Singer Bob Dylan Accused of Plagiarizing Photographs

Singer Bob Dylan is being accused of plagiarism after several paintings in his recent art show were found to have “striking resemblances” to works by photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dmitri Kessel and Léon Busy. An example is Dylan’s painting titled Opium (above left), which appears to be directly copied from Busy’s Vietnam (above right). A Flickr user also found that Dylan had copied six photographs — one of which an artificial Photoshop edit — from his Flickr stream.

In response, the gallery hosting the show changed the exhibition’s description from a “visual diary” of Dylan’s travels to a “visual reflection”. A spokesperson tells The Guardian,

While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings are based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from … everyday scenes he observed during his travels.

Dylan could have avoided this mess by simply giving credit where credit was due asking permission.

Bob Dylan in plagiarism row over paintings [The Guardian]

Image credits: Opium painting by Bob Dylan and Vietnam photograph by Léon Busy

  • Anonymous

    Shoulda stuck to music.


    shame on Dylan.

  • Eric Allison

    A musician should ESPECIALLY respect other artists creativity and originality.

  • Cleverblue

    Hmm, I went to art school and we had an exercise similar to this. Get famous pieces of art and try and recreate them. You learn a lot from the process. Though my teacher also said, don’t post them anywhere public! :P

  • Robby Cornish

    Busted! He thought he could get away with it until Al Gore invented the internet.

  • Michael Courier

    Was talking to a friend about this and he made a good point: it’s unfortunate, but folk musicians have a history of borrowing from other people when it comes to creativity.

    Not saying what Dylan did was right (since some tend to be exact copies, not creative mixes), just a guess to his mindset.

  • Leslie Burns, Esq.

    “Dylan could have avoided this mess by simply giving credit where credit was due.”

    No, that wouldn’t have fixed the copyright infringement. 

  • Michael Zhang

    You’re right — I’ve updated the post

  • ptsuk

    Is this copyright infringement? This is a painting done by a person not a facsimile or a exact replica nor was he trying to pawn this off as the original(it’s a painting not a photograph) and I’m pretty sure anyone who was interested in the photo wouldn’t be fooled into thinking these painting were the original photographs.  

    How is this any different then say someone taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Cannon and then someone painting those monuments (even standing in the same space as the photographer), are those painters going to be accused of infringement too.

    The only think dylan is guilty of is inspiration from the photograph, the painting is his interpretation of his view of said photograph.  

    People need to just relax and love art for what it is and not for how much its worth or even its perceived value.  

    I’m sure this didn’t detract anyone who was only interested in the photograph from appreciating the photo or (if for sale) purchasing it, just as I’m sure the existence of the photo didn’t detract from anyone appreciating the painting or (if for sale) purchasing the painting.

  • Leslie Burns, Esq.

    Yes, it’s an infringement to make a derivative work without permission. You may not make a painting of a photograph (or a photo of a painting) without permission. Nor can you make a sculpture from a photo or a painting. If it’s too close (as some of Dylan’s work is here) it’s a derivative work and not permitted. 

    It’s all art for art’s sake until you become the artist getting ripped off. If someone copied one of Dylan’s songs, you bet he’d be pissed.

  • Ragler

    Came here to say what ptusk said.

    Am i infringing on Ansel Adams copyright if I take a black & white photo of Half Dome from the exact same spot as he did?

  • Ragler

    People copy other’s song all the time. 

    It’s called a Cover Version.

  • Libby

    Interesting that The Guardian in all their wisdom uses the term Plagiarism when that is usually a reference to ripping of literary works. Well I guess they didn’t know what else to call it. Nice to have experience reporters on the job.

  • ptsuk

    Where does fair use start/end then in your scenario?

