April 30, 2016

"My last name is Zappa; my father was Frank Zappa. But I am not allowed to use the name on its own."

"I’m not allowed to use a picture of him. I’m not allowed to use my own connection with him without some sort of deal to be struck."

Under duress from the Zappa Family Trust, after the death of his mother, Dweezil Zappa has to change the name of his decade-old music project from Zappa Plays Zappa to Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa. This isn't just a set of bickering siblings. It's an interesting position within copyright law:
The family trust argues that for a show consisting largely of Frank Zappa’s music, performers cannot rely on the standard performing-rights licenses that music venues typically get from agencies like Ascap or BMI, but instead need special permission from the estate for “grand rights,” a term that usually applies to theatrical presentations....

What makes a piece of music dramatic is not clearly stated in copyright law, but Conrad M. Rippy, a lawyer who has worked in both theater and music, said that it generally needed to meet several criteria. “Is it performed in a place where you generally would perform a theatrical work? Are people wearing costumes? Does it advance a narrative story line?” Mr. Rippy said. “The closer you get to answer those questions ‘Yes,’ the more it looks like that’s a grand right. A tribute band playing a Frank Zappa song in a club meets none of those tests.”

Dweezil Zappa said that while his mother charged him an “exorbitant fee” to use the name Zappa Plays Zappa, he has never paid for a grand rights license....

27 comments:

David Begley said...

If you think the state of copyright law is bizarre, try patent law.

What is wrong with trustees? Not rich enough? Shameful. Trustees should be removed.

shiloh said...

He took a dog-doo snow cone and stuffed it in my right eye
He took a dog-doo snow cone and stuffed it in my other eye
And the husky wee-wee
I mean the doggie wee-wee
Has blinded me
And I can't see
Temporarily


On my 1st Med cruise in the USN a shipmate on our helo detachment used to play Zappa's album Apostrophe (') frequently.

After hearing it repeatedly it was kinda relaxing ...

I digress.

Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow

Michael McClain said...

Suzy Creamcheese was unavailable for comment.

tim maguire said...

David, IP law as a whole is a disgrace, but at least patents are still for sane lengths of time. Copyright is forever.

David Begley said...

Dweezil is correct but too kind to brother Ahmet. He is getting screwed. He should go to court on the copyright claim AND have Ahmet removed as trustee.

David Begley said...

Tim

The Mickey Mouse Copyright Protection Act is what I think it is called. Jim Rogan and Sonny Bono's work.

AReasonableMan said...

I have always found Dweezil's project a bit skeevy, just as I find all of the other tribute bands, broadway shows and post-mortem albums a bit skeevy. Let the artist die and what they produced live, unmolested.

Birkel said...

The Disney Company, from ABC to ESPN to the movie studios, have been a net negative in the world. (I edited my real thoughts for language.) The copyright extension should have been declared unconstitutional.

But it is Frank Zappa who created this situation, perhaps unintentionally. He controlled his creations.

tim maguire said...

ARM, I agree that Dweezil's trying to make a living off his dad's legacy, but that's pretty common and generally not frowned upon. I'd be more skeezed out if he tried to trade on the family name to promote his own music like Julian Lennon did.

David, you remember correctly. Thanks to Disney and its well-placed bribes, nothing enters the public domain anymore. And yes, it is unconstitutional, except that the Supreme Court interprets "limited time" literally such that "life plus one million years" counts as limited.

David said...

Frank Sinatra Jr. was a wonderful singer who could not escape the big shadow. But he plugged along anyway and swing musicians everywhere respected his talent and professionalism.

Fernandinande said...

shiloh said...
He took a dog-doo snow cone and stuffed it in my right eye


I'm telling you my dear, that it can't happen here.

Mark said...

Copyright law has become a road to oblivion.

Don't want me to perform Zappa without paying you exorbitant fees? Fine. I won't play him. Then you get NOTHING. And as an added bonus, the world soon forgets who Zappa was. So he too ends up as nothing.

That's what happens when selfish bastardism becomes law.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Tribute bands should pay tribute. On the other hand, if a man gives you the name Dweezil, he owes you a living.

Paul Snively said...

Too bad Frank isn't still around to clean up this mess. He always struck me as one of the few sane, level-headed people on the face of the planet. As for family dynamics, I defy anyone not to be charmed by this.

FullMoon said...

Well I'm about to get sick
From watchin' my TV
Been checkin' out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it's gonna change, my friend
Is anybody's guess

So I'm watchin' and I'm waitin'
Hopin' for the best
Even think I'll go to prayin'
Every time I hear 'em sayin'
That there's no way to delay
That trouble comin' every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin' every day



Meanwhile, Trump has a rally where protests are "mostly peaceful"

David Begley said...

Mark:

Really great comment. Please forward to trustees of Zappa Family Trust.

jr565 said...

