This Saturday, the city of Berlin will dedicate a street to the memory of Frank Zappa. But Gail Zappa, wife of the late rock iconoclast, has threatened to sue the musicians’ collective behind the naming unless Germany’s formally-chartered Zappa fan club withdraws from the event.
A letter from a Dusseldorf law firm accuses Arf-Society e.V. (the fan club) of exploiting the street dedication for its own purposes, and of copyright violations and other rights infringements. The letter also contends that Gail Zappa did not know about the street-naming, and that she should have been contacted for approval.
In response, Thomas Dippel, Arf-Society chairperson, released the following statement:
"With great dismay and surprise, Arf-Society – organizer of biggest known Zappa festival in the world for the last 18 years – must take note of Gail Zappa’s effort to prevent our participation in the inauguration of Frank-Zappa-Street in Berlin.
"How this all came about: Acting on a proposal by the ORWOhaus musicians’ collective, the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district board approved renaming ‘Road 13’ as ‘Frank-Zappa-Strasse’, the first street in Germany named for a rock musician. This major recognition of Frank pleased us greatly, of course. We immediately contacted ORWOhaus to assure them of our help in any way we could.
"When Ahmet Zappa [Zappa’s second son] was in Berlin on November 6, 2006, publicizing his first book, members of ORWOhaus invited him to take part in the preparations and the event itself. By making contact with the Zappa family, ORWOhaus hoped to spark a dialog about plans for the event. The family never responded to these overtures.
"So, Arf-Society began to help by contacting Zappa tribute band ‘Sheik Yerbouti’, and by arranging the participation of Napoleon Murphy Brock, revered Zappa band member and star of last year’s Zappa Plays Zappa tour. In fact, Arf-Society is paying half of Mr. Brock’s travel expenses, which enables ORWOhaus to put a serious representation of Zappa’s music on stage for the celebration, despite a very limited budget.
"But then ORWOhaus received a letter from Thomas Schmitz, of the Dusseldorf law firm Reiman Osterreith Kohler Haft, dated July 10, 2007, saying that they were retained to represent the legal interests of Gail Zappa and her children after press releases saying that Arf-Society would be involved in the street-naming. Gail Zappa would sue because Arf-Society ‘is constantly violating her trademark rights and copyrights, and exploiting the artistic heritage of Frank Zappa. Our client will under no circumstances put up with that Society taking publicity from the street renaming for their own purpose.’
"These groundless accusations hurt us deeply, as we have strived for almost two decades to honor and preserve Frank Zappa’s musical heritage. Long before 2004, we repeatedly invited Gail Zappa and her family to work together with us, especially since they would profit from our work promoting Frank’s legacy. Yet, Gail Zappa’s only answer reads: ‘If you want to play with me, you have to play it by my rules!’ She has also threatened other Zappa tribute bands and artists with restraining orders for quite some time."
"Mrs Zappa, we protest explicitly against the unwarrented claims you raised. As Frank would have asked, are you ‘only in it for the money?’"