Zappa Kids’ Spat Continues; New Lawsuit Filed

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Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa

Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa in happier times as father Frank “watches over them”

Update (March 14): We thought (and hoped) we’d heard the last of the Zappa siblings’ squabbles last May (see below) but it looks like it’s all heating up again. According to a new report in TMZ, the late genius’ two youngest offspring, Ahmet and Diva, are once again suing older brother Dweezil, who makes his living by keeping their dad’s music alive.

The litigation-happy pair “just filed legal docs asking a judge to let them start a website to counter Dweezil’s claim they are trying to ruin his career by denying him the right to perform his Zappa Plays Zappa tour,” according to the TMZ article. “Dweezil has gone on a rant claiming Ahmet and Diva–who now run Frank Zappa’s estate–have flat-out prohibited him from using ZPZ in concert…The newly filed documents read that Dweezil has always had the right to tour using the name, at the price of $1 plus 10 percent of gross receipts. The documents reportedly reveal that the two younger siblings are tired of Dweezil’s attitude towards their decisions, with Dweezil having notably named a 2016 run of live dates the ‘Cease and Desist Tour.’ Ahmet and Diva also apparently take issue with Dweezil allegedly soliciting fans for money to cover his legal bills,” says TMZ.

Sigh. Here is our original report from April 2016 and an update from last May…

Update (May 17):
 You know the kind of great film or TV script about a legal case where the prosecutor presents a terrific argument and you think “Well, that’s that”? Then the judge allows the defense it’s turn at bat and whoa… The whole case gets turned on its ear as rebuttal after rebuttal tears the prosecutor’s case to shreds.

That just happened with the case we’ll call Zappa V Zappa. Brother Dweezil has responded to Brother Ahmet’s arguments that the latter made on Facebook a few weeks’ ago.

It’s waaaay too long to reprint here but we’ll offer a couple of brief examples.

To Ahmet’s “Strange to be writing this in public, but I don’t know how else to respond,” Dweezil writes:

“Despite your claim that you have no other means of reaching me except to post an open letter on your Facebook, twitter and the zappa.com site, you can easily reach me directly and personally by phone, text, email, fax, fed ex, certified mail, sky writer, carrier pigeon or a note slipped under my front door for that matter.”

To Ahmet’s “You can absolutely keep touring under the name Zappa Plays Zappa,” Dweezil responds:

“You’re omitting the part in the deal you offered where you are demanding that the [Zappa Family Trust] continues to be able to collect and keep 100% of the tour merchandise rendering your proposed deal unacceptable.”

Dweezil’s full response can be found here.

Heirs to music legend Frank Zappa are squabbling about the use of the family name in a very public way.

Last Friday (April 29) in a New York Times interview, Dweezil Zappa, a musician and former MTV VJ, told music writer Ben Sisario that the Zappa Family Trust which owns the rights to his father’s music, would not allow him to perform as “Zappa Plays Zappa” and that “he risked copyright infringement damages of $150,000 each time he played a song without proper permission.”

“My last name is Zappa; my father was Frank Zappa,” Dweezil told the Times. “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.” (Dweezil Zappa, 46, has a brief tour scheduled in July.)

The Times piece further notes: “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.” Dweezil’s argument is that he is essentially being gouged by his own family to perform his father’s repertoire.

In a long Facebook post on May 4, Dweezil’s brother Ahmet, 41, responded. Here’s an edit:

“After reading the article, I’m not sure how else to reach you. If we talk through our lawyers, it’s not because I want that. It’s because you’ve refused to talk any other way. I’ve been reaching out to you for months. I even tried to set up a family meeting so we could discuss all of our family issues, but you repeatedly said you couldn’t fit it into your schedule, and that you weren’t available to attend without your lawyers present.

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“Instead, you’ve given this incomplete, misleading story to the NYT and the media, and invited the whole world to take sides about our family business.

“If you want to share private facts and legal documents, we can do that, because we both know what’ll happen: it will give everyone a complete picture of what’s happening. Not the distorted one that’s out there now, which makes it look like this is about business crushing art, or me being a greedy asshole who wants to take away your rights.

