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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Heirs of Bob Dylan Collaborator Want Cut of $300M Catalog Sale

One month after Bob Dylan sold off his entire songwriting catalog for an estimated $300 million, the wife of an erstwhile collaborator of Dylan’s during his iconic mid-’70s Rolling Thunder Revue period brought a lawsuit on Wednesday for outstanding royalties.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Introduced to Bob Dylan in 1975 by Roger McGuinn of the The Byrds, Jacques Levy was a 39-year-old psychologist turned off-off-Broadway theater director when he first collaborated on songs with Dylan, who was only just back on the road for the first time since 1966. 

On the 1976 album “Desire,” Levy co-wrote the lyrics for Dylan fan favorite "Isis" and six other songs including "Hurricane," about wrongfully incarcerated boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, and "Joey," about the Brooklyn-born mafia hitman “Crazy Joe” Gallo.  

Levy had previously directed plays by writer Sam Shepard and served as stage director of both the 1975 and 1976 legs of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, a package tour of auditoriums, which included performances by folk singers Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, beat poet and counterculture icon Allen Ginsberg, "Nashville" actress Ronee Blakely, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. 

Over a quarter-century later, Universal Music Group announced in December that it had bought Dylan’s entire catalog of songs, with more than 600 song copyrights spanning what has been a 60-year career. 

Universal has not disclosed the purchase price, but the publishing rights of revered catalog have been estimated to be worth at least $300 million. 

Bringing a civil complaint in New York County Supreme Court on Wednesday, the estate of Levy, who died from cancer in 2004, are asking Universal for $1.75 million for their prorated, 35% stake in the 10 songs that he co-wrote with Dylan, named in the three-count complaint by his given surname, Zimmerman. 

Represented by New York attorney Aaron Golub, the estate also seeks an additional $2 million in punitive damages from Dylan’s entities to punish him for “a civilly wrong pattern and history of intentionally and maliciously ignoring and disregarding [Levy’s] rights.” 

Orin Snyder, attorney for Bob Dylan, called the lawsuit "a sad attempt to unfairly profit off of the recent catalog sale."

"The plaintiffs have been paid everything they are owed," the Gibson Dunn lawyer wrote in a statement Wednesday. "We are confident that we will prevail. And when we do, we will hold the plaintiffs and their counsel responsible for bringing this meritless case."

Two years ago, when Netflix released its stylized documentary “The Rolling Thunder Revue: a Film by Martin Scorsese,” family members complained that Levy had been wrongly erased from Scorcese’s record of the theatrical tour, which featured several of the “Desire”-era songs Levy co-wrote while mischievously mixing archival footage with fictional elements.

The complaint notes that Levy's estate was not paid synchronization license fees in connection with the use of the Levy’s songs in the Netflix documentary and were only paid after demanding so in 2020. 

Levy’s widow Claudia, the lead plaintiff in the suit, told a Bob Dylan fan newsletter last November that she told Scorsese directly that she was disappointed with his decision to excise Levy from the history of the tour and instead use a fictional proxy character as the tour’s director. 

“It just pains me no end that Scorsese took Jacques out of that film and had these people who are just really absurd in there,” she remarked on the blending of fact and fiction in Netflix documentary. “It totally changes the feeling of what that tour was like. It makes it feel that that there was some kind of dissension and tension, and that was never true. It was never true.” 

Other Bob Dylan songs co-written by Levy include “Romance in Durango,” “Catfish,” “Money Blues,” “Rita Mae,” “Mozambique,” “Oh Sister,” and Black Diamond Bay, a Bedtime Story."

Representatives for the Universal Music Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. 

Dylan's so-called “Never-Ending Tour,” ongoing since 1988, was sidelined by cancellations in 2020 due to the Covid-19 global pandemic. 

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