If you have any interest at all in the music business, be sure to bookmark The Discography, a new website developed by a recent graduate at the Washington University School of Law that catalogs more than 2,400 music-related court cases dating back to 1833.
Loren Wells, the site's creator, always threatened to go to law school if a career as a professional musician didn't pan out. But even after he made good on that threat, he still wanted to work in the music business in some capacity. In his early months of law school, he started reading The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. The law was very much of his mind, and so he noticed there were lawsuits on every third page. Just for fun, he started compiling a spreadsheet of the cases.
Wells mentioned the project to Charles McManus, a professor he describes, appropriately enough, as a rock star. McManus suggested he apply for funding from the law school's Center for Empirical Research in the Law (CERL). "They instantly jumped on it," Wells says, sounding surprised. "As far as everybody knows, this has never been done before."
Most people, Wells notes, associate music lawsuits with copyright law, but, as his spreadsheet grew, he noticed that the cases encompassed all sorts of issues.
"It's not really about law," he says. "It's about the lives of musicians. I read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries and wrote down names. Then I looked up cases associated with the names [in legal databases]. After a while, I got it down to a science. I could do it quickly and accurately."
He began playing music again with the Chicago-based band Cavalry and on long trips up and down I-55, he began thinking about ways to organize the website.
Among his favorite cases: Marley Marl sued Snoop Dogg in 2001 for sampling one of his songs. "In his defense," Wells says, "Snoop said that Marley Marl had actually taken that sample from Otis Redding. He was suing without realizing he'd taken a sample himself!"
Also the case wherein a 50-year-old attorney sued John Fogerty in 2003 for playing too loud at a concert and damaging his hearing. Amazingly, the case made it all the way to the New York State Supreme Court. On the site, Wells describes the verdict as "dismissed and hilarious."
Since his law school graduation last spring, Wells has been working on The Discography full-time. Now that it's up and running, though, he has to figure out what to do next. "I'd love for this to become a full-time job," he says. "I have a list of ancillary databases I want to set up. Right now it's a novelty. I want to work on it when it's not new, but lasting."