Frank Zappa's Wife Continues To Claim Cover Bands Can't Play His Music (Even Though They Can)

from the someone-teach-her-copyright-law dept

We recently posted about Frank Zappa’s early recognition of where the music industry was heading, with fans taping and sharing music. That story got a lot of attention, but we’d forgotten how incredibly protective Frank’s widow Gail has become of Zappa’s own music. In the past, she’s tried (and failed) to stop a music festival of Zappa’s music called Zappanale, and Karl alerts us to the fact that she’s been going around threatening any cover band who doesn’t agree to pay up. This is, as any copyright lawyer will tell you, ridiculous. So long as the venue where the music is being played has paid its blanket licensing fee, then anyone can play whatever music they want there. Many musicians (and their widows, apparently) falsely believe that copyright allows you to completely control all uses of your work, but that’s simply not true. And, it’s a shame that Zappa’s “legacy” is being treated this way, whereby people are being told that simply playing and sharing Zappa’s music is somehow illegal without first paying up to the Zappa family.

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Comments on “Frank Zappa's Wife Continues To Claim Cover Bands Can't Play His Music (Even Though They Can)”

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ChimpBush McHitlerBurton says:

Re: Gail, you are what you is....

Oh no.

Anybody who thinks this makes sense must be 200 years old. Shit, call any vegetable on the phone and even they can tell you this is stupid. I just think Gail misses her Daddy, Daddy, Daddy and wants to keep herself in the limelight. Sure, Frank was a gross man, but he was also a genius. He truly understood the value of freedom of music, and taping, and I think he would have said that “It’s a good thing we get paid to do this”.

The mental Kung Fu which is necessary to convince yourself that bands who appreciate Zappa should have to pay every time they play his underground freak-out music just gets me into a Lather. Jeezus, the torture never stops! It’s just plain old ridiculous. Gail, you should just shut your mouth. It’s not like if Dweez, Ahmet, and Moon don’t get their royalty checks from the bands they will wind up workin’ in the gas station or anything…

If you think I’m the slime that wants to disregard Zappa’s legacy and deny his family what’s rightfully theirs, then you’re wrong. What you need to realize is that copyright is a 50/50 deal; the owner has rights and so does the public.

Gail, I think you need to wake up and stop these filthy habits. You need to realize that the world of music is a huge ocean that is open to all who wish to sail her. Frank sailed that ocean and enjoyed the inspiration that he got from those who sailed before him.

Gail, the ocean is the ultimate solution. This effort is making the Zappa family come off a bunch of flakes. The bogus pomp with which you pursue your questionable gain is not really ever going to pay off, so stop now while you have the chance.

This note isn’t meant to be mean-spirited, it’s just a token of my extreme displeasure with your slamming of your late husband’s good name. Don’t try to be harder than your husband darlin’, it ain’t gonna work.

Gail, go outside now. Go to your front yard and see where he used to cut the grass, and ask yourself…

Up there where he is now… Do you really think he needs another deposit to his heavenly bank account?


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copyright Question

Um, no. Copyrights pass on in the deceased estate and last a specific number of years – I believe it is 50-100 – after a person’s death.

As for family’s “leeching” off of someone’s success? Trolltastic, dude. I suppose that you think that all property of the deceased should become public and families should get nothing. Land, possessions, stocks, etc. If you truly believe that, you are an idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Copyright Question

I (not lulz) don’t think musicians should be able to coast off work they did twenty years ago; I certainly don’t think that their descendants, who had little to nothing to do with the production of that work to begin with, should continue to coast off of it (to the detriment of the public) for 50 – 100 years after the guy died. I’ll grant a certain amount of respect for the artist themselves, but their descendents are leeches, especially when they pull shit like this.

Nelson Cruz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyright Question

Anonymous Coward, the families do “leech” of works that where made long ago, and that they themselves had nothing to do with creating. The families of architects, engineers, construction works, etc, don’t get any money when someone resells or rents the buildings they made, much less control who can buy, use or demolish those buildings.

That the families get some sort of economic right to creative works (some percentage of profits made from them), I can understand. There is a certain “moral argument” (more of an emotional one) that can be made for it. But total control on who can sell, perform, adapt, make derivative works, etc; that I cannot agree with. What moral right do Gail Zappa or Yoko Ono have to control the uses of their dead husbands’ works? The creators are dead. Their works are part of our collective culture. They should belong just as much to you as to the creators’ families (at least as far as control is concerned)! And this should apply just as much to Zappa, as to Mozart, Shakespeare or Aristotle.

Instead of suing everybody, the families should just be proud that people haven’t forgotten the works of their husbands/fathers/mothers/etc, and in fact love them so much that they want to perform them.

