Now that I've completed my Via Zammata' tour I've had a chance to read your open letter. Since it can be challenging to convey tone in print I will preface this by saying I am not responding to you with animosity.
In keeping with the standards of transparency and intellectual honesty that our father established with his fans and the public I am willing to respond to your letter to clarify things. Your letter contains many contradictions and erroneous statements so it is probably best if I respond directly to your own words in context to your letter.
Before I get to that tedious undertaking I would like you to understand that in my opinion we are where we are due to the fact that you ignored my offer to settle a 10 year battle over unpaid merchandise money due to me. During her tenure as the executor of the ZFT, our mother created a Zappa Plays Zappa merchandise contract with me that she did not honor. She kept 100% of all of the ZPZ tour merch money since day one instead of paying me my portion. I challenged her regarding her actions for a decade. When she passed away the situation was brought to your attention as the new executor of the ZFT and instead of making it right you demanded the same, to collect 100% of all monies from merchandise sold at my concerts even though I'm the one doing 100% of the work presenting our father’s music to audiences around the world. I’m the one who takes the financial risk and covers all of the business expenses including airfares, tour bus, insurance, band and crew salaries for rehearsals and touring. Furthermore, your non negotiable demand that I not use our father's image in any way and your threat that I would be charged $150,000 for every song I play as Zappa Plays Zappa without the permission of the trust paved the way to where we currently stand. All that being said, I will continue to play our father’s music publicly, not because it’s a lucrative business, especially when substantial monies are withheld from me and expenses continue to rise, but because it is a labor of love for me.
Below you will find my responses in bold italics.
Strange to be writing this in public, but I don't know how else to respond.
After reading the article in The New York Times, I'm not sure how else to reach you.
--- DZ: Sorry to say this but I find this sentence to be disingenuous. Despite your claim that you have no other means of reaching me except to post an open letter on your Facebook, twitter and the zappa.com site, you can easily reach me directly and personally by phone, text, email, fax, fed ex, certified mail, sky writer, carrier pigeon or a note slipped under my front door for that matter.
You're implying that you have exhausted all of those communication options yet we both know that none of those options were recently attempted on your part. The most obvious choice of telephone or email would produce factual evidence. We both know that phone and e-mail records would illustrate all of this nicely.
If we talk through our lawyers, it's not because I want that. It's because you've refused to talk any other way. I've been reaching out to you for months. I even tried to set up a family meeting so we could discuss all of our family issues, but you repeatedly said you couldn't fit it into your schedule, and that you weren't available to attend without your lawyers present.
---DZ: Again sorry but I find this to be disingenuous as well. Fact: I have not received a single phone call from you in months. The last email I received from you was on February 19, 2016. It was in response to my own email that I sent to you 2 weeks earlier on February 5th 2016. That is the extent of our private communication since then.
Your team of attorneys has been your preferred method to evade answering my questions about the ZFT and the settling of the family estate since our mother's passing.
As far as attending meetings, I was not available because of rehearsals and touring. It is counterfactual to imply that I am avoiding contact with you when in reality I was fulfilling my professional responsibilities and obligations.
Unfortunately lawyers are needed at this point. Here's why:
1. All communications from your team of lawyers have cited legalities as a basis for your claims and demands. Lawyers respond to lawyers, plain and simple.
2. There has been no response to my requests for specific accounting and general transparency of the ZFT from you or your lawyers. Because I cannot get answers from you or your lawyers, I need the accountability that the presence of a lawyer can ensure.
And C. There is no C, I just like that stupid joke.
So if anything, it is misrepresentative to imply that these matters could be settled without lawyers at this point.
Instead, you've given this incomplete, misleading story to the NYT and the media, and invited the whole world to take sides about our family business. Now, we're becoming "that family" – the spoiled brats arguing in public about who deserves what.
--- DZ: Perhaps you ought to think a little more carefully about what you are saying here or at least cut back on the hyperbole.
