Thursday, June 29, 2017

Did Bob Dylan Plagiarize SparkNotes?

When Bob Dylan finally presented the speech (though not in person) that he was obliged to give when he accepted the Nobel Prize, he made several references to Moby Dick by Herman Melville (here). At Slate, Andrea Pitzer tells us that she compared words in Dylan’s speech with the summary of Moby Dick in SparkNotes, a popular crib that lazy or confused students employ. Her research uncovers many similarities. She asked some academics whether Bob had committed plagiarism. Here are their mixed responses:

 Longtime Dylan fan and George Washington University English professor Dan Moshenberg told me no alarm bells went off for him while reviewing the passages. Gwynn Dujardin, an English professor from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, had more issues with Dylan’s approach, noting the irony that “Dylan is cribbing [from] a contemporary publication that is under copyright instead of from Moby-Dick itself, which is in the public domain.” A final reviewer, Juan Martinez, a literature professor at Northwestern University, said, “If Dylan was in my class and he submitted an essay with these plagiarized bits, I’d fail him.”

 The article (here) gives examples of the alleged infractions. You might run them by your students.Here is another article on the subject: Robert J. O’Hara, Moby Dylan: An Analysis of Bob Dylan’s Summary of Moby-Dick in His 2017 Nobel Lecture (here). Mr. O’Hara is harder on Bob and joins with Andrea Pitzer in making this suggestion: “I happily endorse Pitzer’s suggestion that Dylan contribute at least a portion of his Nobel Prize money to the anonymous editors of SparkNotes, without whose last-minute assistance his laureate haul might have been lost.”


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