ZFT Litigation Frenzy: School of Rock Edition

I kid you not.

Incredibly, having just lost the Zappanale lawsuit, the ZFT is now going after Paul Green’s School of Rock — more specifically Napoleon M. Brock’s envolvement therein. Here’s the Berger-Kahn letter (pdf). Quote:

It recently came to our attention that Napoleon Murphy Brock and the Paul Green School of Rock All-Stars are currently scheduled to perform the music of Frank Zappa […] We understand that this tour is billed as “Napoleon Murphy Brock Performs ZAPPA with the Paul Green School of Rock All-stars”. Please be advised that none of you possess any license, permission or authority to publicly perform the songs of Frank Zappa.

Should you wonder where your precious Barfko Swill dollars are headed for, look no further: this is it.


56 Responses to “ZFT Litigation Frenzy: School of Rock Edition”

  1. Mike Lerch says:

    I’m just beside myself. What part of the ASCAP/BMI stuff am I not understanding. Isn’t this what Andre went through as well? Is the issue that she has trademarked the name “Zappa” so no one can use it in relation to music?

    Dear ZFT: I’ve ordered every product you’ve produced since Frank’s death and have a pre-order for Lumpy Money sitting with you right this second. I’ve seen ZPZ five times. I’m as loyal a customer as you could have. And this shit pisses me off.

  2. schlarb says:

    Wow. I have tried to be understanding to where the ZFT is coming from in the past. No doubt people are making money of the Zappa name.

    That having been said, isn’t music for the playing?

    Where are the misguided lawyers for the Stravinsky and Bartok Family Trusts when you need them?! And eye for an eye perhaps?

  3. Mike Lerch says:

    Quick follow up to my own note: it says in the text of the letter that the ASCAP blanket license that makes it permissible for cover bands to play live music does not cover “tribute” bands.

    Further, indeed the word “Zappa” is trademarked in reference to music so its usage in the marketing of music without ZFT’s permission is infringing.

    The linked PDF is mandatory reading. What I smell in this document is the kind of legal wrangling I always figured would cause FZ to choke on his coffee.

  4. Michael Pabst says:

    What a shame! That is all I can say.


  5. SOFA - Philostopher/Chef says:

    But this one is easy – so easy, a Geico customer could side-step it.
    SOR lost a spineless promoter; spineless promoters are a dime-a-dozen. No biggie.
    First off, Mr. Green (who’s probably aware and/or doing this right now) needs to change his advertising for this “tour”. It’s a School of Rock show, featuring Napi. That’s really all that needs to be said now, aint it? (In print, anyway.)
    Thanks to the SOR Movie, Mr. Green does not need to use any Zippo references to promote this tour. Youngsters (well, younger than me) will attend because it’s the SOR. Fans of the Z will attend because it’s Napi.
    Now, Napi has a CD or two (I believe) of his own. If you have him performing some of his own (or his licensed) tracks, backed by the SOR All Stars – with possibly a smattering of obscure R&B tunes, which Frank would have loved – then it’s no longer a “Review”, is it?
    It’s just a show where “some” Zappa tunes are played, and covered fully by the venues’ ASCAP license. I don’t know if there is a precedent for what percentage of a show constitutes a “Review”. The text of the law here is vague, with the general interpretation being a Review is 100% music by a specific composer(s).
    End of litigation. (Amend that to ‘End of current legal argument’. It would now be up to the ZFT Legal Cadre to prove that each individual event was a “Review” – by general definition, playing only the music of one composer – and, Frankly, they don’t have the cash.)
    As one who has successfully side-stepped copyright issues before (Stravinsky and Bartok were mentioned; let me tell ya, you don’t wanna fuck with the suits that collect for Rogers & Hammerstein), this one is a no-brainer.
    And Congrats to the Zappanale guys!

    [I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. My legal expertise stems almost exclusively from a very old Perry Mason affection, and watching “My Cousin Vinnie” (highly recommended – Fred Gwynne is brilliant) repeatedly.]
    [[Gotta admit, tho’, I almost sound like I know something. Common Sense can do that.]]

  6. Kevin Hoover says:

    I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school by relating what Dweezil told fans after a ZPZ show on Aug. 20, 2007.