While I did talk to the NY TIMES, it was not in an effort to lure you into a public discussion in any way shape or form. Because of the unfortunate restrictions you were placing on me as a musician, the equivalent of restraint of trade, and since you ignored my reasonable offer to settle the ZPZ/ZFT merch issue months ago, it was no longer feasible for me to continue to use the name Zappa Plays Zappa.
I had already booked most of our 2016 concerts under that name so it was necessary to take a proactive stance with the promoters I work with and the public by informing them of the new name of the band, Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa.
Instead, you've given this incomplete, misleading story to the NYT and the media, and invited the whole world to take sides about our family business. Now, we're becoming "that family" – the spoiled brats arguing in public about who deserves what.
--- DZ: Incomplete? Hmmm... not so sure about that. The NY Times is atop the list of the most respected news sources both nationally and internationally. It is not a tabloid, and the articles are vetted. I supplied complete documentation to back up the facts I referenced in the interview. The writer did his due diligence and I would hazard a guess that the NY Times would be surprised to hear your comments about the article since you were directly interviewed and asked to respond to things I said. Your answers were printed in quotes, verbatim. The NY Times also spoke to outside legal counsel for a fair an unbiased opinion of the law related to your threats against me. I would define this type of journalistic approach as extremely thorough, as opposed to misleading or incomplete.
I understand you're hurting and angry. We all are. But the more we fight about this in the press, the worse it gets for all of us. We're not gaining anything by doing this in public.
If you're not willing to talk to me, though, I don't know what else to do. The New York Times has a story about a version of me that isn't based on facts or reality, and I don't know how else to set the record straight – or get you to talk to me – except to write this here, where people can form opinions by reading what I said for themselves.
---DZ: You may not like the NY Times article but the story is 100% based on substantiated facts, not conjecture.
If you want to share private facts and legal documents, we can do that too, because honestly, we both know what'll happen: it will give everyone a complete picture of what's happening. Not the distorted one that's out there now, which makes it look like this is about business crushing art, or me being a greedy asshole who wants to take away your rights.
---DZ: If you are saying the NY Times printed a distorted story based on incomplete or erroneous information that was purposely misleading with the intent to denigrate you personally then perhaps you should seek a retraction. Of course you would have to support your claim with facts, the same as I did when I was interviewed for the story.
If you have nothing to support your implied claims of dishonesty on my part or the New York Times, then Ahmet what are you trying to gain by claiming these things in public?
I don't know how else to start, so I'll just respond to a few things I've read:
1. The article claims that you're no longer allowed to perform under the name Zappa Plays Zappa.
Not true, and we both know it. I have never asked you to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to use the ZPZ name. You've only been told that you can't keep using the name without agreeing to a fee of $1 per year, which you're fully aware of, but never mentioned in your interviews. I'll come back to that in a second. But just so everyone is clear:
--- DZ: When you say "Not true and we both know it" I disagree.
Here's what I know. I signed a contract with our mother.
The contract defined the fees I was charged to perform our father's music. It defined the terms and delineated my profit participation for ZPZ merchandise that I offered at ZPZ concerts. However, she did not honor this contract.
As your lawyers are well aware, our mother consistently refused to give me an accounting of, or pay me any of the moneys owed to me for the ZPZ merch sold at my concerts since 2006. She cashed 100% of those checks for a decade. Ten years of legal obligations disregarded. Now, even with your knowledge of the signed contract and your awareness of her obligations, you have chosen to disregard all responsibilities to me that the contract delineates. This is completely unacceptable.
The ZFT was created in part to hold the rights of trademarks, publishing, copyrights, photographical images, etc in that trust, thus allowing Frank's heirs to protect his legacy from those who would abuse it.
In the name of protecting the music of our father, our mother created a legacy of her own. I'm not referring to that in a pleasant way. This legacy included years of failed multi-million dollar debt inducing lawsuits, a determination to posses every thing connected with our father, (down to trademarking his mustache) and a perception that anyone playing Franks music was somehow suspect and motivated by dubious intentions.
