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Kesha and Dr Luke sharpen lawsuits against each other

By | Published on Wednesday 1 February 2017


Kesha and Dr Luke have both asked for permission to update their counterclaims against each other in their now long-running legal battle. This is seemingly the result of an attempt by the judge overseeing the case to broker a settlement last month. So that went well.

As much previously reported, this complex and multi-layered case centres on claims by Kesha Sebert that she was drugged and raped by producer Dr Luke, real name Lukasz Gottwald. She is seeking to be released from her various contracts with him and his companies, including his Sony Music imprint Kemosabe Records. He, meanwhile, says that the allegations against him have been fabricated and is suing for defamation.

Over time, various parts of Seberts’s case have been thrown out by the courts in New York, where most of the activity surrounding the dispute has taken place. Lawsuits were actually originally filed in three states, though her mother Pebe dropped a case in Tennessee last April and Sebert voluntarily dismissed her action in California last summer.

At that time, not long after Sebert had fired her lawyer Mark Geragos and hired legal firm O’Melveny & Myers instead, she said that the abuse claims would no longer be part of her case. However, the proposed amendments to her countersuit push those claims hard once again, as well as accusing Gottwald of withholding royalties due to her.

“You can get a divorce from an abusive spouse”, says her new countersuit, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “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”.

Sebert failed to get an injunction to be temporarily released from her record deal a year ago, but was granted permission by Sony to work with producers other than Gottwald. While this has allowed her to begin recording music again, the updated lawsuit notes that “allowing Kesha to make music outside Dr Luke’s presence does not free her from her abuser’s control”.

Expanding on this point, the lawsuit goes on to claim that Gottwald is now harming Sebert by withholding her royalties. It frames her as an artist who simply wants to be free to work with whoever she wishes, get paid what she is due, and move on, while pitching Gottwald as a man aiming to destroy her and her mother, leaving them “penniless”.

“It was not until Kesha’s counsel recently threatened further legal action that Dr Luke released certain funds owed to Kesha in December 2016, two years after they were due”, says the claim. “Still, he has not paid her all of the amounts owed. Dr Luke has similarly worked to deprive Kesha of royalties from ‘Timber’, the multi-million unit hit that she recorded and co-wrote with Pitbull. Until the issue was raised with the court, Kesha had received none of the recording royalties or publishing royalties on ‘Timber’ she was owed”.

It goes on: “To be clear, Kesha does not seek the renegotiation of contractual terms. She is not demanding more money. Kesha asks for something far more basic: the freedom to make music without being bound indefinitely to the very producer who subjected her to years of abuse and continues that abuse to this day. Dr Luke seeks tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages from Kesha and her mother. If successful, Kesha and her mother would be penniless”.

With those attempts to come to a settlement unsuccessful, the sharpening of lawsuits on both sides is seemingly prompted by a new deadline – the conclusion of the current deal between Gottwald and Sony Music. Kemosabe Records was launched as a partnership five years ago, and that deal is due to end in March this year. It was reported last year that Sony was already considering cutting Gottwald loose, although this was refuted by his lawyers at the time.

This is an issue because, while Sony has been embroiled in this dispute, Sebert’s deals all filter through to the major via Gottwald’s companies. She does not have a direct relationship with Sony itself.

“The end of this contract means that Sony may no longer have any role in the creation of Kesha’s music, leaving Kesha’s livelihood in the hands of a person aiming to bankrupt her and her family through litigation, cutting off her legitimately earned income, and personally humiliating her as he has done for years”, says Sebert’s claim. “Without the court’s intervention and Sony’s facilitation, Kesha will remain contractually bound to Dr Luke until she releases three additional albums, each containing six songs produced individually by Dr Luke, no matter how many years that takes”.

With a New York judge already saying that releasing Sebert from her record deal early would undermine New York contract law, her legal team have now thrown California’s ‘seven year rule’ into the mix. This allows ‘personal services’ contracts to be ended after seven years, and has been employed – both successfully and unsuccessfully – by numerous artists in the past.

Whether or not this case comes under the jurisdiction of Californian law has already played a part in the proceedings – an LA judge ruling that the case should be heard in New York back in 2015. The contracts at the heart of the dispute were written under New York law, though Kemosabe Records is based in California, and Sebert and Gottwald’s collaborations were centreed there, hence the claim that the courts should also consider the former’s rights under Californian employment law.

“To also deny Kesha the protection of California labour law – because of choice-of-law provisions in the [Dr Luke] contracts designed to rob Kesha of her rights under the California Labour Code – would leave Kesha without labour protections and be fundamentally unjust”, say her lawyers. “The court should thus apply basic choice-of-law principles and apply California’s seven year rule”.

Gottwald’s updated counterclaim holds its position that the abuse allegations against him are fabricated, and now says that Sebert and her mother have “embarked on a conscious and co-ordinated effort to ‘blacklist'” him from the music industry. His legal team have previously accused the pair of operating a “co-ordinated campaign to mislead the public”. Now, among other accusations, it is suggested that petitions set up to pressure Sony Music to release the singer from her contract last year were “bogus”.

The more headline-grabbing new claim, though, is that Sebert told Lady Gaga via text message that Gottwald had raped another big name popstar. The SMS conversation allegedly occurred shortly after Kesha lost her attempt to gain the injunction freeing her from her record deal.

“During this text message conversation, Kesha falsely and baselessly asserted that Kesha and another female recording artist (the ‘Other Recording Artist’) had both been raped by Gottwald”, says Gottwald’s claim. “Specifically, Kesha told Lady Gaga that ‘she was raped by the same man’ as Kesha. The ‘man’ to whom Kesha referred was Gottwald – as the surrounding context of the text message makes clear. Kesha’s assertions to Lady Gaga were completely false. Gottwald did not rape Kesha, and he did not rape the Other Recording Artist”.

The amendment then returns to the original claim that this whole matter is the result of a contractual dispute, accusing Sebert of “acting in bad faith”.

She is, say the lawyers “attempting to force [Gottwald’s company] KMI into a purported breach of its obligations to furnish Kesha’s services to Kemosabe Records. Kesha further breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing by attempting to establish a direct contractual relationship with Kemosabe Records, thereby forcing out KMI and depriving it of the benefit of its bargain as the contractual furnisher of Kesha’s recording services to Kemosabe Records”.

In a new statement, Gottwald’s lawyer Christine Lepera said yesterday: “Dr Luke seeks to add an additional defamation claim against Kesha based upon the discovery of another false and defamatory statement she made about him that was part of her calculated effort to harm his reputation and business. Kesha’s new proposed counterclaim simply repeats the meritless and untrue allegations that were set forth in her earlier pleadings and which Dr Luke fully disputes”.

Both updated counterclaims still need to be court approved. Meanwhile both Sebert and Gottwald will provide new depositions in the next week, while Gottwald is providing documentation to support his claim that his career has been harmed by the ongoing legal battle.