Grand Rights and the Zappa Family Trust Revisited


As the case between Dweezil Zappa and his brother Ahmet reaches a new level of public debate, I thought I would document a few thoughts on Grand Rights.When I wrote my original paper 5-6 years ago, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) outlined the following criteria through which Grand Rights can be judged. As far as I am aware, it has not changed.

(i) The performance of an entire dramatico-musical work. For example, a performance of the musical play Oklahoma would be a dramatic performance.

(ii) The performance of one or more musical compositions from a dramatico-musical work accompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken. For example, a performance of ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’ from Oklahoma with costumes, sets or props or dialogue from the show would be dramatic.

(iii) The performance of one or more musical compositions as part of a story or plot, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action or visual representation. For example, incorporating a performance of ‘If I Loved You’ into a story or plot would be a dramatic performance of the song.

(iv) The performance of a concert version of a ‘dramatico-musical work’. For example, a performance of all the songs in Oklahoma even without costumes or sets would be a dramatic performance.


Now the copyright of the use of the name is something else, as the Zappa Family Trust have trademarked the name Zappa Plays Zappa. However, the important question I am interested in, using the above criteria, is are Zappa Plays Zappa (and other tribute bands) infringing Grand Rights territory? My simple response, would be no – usually! As indicated in my original article, the ZFT have attempted to argue that tribute artists performing Zappa’s music are basically part of his  overarching musical dramatic ‘meta narrative’ – what Zappa called ‘project object’ and ‘conceptual continuity’. The only criteria it comes close to is point ii above – but even then we have to consider Zappa’s music in its entirety to be part of a dramatic-musical work, which it is not according to the widely considered definition. However, if a tribute band wanted to  create a musical dramatic version of Joe’s Garage for example, then that would be something different, and would arguable fall under point iv above. The recent gigs by ZPZ doing the Roxy and Elsewhere gigs are a case in point – this would be a Grand Rights claim


However, under ‘normal circumstances’, if a band is simply performing Zappa’s music – it is not. So to conclude, Grand Rights has the potential to be applicable, but most of the time it won’t be. All bands need to do is keep check what they are doing against the above criteria. Providing you are not moving into Grand Rights territory, you are perfectly within your rights to play Zappa’s music. The ZFT will obtain income via PRS, ASCAP etc, the musicians get to play Zappa’s amazing music and the audience get to enjoy it. Everybody should be happy!!

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
This entry was posted in Musicology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s