    As he was signing autographs at the front of the stage, someone asked Dweezil what he thought of the School of Rock. He said he had major problems with it, and didn’t like the way Paul Green was doing things. The only quote I remember was when he said “I actually feel sorry for the kids who enroll in that.” That may be a word or two off, but it’s substantially what he said.

    What passed through my mind at that moment was that Mike Keneally had just been named National Music Director of the School of Rock the previous November. I wondered whether Dweezil’s opinion had something to do with Mike’s involvement. Apparently there is still some weirdness going on between Dweezil and Mike. I only say that because, for example, if you look at the ZPZ bios, Joe Travers’ continuing work with Mike is glaringly absent.


    “As BFD grew its reputation, a chasm between Keneally and his boss Dweezil developed. Keneally wanted to spend time recording and performing his own music, not waiting for tours and release dates that always seemed to get delayed. His eventual departure from the band and Beller’s subsequent defection led the Zappas to replace the bassist and guitarist’s photos on the inner sleeve of Music For Pets with those of family dogs Bing Jang and Arkansas.”

    And yet Mike offers highly laudatory remarks about Dweezil’s work on that album and others on his own website, with no hard feelings.

    What’s weird is that when he was launching ZPZ, Dweezil hired Mike at union scale to come over and teach him a lot of Frank songs. So you might think they buried the hatchet. Frankly I doubt that Mike had one to bury; he’s a pretty positive guy. And yet it’s as though Mike doesn’t exist on the Zappa website.

    I don’t wish to dwell on trivial personality matters, but it is a man-bites-dog situation and it does have some musical impacts. It may even have something to do with the School of Rock issue, who knows?

  7. mutard moggio witha candlestick says:


  8. SOFA - Philostopher/Chef says:

    I’d like to by a vowel, Pat…

  9. Disciple of "Bob" says:

    From the shadows, Michael Lerch!

    For those who don’t know or care, Mike Lerch is a guy with a really great sense of humor, who once upon a time, way back a long time ago, recorded an utterly BEAUTIFUL song instructing the instructable listener on the correct etiquette one should employ when posting messages about (or NOT about) Mike Keneally. This particular song featured a really nice guitar solo, but Lerch scoffed at my compliment many years ago, because he said it was played on a Hondo guitar that was made in a Soviet gulag and cost $3 or something like that.


    If I’m reading this correctly, I think it is astonishingly sad that the ZFT are behaving this way. Nobody is going to be fooled into thinking a Paul Green School of Rock Plays Zappa Blah Blah Blah show is a genuine FZ product. More likely, anyone who is even aware of its existence is already a Zappa fanatic of some measurable degree, and is likely only to view such an endeavor in a very positive light.

    Who (except, apparently, Gail and Dweezil) could fail to be filled with peace and love and good happiness stuff at the very idea that there exist clusters of barely-adolescent musicians who enjoy learning to [try to] play such things as Zombie Woof and The Black Page?

    I understand the desire to protect FZ’s legacy, I really do. But I think there’s a huge difference between keeping Inca Roads from being quoted in a Gap commercial, and keeping a bunch of adoring FZ fans from performing his music.

    As much I as would love to just put on some headphones and have the entire contents of THE VAULT played, ready or not, I am slowly and sadly coming to the conclusion that the only FZ material that matters is the stuff he released when he was alive. I don’t understand the concept of suing your own fans. I think I would be overjoyed just at the idea that someone still cares to keep the music alive (AND LET’S FACE IT, it’s not like FZ’s music is any significant portion of today’s musical landscape – I’d take my preservation where I could get it).

  10. Chuck says:

    Don’t forget Paul Green was very negative about ZPZ in some of his comments. I wouldn’t be surprised if this created a rift at least from the ZFT side.

    Also wasn’t there some bad blood with Nappy and ZPZ when he left… I have only hear it mentioned never any actual reasons though.

    So the two issues combined I think would be enough to make ZFT get their knickers in a knot. Really how damn lame!!

    Well I will continue to not by their stuff and not fund this idiocy.