I will never understand why she created the unfair and unacceptable working relationship with me for Zappa Plays Zappa. Of the countless rock 'n roll bands made up of non family members that go out and play our father's music around the world, not one has ever had to directly pay the ZFT in order to play his music yet she demanded that of me, a family member. No other band has had their merchandise commandeered and absorbed 100% by the ZFT under any circumstances. In your refusal to honor the contract I had with her you are continuing the injustice she started.
Fact: You can absolutely keep touring under the name Zappa Plays Zappa.
---DZ: Fact... You're omitting the part in the deal you offered where you are demanding that the ZFT continues to be able to collect and keep 100% of the tour merchandise rendering your proposed deal unacceptable.
You could do it tomorrow, and honestly, I hope you will. You’re a f*****g guitar god and in my opinion one of the best guitar players in the world. You do an amazing job playing our father's music with total integrity. Your tours help keep Frank's name alive, just like the work Gail and I have done through the ZFT.
---DZ: Unfortunately your actions speak louder than the words you're using to spin this. A non negotiable demand that I am soley responsible for all touring and rehearsing expenses, yet receive 0% of the tour merchandise, and no retroactive payments of merch money that I'm owed since 2006 in exchange for paying 1 dollar for the license to use the name Zappa Plays Zappa is not a deal. If this proposition wasn't so laughable, I'd consider it an insult.
This isn't about your tours, or art, or even about you. This is about the way the Trust was set up ages ago: if any of us use the "Zappa Plays Zappa" name for commercial purposes, a share of the profit goes back to the ZFT, to cover the high costs involved in maintaining the business and releasing more of Frank's content for the fans. Period.
The point is: No one is stopping you from using the name, as long as you follow the exact same rules as the rest of us.
---DZ: The devil is in the details of that last phrase of yours. Like Tom Waits said, "The large print giveth and the fine print taketh away." Why have you once again omitted the part about the ZFT collecting 100% of the merch money? Is it because it's a bogus deal that no-one would ever agree to? Who is this 'rest of us'? I'm the only one in the family that can play our dad's music.
I know you would like to say to everyone that I have a share in the ZFT. This may be true at first glance of the will but again like Tom Waits said, "The large print giveth and the fine print taketh away." Moon and I have a 20% share each of the ZFT and you and Diva have 30% each. This was deliberately created to be unequal by our mother. Since the ZFT is saddled with multi million dollar debt and the trust is illiquid (according to you) there’s no chance any money will be coming to me or Moon any time soon.
Redundancy ad nauseum, you have demanded that the ZFT would take 100% of the tour merch revenue and in a little twist have suggested that after the trust pays off its debts then I would receive my 20% share of what is leftover, a mere fraction of what I am owed per the contract. But that's ok because you and Diva would get your 30% percent share directly from all of my hard work, so you're good. It sounds so reasonable, where do I sign up?
And before anyone starts thinking that we're trying to screw you, let's talk about fees again.
2. The article claims that if you perform without paying the ZFT an "exorbitant fee," you'll be charged up to $150,000 for each song you play.
Again, not even close to true.
---DZ: Fact: 100% true. You'll have to fall on your own sword for uttering that phrase.
As I have said ad nauseum, your 1 dollar deal to use the name but take all of the merch is unacceptable. If I was to tour under the name Zappa Plays Zappa and not pay you 100% of the merch money you threatened to sue me for copyright infringement of $150,000 per musical infraction. That is a fact! Here's the language from the actual letter I received from your attorney that references the $150,000 infringement threat.
"In light of the foregoing we hereby advise you that should your client proceed to perform under, or advertise, or otherwise use the name "ZPZ" or "Zappa Plays Zappa" or to use the same in connection with any such performances my client will pursue its rights to prevent such performance and usage as the exclusive owner of these trademarks. Further, your client cannot perform a show consisting largely of Frank Zappa's work because ASCAP is not authorized to grant a performance license for such kind of performances, and the ZFT will not grant such a license except on the terms outlined to Mr. Waring which your client has rejected. Any public performance of Frank Zappa's works as part of the ZPZ show using the music of Frank Zappa without a license from ZFT constitutes copyright infringement and will be prosecuted by ZFT. A willful infringement of copyright can result in damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, plus attorney's fees and a possible injunction."
