Dweezil Zappa Renames His Tour Again: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@%k He Wants; The Cease & Desist Tour

from the oh-boy dept

Oh boy. A few weeks back, we wrote about the absolutely ridiculous story in which the four children of Frank Zappa appear to be fighting over the Zappa name. The story is somewhat complex and involved and is actually somewhat more nuanced than the unfortunately-all-too-typical “heirs of famous artist fight over splitting up the proceeds of that artist’s legacy.” In that original article, we noted that the dispute seemed to focus on two specific claims: first that the Zappa Family Trust (run by Ahmet and Diva, but to which all four children are beneficiaries) had a trademark on the tour name “Zappa Plays Zappa,” under which Dweezil Zappa had toured for years. After some fairly public back and forth online, it became clear that there was an underlying dispute that had simmered for years here: Frank’s wife Gail, who had controlled the ZFT, had trademarked Zappa Plays Zappa and charged Dweezil to use it, but had (according to Dweezil) then reneged on an agreement to share the proceeds from merchandise sales. Ahmet insisted that he’d allow Dweezil to continue to use the name for just $1, but it didn’t seem that there was any interest in clearing up the older dispute about merch sales, or to allow Dweezil to get some of the proceeds from ongoing merch sales.

The trademark claim seemed… at least possible, though there were arguments for either side, including a fairly strong one that Dweezil had every right to use that name without needing to license it. But the really ridiculous claim was that the family trust could stop Dweezil from playing Frank Zappa’s songs. The ZFT had a convoluted — and simply wrong — interpretation of copyright law, to argue that Section 115 of the Copyright Act doesn’t apply to Frank Zappa’s music, because it’s part of a “dramatic work.” This is basically a nonstarter and would almost certainly be laughed out of court if it ever got there. Such a theory would basically upend decades upon decades of rather settled law concerning the ability to perform cover songs.

But, now it appears that the Zappa Family Trust also has some ridiculously nutty trademark theories as well. That’s because to avoid the trademark issue, Dweezil originally changed the tour name to “Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa.” Not nearly as catchy, as everyone agrees, but functional. Apparently, Ahmet and the ZFT lawyers sent a laughably wrong cease and desist letter to Dweezil claiming that merely using the name Zappa was trademark infringement:

This week, a lawyer for the trust informed Dweezil?s lawyer that the name Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa infringed on the trust?s trademarks of the terms ?Zappa? and ?Frank Zappa.?

This is just wrong. In the response from Dweezil’s lawyers, they pointed out that this was nominative fair use: “the use of ‘Frank Zappa’ merely serves to accurately describe the nature of the show and is in no way misleading or defamatory.” Since no one’s published the full letters — just snippets — I don’t know why they mention defamation in there, but that’s a whole different legal minefield.

Either way, to avoid having to deal with that threat, Dweezil has changed the name of the tour yet again so that it’s now: 50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants ? The Cease and Desist Tour. Really.

Dweezil also notes that “Yes there will be CEASE AND DESIST 2016 tour shirts” on the tour (along with additional merchandise unrelated to the Zappa Family Trust). I will say that as a legal nerd, I really, really want a Dweezil Zappa t-shirt that says “cease and desist” if anyone happens to be going to one of the shows (unfortunately, the tour isn’t coming anywhere near me, though it is playing the town I grew up in — but I doubt I can convince my parents to go). If anyone is going to one of the shows and feels like hooking me up with a t-shirt, contact me please.

In the end, this whole thing, like so many intellectual property debates, seems almost entirely pointless. Intellectual property just becomes something that people fight over because they can, and it makes it difficult for people to step back and take a look at the bigger picture to recognize just how stupid the whole thing looks. It’s hard to think of any sane or logical reason why Dweezil shouldn’t be able to go out on tour as Zappa Plays Zappa. The idea that trademark should get involved in any of this would only make sense in the most ridiculous of trademark scenarios — one where greed seems to be leading over basic common sense.

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Comments on “Dweezil Zappa Renames His Tour Again: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@%k He Wants; The Cease & Desist Tour”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Frank Zappa would be pleased

When Dweezil, Moon, and Ahmet have been asked about what it was like having those names (I don’t remember Diva ever commenting on it, so I’m omitting her) they have all said that they didn’t get as much grief as kids as people assume that they did, and they are fine with the names they were given.

Moon Unit got asked the question more than the others since her name is the strangest, but she actually had the least weird name when you think of it. She goes by “Moon”, which is not actually unique in California.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Dweezil asked at age 5 for "Dweezil" to be his legal name

The hospital where Dweezil was born refused to register him under the name Dweezil, so Frank and Gail were forced to use another name to satisfy the name police and they chose “Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa.”

When at age 5 Dweezil learned his legal name was not Dweezil, he insisted his parents change it to Dweezil.

Sad to see the siblings fighting over ZPZ, the ZPZ tours have been one of my favorites of all time. Dweezil’s devotion to and love for his father is palpable and deeply moving.

Median Wilfred says:

Saw "Zappa Plays Zappa" on a poster

I was at some eatery with my kids a few weeks ago. I saw “Zappa Plays Zappa” on a poster, so I pointed it out. That mean explaining who Frank Zappa was (I’m a bad parent) and who was getting sued, and yes, there really is a guy named “Dweezil Zappa”.

My 15-year-old son looked at me, and asked “Is this true or did you make it up?”

My 9-year-old son said, “Yeah, dad, that’s just like the stuff you make up.”

So, as far as “you can’t make this stuff up”, well, you can. Or at least your kids believe you can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Click-through Vest

I would like to see a family-reunion vest with a click-through agreement,

covering a T Shirt with an ancestor’s picture found in the state archives,

which does not have a license for use, complete with print run, and agreement to donate 2 copies to the state library.

The click-through agreement would verify that you are a relative of the family, and that you do not work for the archives, and that you will not report the unlicensed copy of the picture of great-great-grandma on the underlying T Shirt to the archives.

If the family reunion is raided, and the T Shirts are confiscated, at least you will still have your Daisy Mae vest to cover yourself.

D. Haase says:


Zappa senior spoke numerous times in interviews about high regard for Dweezil’s guitar work & high caliber musicianship.
Tis shame that Ahmet is more like his mother than father.
Kudos to Dweezil for coming up with this title for the tour.
He should absolutely continue as long as he likes, and lets face it;
his keeping the music alive can’t possibly hurt the estate’s future merchandise & record sales…
They should be thanking him.
He’s a good kid & talented at that- and should be free to play whatever the f__k he wants.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

B-bu-but property!

I could chant my usual screed against referring to copyright, patents, and trademarks, etc., as copyright as property on the grounds that this kind of thing tends to happen when people start to realise that if there’s an imaginary real estate, they can exact rental charges, or I could point and laugh at the absurdity of cases like these, which are the result of attaching actual property rights to temporary monopoly privileges.



Tim (user link) says:


I think one of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed in my 57 years, is Dweezil Zappas unbelievable tour of his fathers music in his honor. Had the privilege of meeting Frank a few times in the early 80s and became a big fan of his music and loved his attitude on life. But dam, Dweezil played his fathers music to a tee, Frank would of probably said his parachute opening big time! Love Frank and Dweezil for his dedication ????????☎️ Tim Doyenne

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