Its All Over Now: Damaino vs Dylan and the issue of plagiarism


by Larry Fyffe

There are those who accuse Bob Dylan of ‘plagiarism’ when they have little awareness of the custom of borrowing floating lyrics and tunes from traditional folk and blues music. Apparently, true musicians and songwriters are supposed to come up with songs and music out of nowhere as if s/he lives in some kind of cultural vacuum.

The legal definition of plagiarism – that there has to be a substantial similarity to  material that is under copyright – is where the ship hits the sand; otherwise artistic creativity would be stifled. A suit over ‘Don’t Think Twice ‘ and the previous ‘Who’s Gonna Buy Your Ribbons’ was settled out of court in that regard.


James Damaino sues over Dylan’s supposed theft of a fragment from:

She stumbles upon things
I’ve never seen
One word from her lips
Can colour a dream

Even if it were to accept that Dylan were aware of the lyrics above, the court held there be insufficient similarity in the following lyrics:

Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever I stumble upon
I don’t even notice that she’s gone
Most of the time

It’s a long and winding road to establish actual plagiarism under the law, given the use of common phrases and differing contexts.

Noted I have that Dylan references, makes tribute to, poet John Keats but that’s because he reveals it more than once, and in any event, the poetry is in the public domain. Allusions are  part of artistic tradition and it’s innovative in that it brings otherwise often unknown poetry to popular awareness. Giving away the source would spoil the surprise of noticing the source for yourself or at least being informed thereof.

Is Bob Dylan going to sue Bob Dylan for having cheated on himself:

She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall
She’s nobody’s child, the law can’t touch her at all

Likewise, Damaino claims the exclusive right to the following lyrics:

Maybe she should just leave it all behind ….
If only she’d learn to make up her mind

In that Dylan writes:

She ain’t even in my mind
I wouldn’t even know her if I saw her
She’s that far behind
Most of the time


Given legal rebuttals, a feeling of suspicion and distraught on the part of the perceived underdog Damaino that Dylan draws from his work is not considered anywhere close to establishing plagiarism under the rules of civil law in the Damaino vs Dylan case.

Nor was:

I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from feelings that are buried deep inside


In relation to Damaino’s claim to:

No one to run from
And no reason to hide

In the end, the court ruled that it was all over now.

As Bob Dylan might sing in a revision of ‘Baby Blue’:

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
And stick it.

What else is on the site

1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews


  1. That should be ‘ … Buy You Ribbons’:

    It ain’t no use to sit and sigh now, darlin’
    And it ain’t no use to sit and cry now
    T’ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, darlin’ …
    So I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road
    (Paul Clayton: Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons)

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