the long, complex story behind #freekesha

There's yet another delay in Kesha's legal battle with Dr. Luke. But could 2016 be the year she finally makes a comeback?

by Laura Vogel
Jan 30 2016, 7:50pm

Jeff Denberg - Flickr

Kesha — she shed the dollar sign awhile back — hasn't recorded an album in three years, due to (and leading to) multiple lawsuits. Her fans, who launched the "FreeKesha" and "GoodLuckKesha" hashtags are tired of waiting, and when they found out on January 26 that her latest trial had been postponed until February 19, it lead to even more frustration. How did this once chart-topping performer find herself silenced? Could this happen to other artists?

The battle between Kesha, her producer (Dr. Luke), and her label (Sony) is long, convoluted, and contentious. The legal drama first began on October 14, 2014, when Kesha (full name: Kesha Rose Sebert) filed a preliminary injunction against her producer Dr. Luke (real name: Lukasz Gottwald). In the complaint, filed in California, she asked to be released from her recording contract with his label, claiming that Dr. Luke "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused" her in the ten years they'd worked together.

Today, Kesha maintains that her career has been irreparably damaged because she has been on a forced hiatus from recording and touring for the three years she has spent trying to free herself from Dr. Luke and Sony, which she claims has neglected her. If Kesha had wanted to record, she would have had no choice but to work with a man she considers a predator.

In response to Kesha's legal action, Dr. Luke swiftly filed a countersuit against Kesha for defamation. In his legal document, Luke says that the singer falsely accusing him of abuse just to be released from her contract with him, and so that Kesha would be able to record with whomever she likes.

Most recently, Kesha has been burdened with another lawsuit. Filed on December 18, 2015, in New York, Dr. Luke, and her label Sony, filed a countersuit. In it, Dr. Luke and Sony Music Entertainment contend that the three-year forced hiatus is no big deal, claiming the singer can come back from a "multi-year break" with a stronger career than ever: Sony even compared her potential pop-chart revival to those of artists like Adele, Justin Timberlake, and Pink. However, unlike the recording stars Sony cited, the 28-year-old Kesha did not choose to take time off from working.

Eriq Gardner, a reporter for The Hollywood Reporter who has written often about the lawsuits, tells i-D, "At this stage, both sides are arguing over whether Kesha's motion for an injunction — stopping both Sony and Dr. Luke from holding her to an exclusive contract — should be granted. For that to happen, Kesha has to demonstrate there will be 'irreparable harm' if she's not soon permitted to record outside of Dr. Luke's control."

New Jersey-based attorney Douglas C. Anton, who has been practicing entertainment law for over 21 years, points out that Dr. Luke and Sony's choice of lawsuit-filing venue is telling. "It's an interesting legal move that they have filed the countersuit in New York," Anton says. "It is a good way for her producer and Sony to get a more favorable outcome [because laws in New York state are weighted in favor of corporations], though Kesha and her legal team will likely petition for a change of venue to California."

Anton also points out that beyond the disagreements between the creative parties, Sony has a lot riding on this lawsuit. "It's the company's responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees — which Dr. Luke and Kesha are considered under these circumstances — and if Sony turned a blind eye to a violation of a law, and allowed sexual misconduct by Dr. Luke, they are responsible."

As well, Anton points out that artists' record-company contracts are often just one step above "indentured servitude: The company will be pulling in $2 million before a performer will even get $2." A legally enforced silence like Kesha's has been the case for many other artists who have signed contracts. "The best example of how contracts can go awry is Prince — he wanted to be free to record albums whenever and however he saw fit, but Warner Bros. Records wouldn't let him," Anton explains. "Prince basically said 'You own me,' and that's why he used the glyph to record the music he wanted to, because these contracts are nearly impossible to get out of. With the advent of digital files and music-streaming sites like Spotify, record companies' business model is changing forever, and they are trying to squeeze every last penny out of traditional deals like this."

Finally, according to legal documents filed by her lawyers, "Kesha now faces an abysmal decision: work with her alleged abuser (as noted, the truth or falsity of the allegations of abuse are not at issue in this Motion), or idly and passively wait as her career tick-tocks away. She is precluded from working in perpetuity because the term of her contract can only be satisfied if she records three more albums. Kesha needs the Court's assistance."

We're hoping that Kesha, whom i-D recently pegged for a Bieber-style comeback, is indeed absolutely free to create again very soon.


Text Laura Vogel
Image Jeff Denberg - Flickr

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