As you saw from the NY Times article, the ZFT stands on flimsy legal ground with their attempts to argue cease and desist orders based on "Grand Rights." They have been wholly unsuccessful with this argument each and every time it has been attempted.
Honestly, this was the part that really hurt, because now a lot of Frank's fans think I'm some greedy dude who's just in this for the money. Can't blame them. It sounds like blackmail. Like I don't want you to be able to play Frank's music. If I read that article without knowing the rest of the facts, I'd think I was a greedy asshole too.
It's just not true.
---DZ: Actions speak louder than words.
Personally, I don't think the fee Gail asked for was exorbitant. If you want, we can share the exact terms with the public, instead of just asking them to take our word for it. But even if the price was too high, it doesn't matter anymore, because I didn't want it to be an issue for you. That's why I suggested a workaround.
---DZ: Your workaround was unfeasible and unacceptable as I have clearly explained.
So, if you're going to share family business with the whole world, I wish you'd tell them the whole story:
---DZ: You've personally designed this open letter to share the family business publicly. On the contrary, the NY Times article was necessary for me to continue running my own business publicly.
Fact: The "exorbitant fee" you're now being asked to pay the ZFT, to keep using Frank's name and performing his songs, is $1 per year.
That's not because the ZFT needs that money. I think we can live without an extra buck every year. It's because that token payment handles the legal requirement. Even though I thought the original fee was reasonable, I wanted to find a way to get us past this.
---DZ: Fact: The ZFT does need money because as you've told us yourself and through your lawyers it is illiquid and in millions of dollars of debt. Again, your actions speak louder than words.
And again, it's not just you: it's all four of us. If I want to perform Frank's music, I'll pay $1. So will Diva and Moon. That's just the deal, and I think it's a pretty reasonable solution.
---DZ: Fact: Oops... you left out the merch deal part again. I guess that is a tricky thing to remember.
One dollar, man. It doesn't seem like The New York Times knew that part.
---DZ: As I said before, they had all of the documentation to support the facts of the story. Legal correspondence, ZPZ/ZFT contract etc. The deal you keep referring to is one that I had already rejected as being ludicrous and unfeasible. And again, you were given the equal opportunity to address all of my statements. I can't be held responsible for your 1 dollar deal appearing to be irrelevant to the NY Times. If it walks like a duck...
And that's what hurts. If I was the greedy, deceitful asshole I'm reading about, I wouldn't be working this hard to find a way to make everyone happy.
---DZ: Who's the everyone you're referring to? The everyone you falsely claimed supported the kickstarter? The everyone you chose not to include in the kickstarter or any other ZFT project to date since taking office? It seems like it's the everyone that doesn't actually include Every One that you are working so hard to please.
3. The article suggests that this is all happening suddenly, that I'm changing the terms of your deal with the ZFT, and that you're being singled out.
Again, none of this is true.
---DZ: Fact: It did happen suddenly and very recently. You threatened to sue for copyright infringement on April 14th 2016. As you may or may not know touring requires long lead time logistics. I had many shows already booked for 2016, some were already on sale with an admat that was approved by our mother. I have a responsibility as an employer to my band and crew and a responsibility to the promoters I work with. A swift course of action was needed in order for me to continue with my band and avoid restraint of trade, hence the name change under duress. You did not send similar letters to anyone else, so I am being singled out.
First, this isn't sudden or new. That was always the deal Gail put in place – not just for you, but all of us. Gail's decision was always that any of us who want to use the name – you, me, Moon, Diva – can perform under that name.
