Friday, December 28, 2007

ZFT-Spot Tornado

Evening folks,

One of the many topics I am deeply concerned with is freedom of speech. I will hopefully write many posts relating to the philosophical elements of that subject and the application of those ideals. In dangerous times, tongues need to be free. If they are not, we crumble.

Tonight I will focus on a slightly different subject. Recently, a large uproar has been occurring among a vocal minority of the world's population: Frank Zappa fans. Love him or hate him, Frank Zappa has been a powerful force in American music, and a passionate voice for freedom of speech and the promotion of musical education. His testimony in front of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee against the proposals of the infamous PMRC are legendary, frequently quoted and used by supporters of free speech. But, as Frank would say, "music is the best," and it is his music that is most cherished of his contributions of society.

It is unfortunate that Frank Zappa's surviving family--his widow Gail and his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva, collectively referred to as the "Zappa Family Trust" (ZFT)--
do not share their beloved patriarch's wisdom. Over the past few weeks, lawyers representing the ZFT have threatened a number of Frank Zappa fan sites and tribute bands with lawsuits. Why? The fan sites were sued for illegally distributing copyrighted material in the form of downloadable unreleased live recordings, and for using Frank Zappa's image and words. The sites in question were forced to remove these recordings (which is an understandable request), as well as all song lyrics, album covers, and images of the composer. Tribute bands, with the main goal of preserving the music, have been sued for illegally profiting of ZFT trademarks (using the name Zappa to let people know that they are a Zappa tribute band), and for preforming the music of Frank Zappa without permission. According to U.S. law, musicians are allowed to cover copyrighted music as long as the venue or the band pays its dues to the local organization that takes care of the performance rights (for the U.S., that would be ASCAP), which these bands do. However, ZFT lawyers argue that Frank Zappa's music is inherently "dramatic" in nature, and because it is "dramatic" it falls under a different category.

Is that any way to treat your fans? The people who strive day by day to preserve the legacy of Frank Zappa, is that how they are treated? There seems to be a trend; not too long ago, lawyers representing Prince sued the Artist's largest fansite for similar atrocities, namely having Prince's image and song lyrics on the site. What is the music industry coming to? Antagonizing fans is no way to sell merchandise.

This leads to the question: is this right? Not in any legal sense, but morally. "Music is the best." Shouldn't the music come first? I agree that artists should making a substantial profit on their hard work. But suing a website for offering UNRELEASED live bootlegs? Why not embrace the fact that their is an interest in these recordings, and that their availability will only increase the demand for official releases? The Grateful Dead and Phish are examples of this, offering free live shows on their own website. Other bands like The Who, Primus, and Pearl Jam offer these live recordings for a low price. Last time I checked, these groups are doing well.

But enough blather from me, what do you think? Do these fan sites and tribute bands infringe on the musician's estate's right make a profit on the music, or is there something amiss? Hopefully this will all blow over, but either way the wind blows the music remains the best.

One of the fansites being sued

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