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Sony deal terms likely to be made public as Kesha v Dr Luke defamation case heads to trial

By | Published on Thursday 21 October 2021

Sony Music

Details of Sony Music’s contractural relationships with both Kesha and Dr Luke are set to be made public as part of the ongoing legal battle between the musician and the producer, after a New York judge refused to allow the record company to keep all that information confidential.

The legal battle between Kesha and Luke has been complicated and multi-layered, but centres on the former’s allegation of rape against the latter. Most elements of the dispute were dismissed along the way, meaning all that remains is Luke’s defamation action against Kesha. He alleges that she made up the rape allegation in order to force his hand in contract negotiations.

In defamation actions like this one, the plaintiff first needs to show that the defendant lied, but then also that the lie caused them damage. The latter will mainly relate to the claim that Kesha’s rape allegations damaged Luke’s reputation and his various music businesses. And to that end, Luke’s joint venture with Sony Music, and Kesha’s dealings with both the producer’s companies and the major, all become relevant.

Sony argued that if too much information about those deals and dealings were made public – including information about royalty rates, artist advances, producer fees and recoding budgets – that would cause “substantial harm” to its business interests, and give an unfair competitive edge to its rivals in the record industry.

However, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the judge overseeing the case this week ruled that making most of that information available is in the public interest, even if it is not in Sony’s commercial interest. So only information that identifies specific individuals at Sony Music will be redacted.

The judge wrote: “Any other asserted privacy interest Sony has in its records, many of which are quite old, is overwhelmingly outweighed by the public’s right to fully understand the parties’ contentions regarding the substantial damages sought by plaintiffs”.

Kesha’s legal team were perhaps unsurprisingly scathing of Sony’s attempts to keep all its deal terms confidential, including the terms of the major’s deal with the musician herself.

They told the Reporter that those attempts were “a stunning admission of the unreasonableness of Sony’s deal terms for Kesha’s albums. Sony, at bottom, may be embarrassed about the terms of the deal under which it is requiring Kesha – a Grammy-nominated artist who has generated enormous amounts of money for the label – to continue to work, but that is not a valid basis on which to keep the information confidential”.

It now remains to be seen just how much nitty gritty details about Sony’s deals are made public as this long-running case proceeds to trial.