The hashtag #FreeKesha has been trending hard this year, as fans rally around to support the 29-year-old US popstar in her ongoing legal battle with her record label.
Music stars have fallen out with their bosses many times before, but the circumstances surrounding Kesha and the allegations she has made against long-time collaborator Dr Luke (real name Lukasz Gottwald) are incredibly serious.
Here are the main questions answered about the ongoing legal case that has divided the music industry.
Kesha wants to break her recording contract with Kemosabe Records, after accusing its founder and her producer, Dr Luke, of sexual misconduct and abuse. She’s been signed to the label since 2005 and released her hits ‘Tik Tok’ and ‘We R Who We R’ through them. Kesha’s deal covers both her recording and publishing rights, so the companies Kemosabe and Prescription – both owned by Dr Luke – are completely in control of her livelihood.
However, Kesha still owes the label six more albums, so they are refusing to let her go. It means that Kesha’s career has found itself in limbo. Naturally, she doesn’t want to release any more albums through Kemosabe, but legally she can’t take her music elsewhere.
Remember when Kesha checked into rehab back in 2014 to be treated for an eating disorder? Well, her mother Pebe Sebert has since claimed that her daughter had bulimia, after Dr Luke allegedly suggested she wasn’t in shape.
Also, while Kesha was at the facility, doctors “concluded that Dr Luke had physically and psychologically damaged Ms Sebert to the point where continuing such contact would be ‘life-threatening'”, according to her lawsuit. It added that Dr Luke’s alleged abuse had caused “severe depression, post-traumatic stress, social isolation, and panic attacks”.
Kesha then brought forward a formal lawsuit in October 2014.
Well of course he does. The American producer put forward his own complaint to the New York Supreme Court, claiming that Kesha’s accusations are part of an extortion plot by the star, her mother and her manager Jack Rovner for her to break free of her contract with him.
“As part of the effort to get out of the Gottwald Recording Agreement, Kesha and Pebe have also orchestrated a campaign of publishing false and shocking accusations against Gottwald to extort Plaintiffs into letting Kesha out of the Gottwald Recording Agreement,” it stated.
After Kesha was refused a preliminary injunction in February 2016, Dr Luke once again defended his position on Twitter. “The only truly objective person who knows the facts is the judge. The judge did not rule in Kesha’s favour on Friday,” he tweeted. “I didn’t rape Kesha and I have never had sex with her.
“Kesha and I were friends for many years and she was like my little sister. It’s sad that she would turn a contract negotiation into something so horrendous and untrue. Kesha and I made a lot of songs together and it was often good, but there were creative differences at times.”
Dr Luke’s Kemosabe Records is an imprint of Sony Music. It’s basically housed by the major label. Therefore, Kesha has accused them of turning a blind eye when her alleged abuse by Dr Luke took place.
“Dr Luke’s proclivity for abusive conduct was open and obvious to [Sony Music Entertainment] Doe executives, who either knew of the conduct and turned a blind eye, failed to investigate Dr Luke’s conduct, failed to take any corrective action, or actively concealed Dr Luke’s abuse,” her lawsuit posited.
“[Kesha] Sebert cannot have it both ways. She cannot claim that Gottwald intimidated her into silence, then – as an apparent afterthought – seek to hold Sony and Kemosabe Records liable for failing to act on conduct that she did not report,” they stated in their dismissal motion in an attempt to have her claims thrown out completely. Fundamentally, they deny Kesha’s accusation.
However, as support for the #FreeKesha movement grew, the major label explained their position more clearly in the ongoing legal battle. “Sony has made it possible for Kesha to record without any connection, involvement or interaction with Luke whatsoever, but Sony is not in a position to terminate the contractual relationship between Luke and Kesha,” Scott A Edelman, an attorney representing the company, said.
“Sony is doing everything it can to support the artist in these circumstances, but is legally unable to terminate the contract to which it is not a party.”
Well of course they’re not. In fact, they’ve started the #FreeKesha movement to get her released from her contract with Dr. Luke and Sony Music.
It includes a very active social media campaign, as well as protests outside of Sony Music’s offices in New York City. So far, a petition asking the record label to release Kesha from her contractual obligation has amassed a whopping 411,000 signatures. They also projected the singer’s image on Sony Music’s HQ on Madison Avenue.
Mounting pressure on the record company led to reports that they had bought Dr Luke out his agreement with them, so they could distance themselves from the producer. However, Dr Luke was quick to deny that any such agreement had been reached.
Precisely. Which is why she requested a preliminary injunction back in September 2015 to temporarily release her from the contract until the final verdict. The star argued that as a high-profile artist, the more time she takes out of the spotlight, the more damage will be done to her professional brand and the ability to continue her career on the same level she has enjoyed in the past.