---DZ: Let's be realistic, no one else in our family has been performing this music for the past decade. No one else in the family has achieved a knowledge of this depth about playing our father’s music. No one else in the family has any ability to play any instrument on a professional level. No one else in the family has the ability read charts or perform with the level of expertise required to perform this music commensurate with the standards our father set.
Our mother certainly wasn't capable of this task and it is misleading to present the idea that you, Moon or Diva are capable of playing our Father's music at this time or even in the foreseeable future, and therefore in need of even using the name Zappa Plays Zappa for any reason at all.
This isn't meant to be insulting to you. These are truths. If you yourself have the intention of changing your life style, learning an instrument, learning how to read his charts, forming a band, booking tours and devoting the amount of time it takes to do all of this well, it would be more relevant to simply state that.
But be honest: Frank Zappa's legacy isn't something we built, and "Zappa Plays Zappa" isn't a name that any one of us "owns" or has special claim to. We all got the same name at birth, and as the four beneficiaries of the ZFT, we all have an equal right to benefit from that name.
---DZ: Fact: We don't have an equal right to benefit from our last name. Our mother reneged on the contract she made with me and withheld tour merch money from me for a decade. I earned that through hard work and dedication, playing over a 1,000 shows all over the world. While sitting at home our mother made more money than me from the work I did to honor our father by doing, what did you call it?.. “You do an amazing job playing our father's music with total integrity. Your tours help keep Frank's name alive.” All the more reason to charge me as a family member extra and not go after outsiders for even a $1.
Also, Moon and I do not have the same equity in the trust as you and Diva. We have also been excluded from all recent/current ZFT projects. Oh yeah, and you recently sent me a cease and desist letter to halt touring as Zappa Plays Zappa. So equal would not be how I would describe things.
And But Also… a legacy is an endowment, an inheritance that is left behind. So of course we didn't build our father's legacy, he did. As his heirs, we can only protect and build upon a legacy that has been bequeathed to us, however unequally by his widow.
That's why Gail decided that any Zappa using the name "Zappa Plays Zappa" would pay a percentage of profits to the ZFT, where it could keep the family business going.
That rule doesn't just apply to you. It's for all four of us.
---DZ: Hmm, a "percentage" of the profits? Let’s imagine for a moment how our mother arrived at the "percentage" of ZPZ merch profits she thought was acceptable and that you also claim to be acceptable by way of your demands… Let’s think where might there be profits?… Oh yeah, tour merchandise!!! What percentage sounds good? Oh, I don't know, let's just start with 100%! 150% too much? Fine, 100% it is.
Apparently this concept does not apply to outside film directors who run kickstarters. They apparently get to use Frank Zappa's name and likeness as well as all of the contents of his vault to make a movie without receiving a cease and desist letter or an invoice.
A lot of people don't seem to realize this, but when you pay that fee – not even up front, but with a share of the profits you made performing our dad's music, and selling merchandise with his picture and name – it's not like it goes into my pocket. Most of it goes to the ZFT, so we can afford to keep remastering and releasing more of Frank's music to the fans, and building the business.
---DZ: The jury's still out on that one I'm afraid to say. You have given the right to Alex Winter to use our father's name, image and music to raise over one million dollars crowd funding his project. Has the ZFT received any monies for Alex Winter's use of Frank's name, image and music? I would like to know the terms for that deal.
You have stated on zappa.com: "I want to make sure everyone knows that this is NOT our project but we absolutely SUPPORT the project and Alex, and that the Zappa Family Trust will not receive any of the funds Alex raises during the Kickstarter"
The trust won’t receive anything at all? With the extremely high budget that is proposed to make this film, it will encounter more than a few stumbling blocks to make any profit. Why make the film at all then? It appears you’re just giving our father’s image and life’s work away to a stranger for nothing.
I'm curious about the fact that you and Alex Winter assert that the FZ film project is autonomous and has nothing to do with the ZFT. If that is the case, what quality control standard are we as the Zappa family to expect from this project? Our father was all about integrity and without being given any information from you or Diva I find this to be very confusing.
