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French Court Drops Charges Against Bob Dylan

‘Hate speech’ charges stemmed from 2012 Rolling Stone interview

Stephanie Butnick
April 17, 2014
Bob Dylan performing in France. (FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
Bob Dylan performing in France. (FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GettyImages)

Way back in 2012, Bob Dylan gave an interview with Rolling Stone in which he spoke extensively about race in the United States. The interview is long and rambly, as you might expect from the then-70-year-old folk legend, but there was one especially odd remark strewn throughout. “If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

That comment—made in an American magazine which also publishes a French edition—didn’t sit well with the Representative Council of the Croatian Community and Institutions in France, who mobilized to have Dylan charged, in December 2013, with “public insult and inciting hate.” France has notoriously strict laws against hate speech—authorities fined a 28-year-old $4,130 this month for photographing himself giving a quenelle salute—and in this case they seem to have ensnared an American who has spent much of his career denouncing racism.

This week, though, a French court dropped the charges against Dylan, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing a very specific, if obvious, technicality: Dylan never expressly authorized the interview to be published in France. Instead, charges for the country’s anti-discrimination laws have been filed against Michel Birnbaum, the publisher of the French edition of Rolling Stone, who reportedly faces up to a year in prison and a fine of $62,000.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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