Bob Dylan – Copyright Infringer?

As reported in a post in the NY Times Arts Beat blog, Bob Dylan appears to have copied photographs for an exhibit of his paintings at New York City’s Gagosian Gallery and passed them off as original works of art.

The Gagosian promoted the exhibit, titled “The Asia Series,” as Dylan’s “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape” based on his travels through Asia. However, a side-by-side comparison of the paintings and photographs, some of which are under copyright, shows that they are nearly identical copies.

It does not appear Dylan was given express permission to use the photos to create the derivative works. The photographers are not identified, there is no attribution as to source and the galleries promotional materials are misleading as to the nature of the works.

Under copyright law, the creator of a photograph owns the copyright to the photo and that includes the right to create (or authorize others to create) a derivative work (in this case paintings) based on the original work (the photos).

Dylan may have a fair use defense to a claim of copyright infringement if his paintings are considered to be “transformative,” meaning the paintings added new expression or meaning to the original work. So are Dylan’s works transformative? Well, as Dylan himself once famously sang, the answer my friend is…

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