  • Sergio Mendoza Hochmann

    Hi, Libby,

    Plagiarism actually is used for the stealing or (without permission) “borrowing” of any idea or work without giving credit and, sometimes, without asking for permission (depending on the work, age, amount to be used, etc.). It goes for literary, visual, audio, audiovisual and/or any variation or mix of these. I have no idea about the other works that Dylan supposedly copied from, but if the painting that I see in this article and the picture that is next to it truly belong to Dylan and Busy, then Mr. Dylan is a plagiarist, period. It’s too bad, because I consider him a great artist. Sadly, now people will start perusing his musical works for any indication of plagiarism there, too.

  • Sergio Mendoza Hochmann

    Hi, Ragler!

    Cover versions are done with the permission of the artist and/or publishing company. The writers and publishers of the original song get a percentage of the amount of money made in the selling of the cover version.

    If you are referring to a covers band, then no real problem if the establishment isn’t really big. It would be impossible to seek out all the cover bands and try to make them pay for usage of a song.

    If Dylan had made this painting and put it in the privacy of his home, then absolutely no problem. But as soon as he put it out there in a gallery, in an exhibit, then it becomes public knowledge and ends up directly or indirectly affecting the original artist, in this case, Busy.

  • Dave

    Hi Ragler,
    The answer to that is no, you are in a public space taking a photo. If you are inspired by his photo then go you. However if you reproduced his photo (without permission)  then you would be in breach of the copyright. The confusion here lies between trademark and copyright (have a look at the words; copyright referres to copying; trade mark referres to how someone does their trade) Dylan has “copied” the photo with a painting and without allegedly getting permission. Your reference to Ansel Adam’s photo would only apply if he’d trademarked the “trade” of taking a photo of half dome with the moon in the background.

    Leslie Burns has it bang on correct. There is no difference between taking a photo, photocopying, making a sculpture, painting a copy, or any other form of replication. It’s all protected by copyright, and you need permission first.

  • Jack Reno

    Actually, that’s not true. And if it was true Andy Warhol’s estate’s got some splaining to do.

  • Jack Reno

    Actually, for better or worse, there’s a long tradition of this sort of thing in the arts. It’s usually referred to in modern parlance as “Appropriationism.”


    “Transformative” is another concept that attache here.

  • ptsuk

    So dylan could take a pic of the pic and then make a painting of his pic and it would be ok? I’ve been reading about the whole warhol campbel soup thing and its seems his antics could be done today unless he took a pic of a soup can and then used that as reference in a painting of the photograph?  Copyright is just plain stupid and needs massive revision if this is how people have to do art now.

  • Dave

    Hi Ptsuk, you’ve got close to the issue, but still missed the point, you can’t take a pic of the pic (original) as you need to have permission to take this copy of the original picture. Copyright is not stupid. It’s there to protect the people who create.

    The moderate part of me says that so long as no one is hurt or makes/looses profit from breaching copyright then who cares, but if Dylan is going to make money from copying images then he needs to get permission.

  • Leslie Burns, Esq.

    No, he could not take a pic of the pic–that would be infringement right there.

  • Leslie Burns, Esq.

    Thank you, but I’m afraid you have misstated what trademark is. Let’s not go into it any more than to say that a trademark is a symbol or phrase that is identified with a specific business. Like the Coke bottle is trademarked, as is their logo. But the process of making Coke, the recipe, is protected as a Trade Secret.

    As for going and making essentially the same Ansel Adams image, it could be an issue except that I doubt you could copy his work closely enough for it to be a copy. I mean, you would make YOUR b/w interpretation of the scene and that wouldn’t match his in placement, lighting, exposure, plant life, etc. It might be something that the Adams rightsholders would go to court about, but it’s not a for-sure win.

  • ptsuk

    What if the pic was in a public space?  I think its absurd that the Eiffel tower has a copyright for nighttime shots but day shots are perfectly fine.  What about other things such as the Empire State Building? Or like I mentioned the Grand Canyon I’m sure there are many who have stood in the same spot and took similar photos at the same time of year over the years.  There is no way the 1st person who took the pic is the copyright owner of that vista!

    Do the designers of said building own the copyright on the buildings and photographers/painters are all infringers?  See what I’m getting at how copyright is just absurdity upon absurdity.