“I’ll respond to a few things I’ve read:

1. The article claims that you’re no longer allowed to perform under the name Zappa Plays Zappa.

“Not true, and we both know it. I have never asked you to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to use the ZPZ name. You’ve only been told that you can’t keep using the name without agreeing to a fee of $1 per year, which you’re fully aware of, but never mentioned in your interviews. I’ll come back to that in a second. But just so everyone is clear:

Fact: You can absolutely keep touring under the name Zappa Plays Zappa.

“You could do it tomorrow, and honestly, I hope you will. You’re a fucking guitar god and in my opinion one of the best guitar players in the world. You do an amazing job playing our father’s music with total integrity. Your tours help keep Frank’s name alive.

Related: A Frank Zappa documentary is in the works

“This isn’t about your tours, or art, or even about you. This is about the way the Trust was set up ages ago: if any of us use the ‘Zappa Plays Zappa’ name for commercial purposes, a share of the profit goes back to the ZFT, to cover the high costs involved in maintaining the business and releasing more of Frank’s content for the fans. Period.

The point is: No one is stopping you from using the name, as long as you follow the exact same rules as the rest of us.

“And before anyone starts thinking that we’re trying to screw you, let’s talk about fees again.

2. The article claims that if you perform without paying the ZFT an “exorbitant fee,” you’ll be charged up to $150,000 for each song you play.

“Again, not even close to true.

“Honestly, this was the part that really hurt, because now a lot of Frank’s fans think I’m some greedy dude who’s just in this for the money. Can’t blame them. It sounds like blackmail. Like I don’t want you to be able to play Frank’s music. If I read that article without knowing the rest of the facts, I’d think I was a greedy asshole too.

“Personally, I don’t think the fee Gail asked for was exorbitant. If you want, we can share the exact terms with the public, instead of just asking them to take our word for it. But even if the price was too high, it doesn’t matter anymore, because I didn’t want it to be an issue for you. That’s why I suggested a workaround.

“So, if you’re going to share family business with the whole world, I wish you’d tell them the whole story:

Fact: The “exorbitant fee” you’re now being asked to pay the ZFT, to keep using Frank’s name and performing his songs, is $1 per year.

“That’s not because the ZFT needs that money. I think we can live without an extra buck every year. It’s because that token payment handles the legal requirement.

“And again, it’s not just you: it’s all four of us. If I want to perform Frank’s music, I’ll pay $1. So will Diva and Moon. That’s just the deal, and I think it’s a pretty reasonable solution.

“One dollar, man. It doesn’t seem like The New York Times knew that part.

“But be honest: Frank Zappa’s legacy isn’t something we built, and ‘Zappa Plays Zappa’ isn’t a name that any one of us “owns” or has special claim to. We all got the same name at birth, and as the four beneficiaries of the ZFT, we all have an equal right to benefit from that name.

“That’s why Gail [Frank Zappa’s widow] decided that any Zappa using the name ‘Zappa Plays Zappa’ would pay a percentage of profits to the ZFT, where it could keep the family business going.

“And when the ZFT does have profits, we split them between the four of us. I’m getting enough heat on social media that I’m betting a lot of people don’t realize that you also receive funds from the ZFT. Even when you do pay fees to use the Zappa name, and sell Zappa merchandise, you receive a portion of the profits from it.

“Again, if you won’t talk to me about this, and want to work things out in public, we can. Privacy has always been important in our family, but that doesn’t mean I have anything to hide. I just don’t see how it helps anything to get the media and the public to take sides, especially when they don’t have all the facts.
If you’re willing to talk – and not just through a lawyer – I hope you’ll call me.”

Your Brother,
Ahmet

Ahmet Zappa Letter 5-4-16

Not surprisingly, the official Frank Zappa Facebook page shared Ahmet’s post. Dweezil’s tour may switch its name to “Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa.” Best Classic Bands will continue to follow the story.

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