Kesha vs Dr. Luke

Kesha vs Dr. Luke

Content warning: this article discusses rape and abuse. The Kesha case against Dr. Luke now has it's own Wikipedia page, which means that this shitshow of humans failing to be decent is officially ingrained in the collective unconscious. This lawsuit is unprecedented in a lot of ways, but legal disputes between musicians and their record labels

Content warning: this article discusses rape and abuse.

The Kesha case against Dr. Luke now has it’s own Wikipedia page, which means that this shitshow of humans failing to be decent is officially ingrained in the collective unconscious.

This lawsuit is unprecedented in a lot of ways, but legal disputes between musicians and their record labels are as old as dirt. Prince was pretty notorious for haggling for the rights to his master tapes, and for ditching Warner Bros. in 1996 to release his music online. Black Flag pissed off record label MCA so much that they refused to release their album, even after pressing 25,000 copies of it. And back in 2002, Michael Jackson was the first to say what we’re all starting to get hip to now: “The recording companies really, really do conspire against the artists — they steal, they cheat, they do everything they can.”

Kesha’s case is different from all of the above because 1. she’s a woman, and 2. it wasn’t just creative differences or rights disagreements that has caused her to sue, but abuse. I can promise you that this is not the first time a woman musician has been abused by somebody in her production team, but it is the first time it’s gone to court. It’s the first time it’s been such a public issue. Although it’s horribly depressing stuff, this is some kind of progress. I can imagine that in the 60’s, any woman musician who came forward with a story about being raped by her producer and who wanted to seek justice for it would have been laughed out of the room.

In October of 2014, Kesha filed suit against Dr. Luke, alleging he had “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused” her throughout the span of their (at that time) ten year professional relationship. The suit detailed two instances of him drugging and raping her, and claimed that he had cut her off from friends and family while completely controlling her artistic output. She was hoping to break her exclusive recording contract with Dr. Luke (and his imprint of Sony Music, Kemosabe Records) to work with other, less rapey producers. Dr. Luke immediately counter-sued Kesha, stating that her suit was a misguided attempt at breaking her contract and that her allegations weren’t true. Kesha then filed for a preliminary injunction that would allow her to record with other producers while the case was ongoing — on February 19 of this year, Judge Shirley Kornreich of the New York Supreme Court [Editor’s note: despite the name, this is the trial-level court in New York] sided with Dr. Luke and denied Kesha’s injunction, saying “my instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.” There are heart-rending photos online of Kesha openly sobbing in the back of the courtroom as the verdict was read.

So, am I the only one who has a problem with a judge openly saying that their “instinct” is to be more concerned about the potential commercial damages to a giant corporation like Sony than about the psychological damage done to a human woman? In addition to that horrendous conclusion, Sony’s argument that “we’ve sunk X million dollars into Kesha and thus deserve to control her career and get that fat cut from her profits” is kinda moot point considering Kesha stated in her injunction request: “I know I cannot work with Dr. Luke. I physically cannot. I don’t feel safe in any way.” Do you understand what she’s saying, Sony? She’s saying that if she is forced to keep contract with you, she will simply stop making music. You will not get another cent out of her.

There were rumors last month that Sony would be dropping Dr. Luke from their roster — rumors that, unfortunately, proved to be untrue. Earlier this month, though, Dr. Luke did have a bit of a setback when a spokesperson for Kemosabe Records told Pitchfork that there would be layoffs at the Sony imprint. This has nothing to do with the Kesha-Dr. Luke lawsuit, the spokesperson said. Hmm.  

It can safely be assumed that we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg in this legal battle. There have been rumors of offers made outside the courthouse, there have been deleted incriminating tweets, and the whole thing concerns crimes that, ultimately, are provable neither in the positive nor the negative.

That being said, I’d like to point out that this is not a criminal case, but a civil one. Kesha isn’t trying to throw this guy in jail for abuse, she just doesn’t want to work with him anymore. Honestly, this should be a no-brainer whether or not her allegations are true.

On April 6, Judge Kornreich dismissed Kesha’s abuse case and sided with Sony Music. This means that Kesha is committed to recording six more albums with Kemosabe Records, pending future legal action.

You can read the full text of the ruling here, but fair warning: it will destroy what remains of your faith in humanity.

Judge Kornreich said, among other horrible things: “There are no facts to support Gottwald’s animus toward women. Gottwald is alleged to have made offensive remarks about Kesha’s weight, appearance, and talent, not about women in general … Every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime.”

Ok, so problem #1 with that: If you are making offensive remarks about a woman’s talent, you are certainly a jerk, but not necessarily a misogynist. If, however, you are making offensive remarks about a woman’s weight and appearance, then you very clearly think that they don’t deserve control over their own weight and appearance, and you very clearly hate women in general. Please see: the entire fucking history of gender relations for further proof of this point.

Problem #2: I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time imagining what else rape could be besides a gender-motivated hate crime.

Problem #3: By saying this, Judge Kornreich is essentially stating, “it’s entirely possible that Dr. Luke did rape Kesha, but even if he did, it wasn’t about gender so it’s ok!”

This verdict comes as a heavy blow to the singer, and serves as further proof that even wealthy, famous white women are frequently denied justice when they come forward about sexual abuse. Dr. Luke’s defense against Kesha’s allegations was in large part based on evidence of previous goodwill between Kesha, her mother, and himself — his lawyer even brought out a birthday card that Kesha wrote to Luke in 2009 that seems to be full of gratitude and affection. An even stronger point in his favor is the fact that, back in 2011, in a completely different lawsuit, Kesha swore under oath that Dr. Luke had never made sexual advances to her. And yeah, I know what that means: she was either lying then, or she’s lying now. Need I point out that the motivations for falsely saying that you’ve not been raped are likely a lot stronger than the motivations for falsely saying that you have been raped in this instance? Need I point out the fact that many rape survivors continue to lie to themselves after the incident, out of denial, out of fear? Need I point out that Kesha absolutely knew what she was getting into with this agonizing lawsuit, but did it as a last resort because she was at wit’s end with this guy and with the record company that effectively owns her?

Whether or not Dr. Luke actually raped and/or abused Kesha, it is patently obvious that her happiness and mental well-being are on the line here. When Sony’s lawyer claimed during proceedings that “Our interest is in her success,” the implication is patronizing as all hell: we know what’s best for Kesha. And what’s best for her is working with (and actively making money for) a man she despises.

This lawsuit has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the music industry is not only an unassailable boy’s club still, but a heartless, “too big to fail” corporation-driven game where the musicians are the pawns. Fuck Sony Music.

My heart is breaking for Kesha, and for all the other brave women who haven’t gotten the justice they deserve. I cannot begin to imagine what she must be going through.

Not all hope is lost, though. Kesha still has a standing suit against Dr. Luke in California, where this legal battle initially started. It is possible that her legal team will shift their efforts back to this case. Whatever happens, know that this is a battle lost for Kesha — the war is yet to be decided.

In the middle of all this fucking nonsense, Kesha isn’t resting on her laurels. She made a surprise appearance at Zedd’s set at Coachella last weekend (Zedd, by the way, was one of the producers who offered to work on music with Kesha in the middle of the legal dispute). She showed up in an outfit that can only be described as “21st century witch princess in Nashville” and sang Zedd’s tune “True Colors.” And she rocked it.


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