    Copyright doesn’t protect anyone it just makes lawyers rich and causes redtape in gov when the gov should be paying attention to more important issues.

  • Leslie Burns, Esq.

    You need to (re-)read what I wrote a few replies up. No, someone shooting in the same place would not be infringing unless s/he managed somehow to close to literally reproduce a pre-existing ©’ed work. And you can shoot a building, even though its plans are ©’ed by the architect, if you shoot from public space (see the Rock & Roll Museum case).

    You’re really going off on stuff that isn’t accurate. That’s not what © is, how the protection works, and what a copy may be. 

    Deep breaths, people.

  • Anonymous

    And global warming!

  • Richard Ford

    Man bear pig..

  • Martin Gerritsen

    I like to add a new dimension. In Europe we had a hot discussion on copyright of a building from the 1958 Worldexpo. Please look at the “Worldwide copyright claims” section in Only for strictly private use in low resoluton may you make photos of it! Creepy, isn’t it?

  • James Bloom

    “Immature artists immitate; mature artists steal.” ~T.S. Eliot

  • James Bloom

    “Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal” ~T.S. Eliot

  • Dude Skoodle

    The poetic river scene in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra was lifted word for word from another source. Much of Shakespeare’s work is blatantly derivative. The Sermon on the Mount has an Egyptian source. Joni Mitchell’s self portrait lifts the style very plagiaristically from Van Gogh’s earless self portrait.Photorealism (not what Dylan did) is a slide photo projected onto a canvas and basically coloured in. Nobody says that is plagiarism. Why? Because the artist took the slide photo him/herself and basically plagiarises reality cheatingly from a snapshot they themselves took. But isn’t that worse than what Dylan did in the Asia series? Dylan has actually hand painted a scene he saw in a photo. So what? Whats the difference between seeing a chair four feet away and painting it and seeing the chair in a photo and painting it? Bob doesn’t claim to be a great painter and he is right. He is not- its a hobby for him. But he is a great song writer. Basically his genre is the blues- which is an art form of appropriating and changing other blues songs. EVERY blues singer from Robert Johnson to Leadbelly to Mississippi John Hurt has done this. Whole generations of songwriters have totally ripped off Bob’s style and highly original phrasing- also his mystique and persona (surely a form of intellectual property).Dylan was highly influenced by other songs, but his very greatest and most iconic tracks are pretty much untraceable (eg Ballad of a Thin Man, Sad eyed Lady of the Lowlands and Like a Rolling Stone). To accuse the most ripped off songwriter in history of being a plagiarist is quite mean spirited, especially when he has been quite open about being “influenced” and derivative. See the sleeve notes of Freewheelin”.By the way the photographers whom Dylan used as very transparent inspiration for his hobby, will benefit greatly fame and recognition-wise from Dylan ‘s fame. The civil war poet Timrod was never heard of until Dylan used him in Modern Times. The author of the Japanese Yakuza book was grateful and thrilled that Bob Dylan had publicised his book.Lay off the old fellow. He is an old man who has given us so much- give him a break!

  • James Bloom

    Great points, Dude!  Additionally, T.S. Eliot himself re-steals the Antony and Cleopatra scene that you mention for the opening of part II of The Waste Land (A Game of Chess), arguably the most important poem of the 20th century.

  • van huysum

    If we a going after every artist who ever reinterpreted a photograph in a painting we are going to clog the courts to complete shut down. Copying others art has been done by artist for centuries. In fact the masters made their students copy other master works. It was called a school of painting for a reason. I actually like the Dylan painting better than the original.  Nice interpretation, I would think the Busy estate would be pleased, this will just draw more attention to his work. What if I see photograph of apples on a shelf. I like the arrangement and I paint it but I use oranges. I add a sheet over the shelf. A copy? How many things to I have to change before it is ok. A slippery slope.

  • van huysum

    Hmmm… you sound like a lawyer.