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Small wins for singer Kesha in the midst of lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke

Singer and songwriter, Kesha, will be heard this month in a motion made to permit her to perform music and begin producing songs in the midst of a nasty lawsuit between her and her former producer, Dr. Luke.

Photo by Richard Shotwell (AP).

Many may remember Kesha who shocked the entertainment world when she came forward with allegations of sexual abuse by her long-time producer, Dr. Luke back in October of 2014.  Dr. Luke then filed a lawsuit against Kesha and her mother, Pebe Sebert, for breach of contract and defamation both in Los Angeles (where the incidents allegedly took place) and in Tennessee (where Kesha was born and met Dr. Luke), alleging that the pair planned to extort him with sexual abuse allegations.

Kesha claimed a small victory in her suit against Dr. Luke on February 3, 2016, when New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich granted a motion by Pebe to dismiss Dr. Luke’s claim against her after determining that New York had no jurisdiction over her. Pebe argued that since the alleged injury did not take place in New York and because she is not a party to a forum selection clause in Kesha’s recording contracts, the city of New York could not make her appear in its courts.  This decision only means that Pebe will not have to appear in both New York and Tennessee to defend herself against Dr. Luke’s second lawsuit, which is substantially similar to the original counterclaim he filed.

[Kesha], along with her producer, Dr. Luke, seemed to be a force to be reckoned with until Kesha … filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging specific instances of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that spanned more than a decade.

Dr. Luke (Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald) has worked in the music industry for nearly two decades as a songwriter and record producer.  He owns two publishing companies, Kasz Money Publishing and Prescription Songs.  When Kesha contracted to work with him, she joined the ranks of Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Britney Spears, and other artists.

Under the direction of Dr. Luke, the pop singer rose to stardom with hits such as “Tik Tok,” “Your Love Is My Drug,” and “Die Young.”  She, along with her producer, Dr. Luke, seemed to be a force to be reckoned with until Kesha (Kesha Rose Sebert) filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging specific instances of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that spanned more than a decade.  Kesha’s twenty-eight-page complaint alleged that Dr. Luke “made repeated sexual advances toward her” and that he would force her to use drugs and alcohol to weaken her defenses.

Kesha also alleged that Dr. Luke would lock her in a room and tell her she could not come out until she finished a song.  Kesha said she never told close friends or police about the abuse because Dr. Luke threatened to ruin her career and family if she told anyone.  In all, Kesha’s complaint raises eight different causes of action ranging from sexual abuse to negligent retention and supervision.

Signs of tension between Kesha and Dr. Luke first became clear in January of 2014 after Kesha entered rehab for an eating disorder.  People Magazine reported that Dr. Luke would make “cruel remarks” to Kesha regarding her weight and that the insults may have contributed to her insecurities by mentally putting her in a “bad place.”

… [T]he burden of proof is high in sexual assault cases and … witnesses are limited.

Lawsuits are filed in the entertainment world with such frequency that we generally do not even blink when we hear about a star suing his or her producer (or vice versa).  Kesha’s situation, however, is different, and quite frankly, rarely seen in Hollywood.          Kesha is not only suing for issues arising out of her professional career, i.e., her contract, but is also alleging sexual, physical and emotional abuse.  This aspect of Kesha’s suit is immensely personal, and as the legal system has shown, hard to prove because it often turns into a he said, she said battle.

If Dr. Luke is found guilty of sexual assault, Kesha’s producer may be looking at more than just a monetary judgment as a result.  A guilty sentence may likely carry jail time as well.  The sexual assault detailed by Kesha will fall under Section 51.9 of the California Civil Code.  This code defines what sexual assault is according to California law and details what a prosecutor will have to prove in order to get a conviction.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jon R. Zug who also serves as Charlottesville, Virginia’s domestic violence attorney, gave some reasons why sexual assault cases are so difficult to prove and also the sometimes obscure facts that surround most sexual assault cases.  “Less than 20 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police, due to some extent to the public nature of the proceedings,” Zug said.  Zug went on to say that the burden of proof is high in sexual assault cases and that witnesses are limited.  “There are usually only two witnesses to the crime – the victim and the defendant,” Zug said.

Kesha will not be immune from these pitfalls.  Although she came forward with her allegations, it is likely that Kesha will have to take the witness stand and detail the abuse that she says began when she was 18 years old.  Now 28 years old, Kesha, will be questioned about specific instances and details that will likely be uncomfortable and painful for her to recount to a courtroom full of strangers.  Further, in many of her interactions with Dr. Luke, Kesha described situations in which the pair was alone together.  The lack of witnesses to specific instances will make the sexual assault elements even more difficult to prove.

Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, recently sought a preliminary injunction that would force the court to immediately make a decision concerning whether or not to let Kesha out of her contract [with Dr. Luke].

In addition to the abuse allegations, Kesha is seeking to be released from her contract, which states that she is not free to produce music apart from Dr. Luke.  Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, recently sought a preliminary injunction that would force the court to immediately make a decision concerning whether or not to let Kesha out of her contract. Kesha has not come out with any new music since 2013 (a lifetime, in the music industry) and Geragos alleges that her “brand has fallen.”  By not being able to record, tour, or market merchandise, it is quite possible that Kesha’s career will not recover if the court does not take action.  In fact, Geragos predicts that Kesha’s career will be “effectively over” if she does not resume recording soon.

Although it may be an uphill battle, Kesha has made it clear that she is prepared for the road ahead.  Back in 2014 her lawyer Mark Geragos was adamant about Kesha’s goals in litigation.  “We are prepared to fight until he agrees to get out of her life once and for all…getting out of the contract is secondary to extricating herself from his control,” Geragos said.

More recently, in October of 2015, Kesha expressed her feelings about her music career in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.  “I’m dying to put out music, I’m like dying, literally.  But while I can’t, I’m just gathering ideas and just praying for the day to come soon that I can put out music.  It’s all over the place.  I have no idea what it’s going to sound like.  All I know is I have a lot to write about.  There’s so much to say right now.  Nothing to speak of for sure yet, but just pray for it,” Kesha said.

While she waits, Kesha continues to pursue other avenues of art such as appearing in the movie “Jem and the Holograms” in 2015.  Her music continues to be used in several popular television shows and movies including “Modern Drug,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

Kesha is due in court on February 19, 2016, for a preliminary injunction hearing, where the judge will decide whether or not she can record music without Dr. Luke.

Kendra Alleyne, Associate Editor Emeritus
About Kendra Alleyne, Associate Editor Emeritus (17 Articles)
Kendra Alleyne is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. She is from Lynchburg, Virginia and graduated from Liberty University for a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Over the summer following her first year of law school, Kendra worked as a legal internship at Colon & Associates, where she is currently still interning. Kendra also serves as the Public Relations Chair for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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