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Bob Dylan Accused of Plagiarizing Portions of Nobel Prize Lecture

In a move all too familiar with high school students everywhere, Bob Dylan might have looked to SparkNotes to familiarize himself with a novel.

According to Slate’s Andrea Pitzer, Dylan may have plagiarized portions of his Nobel Prize lecture from SparkNotes, which provides summaries for works of literature online.

In the recorded lecture on June 4, Dylan described the influence of three literary works on his childhood. Pitzer noticed similarities between Dylan’s lecture and a SparkNotes entry of one of the pieces mentioned, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” after writer Ben Greenman pointed out Dylan possibly made up a quote from the novel.

Pitzer revealed that in the 78 sentences where Dylan describes “Moby Dick,” more than a dozen share key phrases in passages from the SparkNotes site that don’t appear in the novel at all.

Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last October, also likened the themes of Homer’s “Odyssey” and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

The first questionable phrase that Greenman noted was when a “Quaker pacifist priest” tells Captain Ahab’s third mate, Flask, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness.” SparkNotes described the preacher in a similar manner, Greenman realized after he couldn’t find the quote in a number of editions of “Moby Dick.”

In one of Pitzer’s examples, Dylan said, “Stubb gives no significance to anything.” SparkNotes wrote, “Stubb… refusing to assign too much significance to anything,” but the phrase “significance to anything” doesn’t appear in the novel. A full list of the at least 20 strikingly similar sentences are available on Slate.

Dylan is no stranger to criticisms of plagiarism, Pitzer noted, which is something he has been open about. He’s admitted to borrowing lyrics from a number of artists, and in 2001, he released an album titled “Love and Theft,” referencing Eric Lott’s “Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.”

Dylan acknowledged the plagiarism claims of “Love and Theft” in a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.”

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