Joe Nasser says:

interesting interview

There was an interview recently on NPR with Mrs. Zappa. It was interesting to hear her take on the issue. Her stance is that Frank Zappa was extremely particular about how his music was performed (true) and she wants to ensure that this very difficult music is only being performed by those that are capable of doing it justice.

I disagree with the use of copyright law to enforce this, and I have my suspicions that her motives are not quite so pure. However, it still was interesting to hear her perspective.

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: interesting interview

I wonder if she makes Dweezil pay…

I was delighted a few years ago to see that eMusic carried a big chunk of FZ’s catalog. I’m glad I got what I wanted because they disappeared some time since.

I wonder if Mrs. Zappa is more interested in the seeing that letter of the law is followed or preserving her husband’s legacy because she seems to doing a poor job of both.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: interesting interview

I’m glad you brought this up, I heard most of the interview and was thinking the same thing.

I agree with what she is doing, but not how she is doing it.

I usually don’t know much details about the articles posted here, but since hearing that interview it sounds like Gail isn’t using this to ‘make a quick buck’, but rather keep Frank’s music inline with how he felt about it when he was alive, he was crazy about how he wanted things to be played/sound.

Joe Joe the Zapphead says:

Re: interesting interview

Frank was also concerned for his family’s continued financial well-being and communicated that to Gail before he died. That’s part of why the ZFT keep releasing records, which is great for us fans. Not sure Frank would have minded her getting all the cash she could out of his legacy.

Eponymous Coward says:


Mrs. Zappa’s view of the situation leaves very little room for a true artist who may want to interpret and expand upon her hubby’s music. Some Beck-esque savant may have ideas on how to fiddle with his original arrangements to make something truly awe-inspiring, but as she sees the law, this can only be done after paying an admission price. Talk about Onerous.

RD says:

Once again

Once again for all those in the cheap seats and the corporate scum like Weird Harold:


say it with me, say it proud.


You have a LIMITED rights for a LIMITED TIME (though thats getting absurd now) to exploit your work. People are using the copyright sledgehammer WAY too much these days, and it has the effect of everyone being afraid of doing ANYTHING for fear of being sued. And you are getting absurd ideas about the extent of copyright coverage, like people thinking you cant take a picture of them because their person is “copyright.” Sorry, wrong, you cant copyright a human being. You can copyright a specific image taken of a human being, but you cant copyright the PERSON such that it prevents pictures being taken. Thats not copyright, thats privacy and is covered under different laws (harassment, civil rights, etc)

David (profile) says:

Copyright terms

Here are the rules.

# For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. In the case of a joint work, copyright lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, copyright lasts 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever ends first.

# For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, but it will not expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work is published before December 31, 2002, copyright will not expire before December 31, 2047.

# For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, copyright is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured.

Might be a bit more than that, but that’s the gist, at least in the US.

SK (user link) says:

wait a minute

the musician side of me goes “fuck Gail and let the music be ours” and at the same time my personal side goes;
“If I were married/related to some genius that I truely love and admire, on top of having a very personal, intimate relationship with, and if I knew how much his/her creations meant to him/her, YES I’d be very picky and protective about those creations from somebody OTHER THAN the person you love, let alone goddamn public.” that’s like having random people quote from the conversations with your girlfriend.

the bottom line is that none of us here is or was married/related to the geniuses on the level of Zappa/Lennon, hence our lack of understanding as to what they are/were going thru.

Duce (profile) says:

Frank really doesn't need Gail's help

So if Gail can attempt to sue folks for covering Zappa tunes does that mean the grandchildren of those composers and musicians Frank “borrowed” from can now harass the Zappa legal mafia? Frank used so many other composers work both verbatim covers and some very obvious “borrowing” of rythmic and melodic structures. Lets see…there is Ravels Bolero…Stairway to Heaven…Whipping Post…countless examples of “borrowing” from Edgard Varèse, Anton Webern and a host other 20th century composers. Frank was always honest about his influences and payed them great respect.

Frank Zappa was a highly origional composer and musician with out a single doubt, but like every great person they stand on the shoulders of giants. I dont really see that Gail Zappa is standing on Frank’s shoulders…maybe his coat tails though. If Gail were a bigger person both intelectually and philosophically, she would take positive and generous actions to bring Franks music to more people. Despite the nepotism associated whith “Zappa Plays Zappa”, it is just what Franks music needs to remain a living growing artistic expression. Who knows, maybe people outside the Zappa gene pool can actually bring somthing new to Franks music? Disrespectful you think? I doubt Frank would disagree if he had a say right now.

None the less, Gail and the ZFT will never be able to undo or even uphold the Zappa legacy. Frank allready did all that work years ago and he didnt need Gails help then and his legend doesn’t need her help now.

Thank you very much Frank!

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