared enough about his book to steal the lines. This book was really completely obscure and sold no more than 25,000 copies in English is now shooting up the sales charts. So that point is moot. The question of what Dylan fans will think about him in the long run is a more interesting one to me. It certainly says something about the way he created this album, which has been hailed as one of his best.

GIBSON: Jonathan, thank you very much. Dylan hasn't said a word, has he?

EIG: No comment.

GIBSON: No comment. Figures. I wonder what that sounds like to a few chords. No comment. Jonathan, thank you very much.

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