THis is analog to John Fogerty not being able to play CCR music becuase Fantasy Records owns the rights. On one hand this is bad because he wrote all the music. But on the other hand this is perfectly ok because Fantasy owns the music and is protecting the copyright.
So, my issue there would be why did John Fogerty lose rights to his own music? that is the travesty. But suppose it was John Fogerty who owned the music and died. And his cousin Jim Fogerty wanted to put out album called Fogerty plays Fogerty. Should he get to do it? Well, he'd need to get permission from the estate. Or, if John were alive he'd get to approve or not approve the album. if Jim had a number one hit doing a remake of Run Through the Jungle I'm pretty sure John Fogerty would demand a cut. Since he WROTE the song. This guy was made rich through use of the song, and John didn't give him permission to use the song.

In the case of Dweezil, it sucks that he cant' play his dads songs. I'll note he had to pay his mom a fee to use the license. How would dweezil feel if I put out an album called jr565 plays Zappa? I assume he would want me to pay the license, right? If he was the owner of the material (because say Frank gave him rights and not his mother) then you can be assured I would have to pay to play. In order to use Franks work I'd need to pay him.
So, Id say that whoever owns the estate or has rights to the material shoudl get to dictate how that material is played. If he really has a beef its with his mom and dad for not providing him access to the material in the first place. "Thanks dad! Thanks, for making me pay my own mom to play your songs. You dick!" ANd "Thanks mom. If you're going to die, why not give the family the music rights so we can continue to play the music? Now I have to go to court because you were a greedy bitch?"

AReasonableMan said...

This is my favorite Zappa tune.

jr565 said...

"Copyright law has become a road to oblivion.

Don't want me to perform Zappa without paying you exorbitant fees? Fine. I won't play him. Then you get NOTHING. And as an added bonus, the world soon forgets who Zappa was. So he too ends up as nothing.

That's what happens when selfish bastardism becomes law."

And that's fair. if those that own the copyright do nothing with it and it fades into obscurity, they were dumb. If I owned the copyright to Zappa, I'd have the cost to play zappa songs extremely low. Because Zappa, was always an eccentric taste, and so didn't draw THAT big a crowd. 30 years after he's dead even less so. So, if I want the money to keep coming in, then milk that shit. But that's me. I can only make that decision for the material I own.

But if you want to do a zappa album why do you think you shouldn't have to pay the exhorbitant fees if the charge to play is an exhorbitant fee?

jr565 said...

""I’m not allowed to use a picture of him. I’m not allowed to use my own connection with him without some sort of deal to be struck."

Well, yeah. Now, I'm not sure how far it would extend to a picture of someone. There may be some context where a picture was allowable. But suppose I was the step brother of Prince. Or Prince's 2nd cousin. ANd I put out an album with Prince's face on the cover. I'm sure the estate woudl say "Why are you using Prince's picture? Did you get permission" But I'm his second cousin!!! we're family!
Zappa and the estate should have made it part of the licensing agreement that Dweezil had a right to use the content without having to pay a fee. So I blame his estate. Which would be his mother. What a bitch.

urpower said...

Considering biographical revelations about Zappa's strained relationship with his wife and children I've wondered if there was some effort however subtextual to bury his music after his death. Then too Zappa says in his last Today Show interview that he didn't care if his music was remembered. A sad story all around.

Shawn L. said...

If this is just about the name "Zappa", then this isn't a copyright dispute, but a trademark dispute.

You can't copyright a title.

The article gets the two mixed up.

tim maguire said...

Jr565, you misunderstand copyright law. It is a carve out from the first amendment for the purpose of benefiting the public, not enriching creators. Enriching creators is merely the vehicle used to acheive the public benefit purpose. If a creation fades into obscurity due to rights-holder greed (and there is good evidence this is happening), then the public benefit purpose is undermined.

jr565 said...

Tim McGuire wrote:
Jr565, you misunderstand copyright law. It is a carve out from the first amendment for the purpose of benefiting the public, not enriching creators. Enriching creators is merely the vehicle used to acheive the public benefit purpose. If a creation fades into obscurity due to rights-holder greed (and there is good evidence this is happening), then the public benefit purpose is undermined.


I don't see why the creator shouldn't He enriched by his work. He did make it. For so long as he wishes to maintain the copyright. And if the owner doesn't want something in the public space and they own the the rights I wouldn't make an argument that the public has a right to see it. Cameron Diaz supposedly has a porno out there somewhere.
Yet she refuses to have it released because she owns all the rights. While I'd love to see it I can see why she wouldn't want it released.

Birkel said...

Young Cameron Diaz maybe.

But current Cameron Diaz can hide that pron away.

jr565 said...

birkel wrote:
Young Cameron Diaz maybe.

But current Cameron Diaz can hide that pron away.

So true.

James Pawlak said...

What was the lawyers' dollar-share in this matter?