  11. profusion says:

    This lawyer’s interpretation of the ASCAP license is complete nonsense. He makes quite a stretch from pointing out that the license covers only “nondramatic” works and performances (undoubtedly true) to claiming that a Zappa tribute performance is a “dramatic” work/performance. That, my friends, is the kind of lawyerly horseshit that you can only get at upwards of $600 per hour. If SOR was performing a musical based on the life of FZ, sure. But merely performing a bunch of his songs in the context of a band performance is not a “dramatic” performance. This lawyer ought to be horsewhipped by the ethics board in Calif. for making such a claim.

    Unfortunately, he’s on more solid ground regarding the trademark issue. Using the Zappa name to promote the performance does get into murky and dangerous waters.

  12. jane23 says:

    Oh, the drama.
    I am not a lawyer
    and i don’t play one on TV, BUT
    you could make the case that Frank Zappa WAS his music.
    And, any performance of Frank Zappa Music inwhich the spirit of the composer is evoked IS a dramatic work/performance.
    Even Dweezil in attempting to emulate his father’s guitar style is performing a dramatic interpretation in his recreation of the original composition/performance.
    Take it away Don Pardo…

  13. Bálint says:

    I remember Peter Bartók (Béla Bartók’s son) banned some performance of the Miraculous Mandarin (with a ballet), because he didi not think the concept was to reach the level of his father’s work…

    OTHERWISE: do we know ANY musicians/relatives/etc who are so much AGAINST tehir fan-base?… Because one thing is that we might not agree, we migth not like these C&D stuff, but must most of all I do not UNDERSTAND. Why attacking people, why creating enemies of people, who play/teach GZ’s husband’s music???? Why?

  14. Clark Gwent says:

    Picking on kids now is it? I saw SOR last summer supporting and accompanying the Butthole Surfers, scarily opening with “21st Century Schizoid Man” note-perfect. Then some of them went scuttling off the stage, came to stand next to me, and were only up to my elbow. They seemed to be having a whale of a time, as did audience and headliners. What is the Dweez’s point?

  15. moggio's moldy Oreos says:

    The Family seems bent on killing any vestige of interest in FZ’s music apart from us hardcore fans who are getting more and more disenfranchised as time goes on (with exceptions, of course).

    But, this business plan is surely one of the dumbest in all of entertainment/music if not THE dumbest.

  16. profusion says:

    A quote from jane23:

    you could make the case that Frank Zappa WAS his music.

    Not in court, you couldn’t. And I *am* a lawyer (not in Calif., however), though I don’t have a sufficiently pouting rictus to play one on TV.

    The legal structure surrounding the ASCAP/BMI license is quite clear and permits musicians to perform other people’s music and have the composer get paid. Period. A concert is not a “dramatic” work. Period. Why do you think all those zillions of tribute bands play around the USA every day without getting sued? Why do you think that Gail has a winning percentage of .000 in court so far?

    Regardless of the legalities, I agree with Mr. Moldy Oreos that the Zappas are essentially scaring off the very people they should be cultivating. If FZ’s music is going to live on, *someone* other than his progeny is going to have to play it eventually.

  17. Kevin Hoover says:

    Just imagine an alternate universe where the family is warm and cooperative with the dedicated fans.

    Were that the case, consider how much merch the ZFT would be selling.

  18. mikelerch says:

    Disciple of “Bob,” I don’t know what rock of the SubGenius you crawled out from under (or who you are!), but thank you! If I scoffed at a compliment I must have had a sinus headache that day (they make me cranky). My guitar is a beast in bad need of a setup that I don’t know how to do, but I’m proud of that song and that solo and working with Dr. Dahl and am pleased as hell that people enjoyed it, and pleaseder still that someone is still enjoying it. 🙂

  19. peter says:

    More of the same tired shit. Gail is all about setting a legal precedent; thus the dramatic work nonsense. Can’t wait until this one sees it’s day in court. I expect her to lose.

    iyiyiy, going after the kids. Can one possibly make a worse move? This news will (has?) spread coast-to-coast…and do you think a single one of these youngens will ever fork over cash to see ZPZ…or feel any guilt about illegally downloading a FZ release? Allegiance is everything in this day and age.

  20. jane23 says: