Elvis Costello reportedly once quipped that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” So what happens when musicians write legal briefs? It turns out, of course, that music and law have a longstanding and tempestuous relationship. Music may have charms to sooth the savage beast, but it also has the power to drive people to court. With this in mind, a student at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis was inspired to create The Discography, a legal encyclopedia of popular music. This database frames American case law through the prism of music, musicians, producers, publishers and other fixtures of the recording industry. The student, Loren Wells, worked with Washington University’s Center for Empirical Research in the Law to create the database, which today covers 2,400 court opinions and over two thousand prominent artists, musical groups, songwriters and the like.
The Discography contains some casebook classics, such as Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994), in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow for the fair use rights of 2 Live Crew. As you might expect, there are lots of copyright disputes between musicians, their labels, bootleggers and fans. But there is also much more: questions of family law, the First Amendment, bankruptcy, tax evasion, criminal matters and many others–even civil procedure!