But as we all know, in February 2016 New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied Kesha the preliminary injunction she had requested. “You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry,” Kornreich said. “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing,” she added, citing Dr Luke’s $60 million investment in Kesha’s career so far.
It means Kesha is still contractually obliged to write and record six more albums under Dr Luke’s Kemosabe Records. However, the producer’s legal representation said that he is willing to let her work on the record without his involvement. Kesha was in tears at the courthouse when the verdict came through.
Oh of course – the denied preliminary injunction was just a setback. Her trial against Dr Luke, Kemosabe Records and Sony Music hasn’t even started yet. The singer still has to convince a jury that she has grounds to be released from her contract, and then she will be able to sign with another label and continue with her next album.
However, if she loses, she will have no choice but to provide Kemosabe Records with the six remaining albums she is contractually obliged to give them. Unless an agreement is reached for her to be bought out of her record contract.
Is there absolutely nothing she can do in the meantime?
Well, Kesha’s attorney Mark Geragos filed paperwork to appeal the decision by New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich. If granted, it would’ve allowed her to record outside of her contract.
But then, in April 2016, a major setback occurred that meant Kesha’s legal battle got a whole lot more difficult. Remember that dismissal motion Sony Music brought forward to have Kesha’s accusations against Dr Luke thrown out of court? Well, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich ruled in favour of their motion.
The judge dismissed seven of the eight claims Kesha included in her lawsuit against the producer. The popstar’s accusations that Dr Luke had threatened and verbally abused her during their decade-long professional relationship were rejected. “It is clear that the statute requires physical violence or property damage,” the judge wrote.
The only two instances where that applied in Kesha’s lawsuit was the alleged assault on an airplane in 2005, and the claim that Dr Luke raped her in his hotel room back in 2008. However, those incidents were beyond the statute of limitations, the ruling stated.
Because those two alleged incidents are time-barred, it means that a bulk of Kesha’s lawsuit was denied. That included her claims of emotional distress, “employment based gender discrimination”, and that his alleged abuse could be seen as a “gender-motivated hate crime”.
As for the one claim that wasn’t dismissed? That is related to contractual issues, and so a conference call to discuss this part of the lawsuit took place on April 13. Kesha was then subpoenaed by Dr Luke’s attorneys for an on-camera deposition in June. The star was scheduled to be questioned under oath about her claims that the producer sexually assaulted and raped her. It was also thought that Dr Luke would be present at the court. However, this was delayed as the case was temporarily put on hold.
Kesha made clear that this isn’t just about getting out of her contract, but rather making sure the public know the truth behind these allegations.
How do we know this? Well, Kesha made the claim on Instagram, alleging that she was offered the chance to break her contract if she publicly apologised to Dr. Luke and withdrew her accusations of sexual misconduct. Naturally, she was far from keen on the idea.
Dr Luke quickly responded to this claim though, through a statement from his legal team. “The Court repeatedly stated Kesha is already free to record without Dr Luke, and that she had not presented any facts supporting her claims,” it read.
It’s not looking great, but it’s not entirely over just yet. Kesha’s lawsuit is technically a counterclaim. The star originally brought the case to Dr Luke in California back in 2014, but her contract with the producer meant that disputes had to go through the New York court. So Dr Luke then brought a defamation suit against her, which is what she is responding to here.
However, following that final ruling by New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich, it looks like Kesha was forced to get out of her contract by actually completing it – basically the backroom deal she wanted desperately to avoid. On August 2, 2016, the popstar filed to dismiss her sexual assault lawsuit against Dr Luke. The agreement means she can resume her music career and honour her contract with Sony Music and Kemosabe.
“Kesha is focused on getting back to work and has delivered 28 new songs to the record label,” Kesha’s lawyer Daniel Petrocelli explained. “We have conveyed to Sony Music and the label Kesha’s strong desire to release the single and an album as soon as possible.”
Although Kesha has agreed to complete her record contract, the star is adamant she will continue the fight through the New York court system. “My fight continues,” she wrote on Instagram. “I need to get my music out. I have so much to say. This lawsuit is so heavy on my once free spirit, and I can only pray to one day feel that happiness again.
“I am continuing to fight for my rights in New York. Thank you for all your support. The support of my fans has been so beautiful and I’m so grateful for it. I’m not sure where I would be without you all.”
However, the singer has asked a Manhattan judge not let “her most sensitive medical records including gynecological, psychiatric, and rehabilitation records going back more than ten years” be made public.
