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Bob Dylan Gets Tangled Up in Book Autograph Controversy


Henry Bernstein has seen Bob Dylan 27 times in concert and owns three items autographed by him: a replica of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, a photograph of the singer and a “John Wesley Harding” songbook. His favorite song is “Tangled Up in Blue.”

So when Simon & Schuster, Dylan’s publisher, advertised limited-edition, hand-signed copies of the musician’s recent collection of essays for $600 each, Bernstein was amongst 900 fans who went for one. Last week, he received his copy of “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” Dylan’s first collection of writings since he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, with a letter of authenticity signed by Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s chief executive.

There was just one problem.

Karp’s signature “looked more legit than Bob’s,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein was certainly one of a whole bunch of fans who sleuthed their way around social media, reaching the conclusion that the supposedly hand-signed books had not, in reality, been signed by Dylan.

“I got the nostalgia bug,” said Bernstein, who already owned an unsigned copy of the book, in addition to a Kindle version and an audio version. He added, “If he touches this book — he wrote it, signed it — it appears like the soul of Bob Dylan is with me.”

As an alternative, many fans suggested that the “autographed” copies of the book had been signed by a machine.

Justin Steffman, knowledgeable authenticator who runs a Facebook group for collectors, said the autograph was almost certainly created by an autopen. The machine, which recreates signatures, is utilized by universities, celebrities and, most notably, the White House.

Handwritten penmanship normally has a flow, Steffman said. But “with a pen machine, it goes from point to point,” he said, adding that the start and the top points of every stroke apply more pressure to the page. Dylan’s autograph in the brand new books also appears to have a “slight shakiness throughout the signature,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem like something an individual signed; it looks like a replica,” Steffman said.

As orders began arriving last week, Dylan fans began comparing notes online, and it quickly became clear that something was amiss, Steffman said. Steffman collected images of at the least 17 signatures that every one looked as in the event that they had been created by a machine. Items autographed by Dylan typically sell for $1,500 or $2,000, he added.

“They began popping up, everyone received them the identical day and it was fast — all of us realized it was an autopen,” Steffman said. “An increasing number of people shared their copies, and all of us put it together.”

Steffman said Simon & Schuster’s customer support had originally refused to issue refunds and had even denounced “online rumors” in regards to the possibility that the signature was a fake. Twitter and Reddit users also chimed in; a chat board organized by a fan encouraged others who had purchased the book to jot down on to Karp, the Simon & Schuster chief executive. Fans flooded his inbox, including Bernstein, who, like others, received a private response from Karp promising a speedy refund.

By Sunday, Simon & Schuster had issued a public statement that offered few details but acknowledged that Dylan’s signature had been rendered “in a penned replica form.” The publisher said it might give buyers “a right away refund.”

In response to a request for more detail, a spokesman for Simon & Schuster declined to elaborate.

“We acted quickly to handle the situation, took the book off sale and initiated the strategy of issuing a right away and automatic refund to all customers who bought the book,” the spokesman, Adam Rothberg, said in an email on Tuesday.

Dylan’s music label, Columbia Records, didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Dylan is removed from the primary celebrity to be accused of using automated signatures. Fans have taken issue with signatures from Dolly Parton, Brian Wilson, Kenny Loggins and Ozzy Osbourne. Donald H. Rumsfeld, the previous defense secretary, was criticized for using a mechanized signature on condolence letters to the families of service members who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While questions remain in regards to the decision to make use of an automatic autograph within the Dylan book, fans are confident that Dylan had nothing to do with it.

“I used to be surprised by the sheer number they were saying they’d — 1,000 copies in and of itself looks like a red flag to me,” said Laura Tenschert, who hosts a podcast called “Definitely Dylan.” “I’d assume he has higher things to do together with his time.”

Tenschert described the situation as “messy” but said, “I, personally, would assume Bob Dylan was not involved on this.” She pointed to his history of keeping ticket sales “inexpensive and accessible” to fans, which, she said, “suggests it’s more necessary for him to succeed in his fans.”

There may be also the million-dollar elephant within the room: Dylan, 81, sold his entire recorded music catalog to Sony Music for an estimated $200 million this 12 months, and he sold his songwriting rights to Universal Music in 2020 for well over $300 million.

“To me, it might be very uncharacteristic to the purpose he was involved in scamming his fans,” Tenschert said. “I don’t think he needs it.”

Steffman, the authenticator, believes the autograph utilized in the book is predicated on the pencil signature Dylan uses on his artwork.

“Everybody has reacted so strongly instantly, and this continues to occur with multiple artists. It’s just shocking they’ll flood the market with these autopens,” he said. “Any person needs to carry them accountable.”

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