It also appears that you have given Alex Winter a free license on all vault content as well poetic license for story content. It appears to be an abstract situation. For example, could a homeless person walk into a ZFT meeting and magically ink this deal? Perhaps... On the other hand I can think of 2 immediate family members that wouldn't be considered for an autonomous deal like that.
Incidentally, are the expensive fees you are paying to your lawyers to present your claims to me regarding trademarks, copyrights, use of image etc. being paid by the ZFT, or are they coming out of your pocket? I ask this because I still haven't been given an accounting of the trust/estate.
I know the business side of Frank's legacy is less romantic than going out and touring with the music, but it's pretty damn important to me, and to the fans. It's also pretty damn expensive – and takes a ton of work. That's why Gail told us we have to sell the house: because she knew how much it would cost to maintain the catalog, work out deals with distributors, and get more content out to fans. Gail spent most of what we had just fighting to make sure we'd keep the rights to Frank's catalog.
---DZ: The house must be sold because of the massive debt and the ZFT being illiquid (according to you). It's unfortunate but our mother mismanaged the catalog and the ZFT for many years. There are scores of other great things in the vault that have yet to come out or could've come out so much sooner but our mother prevented it by virtue of her autocracy. I know this from many years of personal experience in my dealings with her. I know quite a bit about what's in the vault. I used to rehearse my literal rocking teenage combo in there when I was 12, when there was still room in there. I saw it get filled up over the years and I have a very good idea of what the fans would love to hear, having spoken to tens of thousands of them on the road with Zappa Plays Zappa over the last decade.
You write "I know the business side of Frank's legacy is less romantic than going out and touring with the music, but it's pretty damn important to me, and to the fans" Are you trying to say that performing Franks music for devoted as well as new audiences is simply a romantic venture, with no relevance to the business sides of Frank's legacy?
The preservation of Frank's musical legacy is wholly dependent on the audience it achieves. Therefore, any business practices that unreasonably inhibit, restrict or deter the performance of his music also jeopardize the ability to create and sustain an audience. Our mother did not understand this concept and seemingly neither do you or Diva.
Playing Frank's music is in fact very much a part of "the business side of Frank's legacy" and by your own claim it is to be considered a source of necessary revenue to keep the ZFT afloat!
And when the ZFT does have profits, we split them between the four of us. I'm getting enough heat on social media that I'm betting a lot of people don't realize that you also receive funds from the ZFT. Even when you do pay fees to use the Zappa name, and sell Zappa merchandise, you receive a portion of the profits from it. ___________
---DZ: That statement is simply not true. It is a misrepresentation of facts to say that I receive funds from the ZFT. As has been stated repeatedly, the trust is illiquid(according to you) and pays out nothing. It has ingested 100% of the ZPZ merch money over the last 10 years, yet I've received nothing.
I could say more, but it still feels weird to be saying all of this in public, especially when it feels like everyone is hoping for more drama. But, if I keep seeing inaccurate and misleading articles about what's happening, I don't know what you want me to do. Pretend it's true? Can't do that.
---DZ: I'm sorry to say this but your statements are full of contradictions and the very kind of unsubstantiated half truths that you have erroneously accused me of spreading. You have justified all of this by claiming you have been, in essence, woefully misunderstood. Misunderstood by whom? Me? My lawyer? Or is your concern more about the public's perception of who you are? Once again, actions speak louder than words.
Again, if you won't talk to me about this, and want to work things out in public, we can. Privacy has always been important in our family, but that doesn't mean I have anything to hide. I just don't see how it helps anything to get the media and the public to take sides, especially when they don't have all the facts.
If you're willing to talk – and not just through a lawyer – I hope you'll call me.
Your Brother, Ahmet
---DZ: If any of that last bit was honest it would stand to reason that you would have simply just picked up the phone yourself and skipped this whole deceitful exercise. We both know you didn't call. At this point I prefer to deal with the facts in writing.
Your brother, Dweezil