Now we have an example of the dead widow syndrome that takes the cake, one involving Frank Zappa, whose band "The Mothers of Invention," gives the story a very ironic twist. The item comes from my favorite UK website, IPKat:
The IPKat's friend Ben Challis of Music Law Updates has sent him this item, which he describes as "disturbing", about the current state -- or is it fate -- of Frank Zappa tribute bands. According to the Herald & Review
" ... Frank Zappa died 14 years ago, just short of his 54th birthday. While it might be hard to believe for those who know Zappa for "Valley Girl" and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," his 60-plus albums represent a valuable canon to a pocket of fans ...The IPKat would like to know what's going on here. If a licence to perform has been obtained and the performer is neither infringing any Zappa trade mark nor passing itself off as the long-dead hero, and no representation or suggestion is made that the tribute band has been officially endorsed, isn't that enough? Merpel says, one should not forget the extent to which the deceased promoted the image of the furry feline through such oeuvres as Yo Cats and Alley Cat.
That music has also launched about a dozen tribute bands that play both here [ie the US, or "there" as it is known to us Europeans] and in Europe. In addition, Zappa Plays Zappa, a group headed by Frank's son Dweezil, has conducted a pair of tours of the United States, recently toured Australia and is planning shows in Japan this month.
The problem is, Zappa Plays Zappa is the only group authorized by the Zappa Family Trust, the group that controls Frank Zappa's estate. And the trust spent much of December sending out cease-and-desist letters to blogs, to tribute bands and to a European memorial concert that's been going on since 1990 (one that Frank Zappa endorsed during his life).
The trust's cease-and-desist case - which has altered but not shut down any blogs, and which failed to stop at least two tribute band performances it was designed to halt - seems to rest on the interesting yet dubious assertion that, quoting the letter from trust lawyers posted on the Web site of tribute band Bogus Pomp:
" ¦ (ASCAP) licenses ¦ limit the grant of rights to nondramatic performances ¦ Many works by Frank Zappa are inherently dramatic in nature."
Carried to a logical extreme, any band that performs a tribute to another band in some "dramatic" form is performing against the law. Isn't any performance on a stage "dramatic" by definition?
The law certainly has its place in the entertainment industry. Unreliable acts and unscrupulous promoters and venue owners need to have their feet held to the fire.
But lawyers are out of place when they begin to affect the art, and the audience's enjoyment of same.
Frank Zappa said it best during his lifetime:
"If you're a musician, play my music. If you're not a musician, play my music."
As those playful kittens might have noted, limitation of the term of protection to life of the author (for copyright, right of publicity, and all rights) would take care of these problems. I note too this entry from wikipedia:
Situated in New York, and only interrupted by the band’s first European tour, the Mothers of Invention recorded the album widely regarded as the peak of the group's late Sixties work, We're Only in It for the Money (released 1968).