Frank Zappa's Family Argues over Music and Trust

Music note

In the first decade after the death of musician Frank Zappa his estate plan appeared to have worked smoothly. More recently, however, issues have arisen that have Zappa's children fighting between themselves.

After Frank Zappa passed away in 1993, control of his music and other intellectual property rights went into his family trust, which was controlled by his widow Gail Zappa. It appeared that the family was getting along. Dweezil Zappa, one of Frank's children, toured under the name Zappa Plays Zappa and faithfully reproduced his father's music for live audiences. However, now that Gail Zappa has passed away Dweezil will no longer be touring under that name and must instead use a different one.

This is because control of the family trust has passed to two of Frank's four children and Dweezil is not one of those in control.

The New York Times reported on this story in "'Zappa Plays Zappa' Pits Zappa vs. Zappa."

The main dispute between the siblings is over what type of copyright license Dweezil should pay the trust for the rights to perform his father's music. Dweezil contends that he only needs the standard license that music venues purchase from rights holding services, such as BMI. For its part, the trust insists that a "grand license" should be obtained, which is typically reserved for the rights to perform theatrical productions.

This copyright dispute has spilled over into other areas including what name Dweezil Zappa tours under.

An important lesson to learn from this is that even when a trust appears to be working well it can be the source of disputes when a trustee passes away. In the case of family trusts that will be controlled by a surviving spouse, it is a good idea to think about possible conflicts between children after the spouse passes away at the time the trust is created.

Contact a qualified attorney to ensure such surprises are eliminated from your estate plan.

Reference: New York Times (April 29, 2016) "'Zappa Plays Zappa' Pits Zappa vs. Zappa."

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