Is Bob Dylan–that champion of the poor, the tired, the oppressed–a brazen rip-off artist and infringer of photographers’ copyrights? And if so, who’s going to stop him?

©Rob McKeever/Gagosian Gallery--Bob Dylan's facsimile of the 1948 Cartier-Bresson photo shown below.

©Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos--a 1948 photograph of a eunuch who once served in China's Imperial Court.

Reports (here and here) about the exhibit of Dylan’s new paintings called “The Asia Series” at the Gagosian Gallery in New York certainly suggest a theft problem here. Several of the paintings appear to be unattributed facsimiles of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Gilden, Dmitri Kessel, Leon Busy, and others.

The Gagosian Gallery originally described the show as a a “visual journal” of Dylan’s travels in Asia. But after visitors began to recognize Dylan’s paintings for what they are, Gagosian took to calling “The Asia Series” a “visual reflection” of the legendary songwriter’s travels in Asia.

The Huffington Post quips, “No less than ten [of the paintings] may in fact be a visual reflections of Dylan’s travels through online photo archives rather than of any personal journey.”

Gagosian has issued a statement acknowledging that Dylan’s compositions are “based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images.” But the gallery adds that “the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels.”

In other words, Dylan has in some way transformed the images to make them his own–a point that could be subject to vigorous and costly debate in a federal court if Dylan gets sued.

That’s a big if. Right now, the question is: Who (if anyone) has the temerity and resources to take Dylan to court for copyright infringement?

Another pressing question is, Why is the Gagosian Gallery continuing to aid and abet copyright infringers? Earlier this year, a federal court found that Gagosian and Richard Prince infringed photographer Patrick Cariou’s copyrights by exhibiting a series of Prince paintings that were copied from Cariou’s photographs. Did Gagosian learn anything at all from its ignominious legal defeat in that case? (Prince, by the way, is appealing the verdict.)

Finally, a bonus question: If you or I–rather than Bob Dylan–had painted “The Asia Series,” would Gagosian have even let us in the door with this pile of photo faxes, much less mounted an exhibition?

All together now: The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Related story:
Appropriation Artist Richard Prince Liable for Infringement, Court Rules




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