“Ms Sebert now fears that Gottwald will seek to disclose and disseminate her personal medical records in an attempt to embarrass and harass her,” attorney James Pearl stated in a motion sent to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich. Pearl added that Sebert “has disclosed highly sensitive personal medical records as part of this litigation, and her position as a world-renowned recording artist in whom there is great public interest renders any potential disclosure of those records potentially harmful to her personal and economic interests.”
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Dr Luke’s legal team have argued against this request, though. The producer’s lawyer Christine Lepera stated: “Because Kesha made public accusations and in the case that she was allegedly harmed by Dr Luke, the Court ordered her to produce her medical records.
“Now, Kesha wants to hide her records, while continuing to make self-serving, selective and misleading statements to hurt my clients publicly. Our position is that that the Court – and not Kesha’s lawyers – should decide whether Kesha’s medical information remains confidential given her public disclosures.
“We in fact offered to keep the records confidential pending the Court’s decision as to them. Kesha’s attorneys refused that offer, and instead filed their misleading motion for more press attacks on my clients.”
On Tuesday, March 21, Judge Kornreich struck down Kesha’s amended counterclaims. In January, Kesha’s lawyers had argued: “You can get a divorce from an abusive spouse, you can dissolve a partnership if the relationship becomes irreconcilable. The same opportunity — to be liberated from the physical, emotional, and financial bondage of a destructive relationship — should be available to a recording artist.”
The meat of their argument was that Dr Luke apparently breached his contract with Kesha by refusing to send her accounting statements and not paying her royalties. Dr Luke’s people retorted that Kesha, in fact, owed Dr Luke money, and the Judge agreed.
The Judge also ruled that Kesha had not fulfilled the terms of her contract, and so could not argue that Dr Luke had not acted in good faith.
Kesha’s other contention – that under Californian law, all contracts with recording artists must terminate after seven years (to protect young artists from exploitation) – was also struck down, the Judge said, because Kesha had specifically chosen to pursue the case in New York, where that law does not apply.
In short, Tuesday, March 21 was a bad day for Kesha.
Well he’s trying to. The producer slapped a lawsuit into Pebe Sebert’s lap in September 2016, saying that she continues to “defame” him.
“After we originally filed suit against Pebe Sebert, she continued to make outrageous, false and defamatory statements against Dr Luke in her widespread media campaign to damage and smear his name,” Dr Luke’s lawyer Christine Lepera told People.
“Pebe Sebert’s lawyers flat out refused to allow us to add those statements to the existing case or to toll the statute of limitations on them – so we’ve been compelled to file an additional action.”
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It’s not the first time Pebe has crossed Dr Luke. Just back in February, lawsuits against her and her alleged smear campaign were dismissed.
Pebe’s lawyer Alex Little said in another statement that this was the producer’s second “effort” to sue “a mother for publicly supporting and believing her daughter about being raped”.
They added: “It’s also a transparent attempt to delay the trial of these issues. Mrs Sebert looks forward to presenting her case to a jury as soon as possible. When the evidence is made public, she expects the jury will conclude that all of her statements have been justified.”
The ‘Shake It Off’ superstar donated $250,000 in financial aid towards Kesha’s undoubtedly expensive legal battle. That said, Demi Lovato seemingly took issue with Taylor Swift’s lack of vocal support for Kesha.
“Take something to Capitol Hill or actually speak out about something and then I’ll be impressed,” Lovato said after the donation was made. Demi believes that “self-proclaimed feminists” need to make some real noise in this case.
Elsewhere, Lady Gaga quite literally joined hands with Kesha to show her solidarity with the embattled popstar. Gaga also shared a powerful statement from California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom applauding Kesha’s bravery.
In January 2017 it emerged that a text sent from Kesha to Gaga had been viewed and sealed by a judge.
The text is reportedly from April 2016, and Luke’s, Gaga’s and Katy Perry’s legal representatives are all permitted to see it.
“Gottwald may share with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry the April 2016 text that Kesha sent to Lady Gaga, which Kesha turned over in discovery,” the documents state.
However, the website reports that the contents of the text messages remain confidential, and both parties can decide whether they will be used in court.
Adele, meanwhile very publicly declared her support for Kesha while collecting her Best British Female prize at the Brit Awards in London.
Meanwhile, Ariana Grande, Lorde and Kelly Clarkson were among a whole collection of female stars to show their support for Kesha during this difficult time.
Obviously this situation would be heartbreaking for any music artist unable to continue creating the one thing they love, but Kesha assured fans all along that she was ready for the fight.
She also recorded an emotional thank you song for her fans, after all of their continued support.
What’s more, Kesha gave a powerful speech as she accepted the Visibility Award at the Human Rights Campaign Nashville Equality Dinner back in March.
“I’m going through some personal things that have been really intense and hard lately and I just want to say thank you for any support I’ve received,” she said.