There are several things mixed up in all of this discussion:
1) notions of authorship -- what does authoring mean? Mostly we are dealing with a 19th century, European, Romanticism-based (as a literary and social world-view) idea of the creative artist as 'genius'. But this is not a universal conception of 'authoring'. And it is not necessarily even the dominant one among artists today.
Let's separate that from the property-rights aspect:
2) notions of ownership -- the history of the legal and social understanding of what can be 'owned' and what 'owning' means. Here we are talking in part about copyright law and intellectual property more broadly. But this is to focus on contemporary US law. It's important not to treat that as universal or the same as moral determination of right and wrong. The reason 'sampling' in hip hop worked out the way it did has a quite a bit to do with power and social attitudes towards hip hop, as well as the effort to apply law in a new area.
sometimes we act as if the legal apparatus and its definitions are primary, that they actually tell us what artists do. Historical research will show you, that's not the case.
If you combine the two dominant modes in the US and Europe of thinking about these two ideas, you get this:
The artist is someone who creates out of an innate well of creativity -- which can mean being tapped into God or Nature or just the 'soul' and this then is the genie, or genius, the spirit or daimon, in the artist that is the source of the art. The artist makes everything out of him or herself, not relying on the outside world. This brings something novel or new into the world.
Combined with the dominant concept of the individual in the West, we can see how the idea of property plays out: because the art is made out of the material of the artist and through the labor of the artist, he or she appropriates (literally makes it his or her own). Thus, she or he owns (selfs) the art. And thus, according to law, has rights of property in it. This is then extrapolated into copyright and so on. I should note here that according to this model, anytime you mix your labor with something in the commons, you also can make a property claim on it. If you follow this out, interesting things become clear. The idea of public domain arts which can be reworked and copyrighted if you mix your labor with them in a sufficient way. But it also points to the idea that artists took the material from the commons to begin with, so after a while, they revert back to the commons. That's a nice clue.
Here's an interesting contrast. In the legal era before ours (the 17th CE) -- French writers went to the king to get a copyright. The king gave one or not because all ideas were his. He owned them. Did the king lease them? I think so. Before that, the idea of the individual (as we understand it) did not exist, much less an individual who could claim to create or invent. Only God did that. Or the forefathers. Invention or the new were considered terrible things. The good was what always had been around.
My main point is that the kinds of arguments that some people on this board are making about Dylan plagiarizing take for granted the universality of the ideas of ownership and authorship I've just pointed to. But, in practice, artists are not bound by (at least) the idea of authorship that still hangs around in popular culture (and in the law). What 'creation' means today among artists and scholars is very different than the popular, common anachronistic view of it. And law lags too. But, I'll say why artists would be conflicted about that at the end.
As a matter of fact, with Modernism (in the early 20th century) artists themselves moved beyond the notion of sui generis authorship and began to show/perform the fact that ideas, texts, all the material of artistic creation are taken from the culture in which we make art. Thus the Wasteland (Elliot) openly bringing texts and tones and musics of all kinds (high and low) into the poem (as pointed out by another poster in this thread). In the Wasteland, you'll see Elliot compose whole stanzas out of lines from high and low cultural texts, from nursery rhymes, classical poetry and literature, common sayings, and ancient texts. No quotation marks, no footnotes (or rarely). Sound familiar. That's allusion (reference), of course. It is meant to say that the meaning of that other text I am citing here needs to be thought about carefully and reconsidered in relation to what I have written here. It "mashes up" those two texts. You have to know the other text to get the full field of meanings of the work. But, it also performs the way the author thinks. The author reads, obsesses about those other texts. They shape his or her world-view and idea of poetry. When they appear in the text, that is a statement about the way the poet's mind is not independent and separate, but an effect of all those texts and ideas. And of course, the old texts have a new meaning in the poet's time, culture, in relation to all the other texts the poet has in his or her head. That is performed in the "quotation" too.
Postmodernism takes this further and explicitly rejects (or tries to) the idea of authorship. The self is only the things outside of the self. So, I am only my culture (physical, intellectual, institutional). SO, there is no self, just a node in a web of things. Thus, nothing is properly closed in on itself. No property.
I'll say this: I think it's important not to confuse a term-paper and an art work or poem (that's a reference to an essay written about on Dylan's poetic style and, Elliot and Timrod. I'm happy to provide a link if you are interested). They don't have the same rules because they are not for the same thing. We also shouldn't be such capitalists when thinking about art. Property rights are not the rules of making art. They certainly affect it though.
I'll say this about the Modernists and most postmodernists (there are exceptions) -- the part about challenging the self as source of art didn't necessarily have much of an impact on the idea of ownership and property. They still want to make a living -- even a couple of livings -- being nodes in a self-less culture.
Dylan is participating in the poetic-artistic culture of his time. He is speaking with and through the texts that make up who he is. He is doing just what Elliot did. He is doing it, sometimes, pretty nearly as well.
More than that. He has invented a fascinating literary voice and high-style. I think he believes he has done this. I think Masked and Anonymous and "Love and Theft" are conjoined texts. And there is something grand at work in this era of Dylan's art. Something like an American Art.
Last edited by MMD on Sun June 17th, 2012, 10:34 GMT, edited 4 times in total.