Judge rules in Bob Dylan’s favour in lawsuit over $300m sale of songs

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

A judge in New York ruled in Bob Dylan’s favour on Friday in a lawsuit over profits from the $300m sale last year of the Nobel laureate’s song catalogue to Universal Music.

The publishing company and widow of Jacques Levy, a collaborator on the 1976 album Desire, sought at least $7.25m from the sale of 10 songs. Dylan said Levy worked under agreement and was only entitled to a percentage of royalties.

Related: San Francisco man returns Bob Dylan album to Ohio library – 48 years late

A New York supreme court judge, Barry Ostrager, sided with Dylan, saying Levy and his descendants were only entitled to compensation under the deal signed in 1975.

The song Hurricane, about the boxer Rubin Carter and his wrongful conviction for murder, was among seven composed by Dylan and Levy on Desire, which contains nine songs. It is among Dylan’s most-celebrated protests of racial injustice.

On Carter’s death in 2014, Geoffrey Robertson, a British lawyer who worked with the boxer, wrote that Dylan, “who years before had so movingly mourned the lonesome death of Hattie Carroll, now set the story of ‘the Hurricane’ to a driving, angry beat”.

Other songs written by Dylan and Levy include Isis, Mozambique, Romance in Durango and Black Diamond Bay.

Reviewing Desire, Rolling Stone said: “It’s not altogether clear just what Jacques Levy contributed to the songs. In many ways, they are of a piece with Dylan’s other work. But the humor that has been missing since John Wesley Harding is in great abundance … and the imagery is the most strikingly well-developed since New Morning.

“On the other hand, the rhyme schemes are just as tortured as ever: Mozambique may very well rhyme with cheek-to-cheek, speak and peek, but then there’s ‘put his ass in stir’ and ‘triple murder’ in Hurricane.”

Levy died in 2004. His Guardian obituary said “much of Desire’s success lay in the interplay between Dylan and Levy and since then Dylan and his musicians have often reworked Levy’s contribution. In 1975, Levy effectively stage-managed Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.”

Levy’s lyrics were also sung by artists including Joe Cocker, Crystal Gayle, Carly Simon and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.

Dylan’s catalogue sale is thought to be the richest among a series of such deals.

Announcing it in December, Lucian Grainge, chief executive of Universal Music, said: “It’s no secret that the art of songwriting is the fundamental key to all great music, nor is it a secret that Bob is one of the very greatest practitioners of that art.”

In January a lawyer for Dylan, Orin Snyder, called the Levy lawsuit “a sad attempt to unfairly profit off of the recent catalog sale”.

“The plaintiffs have been paid everything they are owed,” Snyder said. “We are confident that we will prevail. And when we do, we will hold plaintiffs and their counsel responsible for bringing this meritless case.”

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