In 2014, Kesha sued producer Dr. Luke, seeking to void all their contracts because of how, the suit claimed, Dr. Luke "sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused [Kesha] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life." Dr. Luke countersued shortly after. The first big decision in these cases came on February 19, when a New York judge denied Kesha a court injunction that would have allowed her to record new music — apart from her record label, Sony Music, as well as Dr. Luke — while the suits proceeded through the courts. Since then, stars such as Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga have shown support for Kesha, and fans have taken to the streets, holding rallies outside courtrooms and boardrooms.
But if you’re arriving late to the story, it may be difficult to figure out what is going on. Here, we break it down to clarify what's going down as the case continues to unfold.
Kesha's had some big hits, so what's at stake?
Nashville native Kesha Rose Sebert, formerly known as Ke$ha, first hit the pop charts as an uncredited collaborator on Flo Rida's chart-topping single "Right Round." Her whiskey-soaked debut solo single "Tik Tok" topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks and sold 610,000 digital units during the week ending December 27th, 2009, and her debut album Animal — which was also re-released with the EP Cannibal — has been certified platinum, spawning singles like the jubilant "Your Love Is My Drug" and the anti-bullying anthem "We R Who We R." Warrior, Kesha's second album, came out in 2012; its lead single, "Die Young," hit Number Two. She also contributed the hook to Pitbull's chart-topping 2013 single "Timber."
So who is Dr. Luke?
Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald was a former guitarist for the Saturday Night Live band and protégé of superproducer Max Martin who has writing and production credits on some of the 21st century's biggest hits: Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," Pink's "U + Ur Hand," Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" and Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A." Since November 2011, he has had an arrangement with Sony Music that involves him running an imprint, Kemosabe Records, and writing and producing music exclusively for the conglomerate. (He did, however, work with Perry on her 2013 album Prism.)
What was the public relationship between Kesha and Dr. Luke like before the lawsuit?
Dr. Luke was the executive producer for both of Kesha's albums, and he also produced "Timber." "After "Die Young" was pulled from radio stations in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, Kesha said that she was "forced" to sing the Dr. Luke-produced track's chorus — "let's make the most of the night, 'cause we're gonna die young" — on Twitter. She later clarified in a post on her website: "Forced is not the right word. I did have some concerns about the phrase 'die young' in the chorus when we were writing the lyrics especially because so many of my fans are young and that's one reason why I wrote so many versions of this song."
Why do fans hold up signs reading "Free Kesha"?
In late 2013, a group of Kesha fans started a petition to sever the relationship between Kesha and Dr. Luke, saying that he was "controlling Ke$ha like a puppet, feeding her what she doesn’t want and her creativity is dwindling." A few months later, after Kesha was admitted to a rehab center to treat an eating disorder, Kesha's mother Pebe Sebert told People that Dr. Luke had pressured her daughter to lose weight, comparing her to a refrigerator. Now, the "Free Kesha" movement includes fans and supporters who protest with signs and one recently created a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to buy Kesha out of her Sony contract.
What is Kesha's lawsuit against Dr. Luke about?
Filed in California in October 2014, the suit is looking to void Kesha's contracts with Dr. Luke and his business subsidiaries, allow Kesha to work with other labels and publishing units and receive damages. It claims that over the 10 years leading up to its filing, Dr. Luke had "sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused Ms. Sebert to the point where Ms. Sebert nearly lost her life," all in the service of his being able to "maintain complete control over her life and career." The suit — which can be read in full on Scribd — claims that "Ms. Sebert wholly believed that Dr. Luke had the power and money to carry out his threats; she therefore never dared talk about, let alone report, what Dr. Luke had done to her." (It should be noted that in 2011, Kesha testified in a deposition that Gottwald had never made advances at her.) This suit alleges sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender violence, civil harassment, violation of unfair business laws, infliction of emotional distress (both intentional and negligent) and negligent retention and supervision.
How did Dr. Luke respond?
In New York in October 2014, Gottwald countersued Kesha and Pebe Sebert and Kesha's representatives at Vector Management for defamation and breach of contract, claiming that the "false and shocking accusations" and Kesha's refusal to record were tantamount to extortion.
What’s this injunction got to do with it?
New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied an injunction that would have let Kesha record new music for labels that aren't Kemosabe while the details of both lawsuits were being hashed out. "There has been no showing of irreparable harm. She's being given opportunity to record," Kornreich said while handing her decision. Kesha was present for the ruling along with her mother and her boyfriend, and afterward she met with about 50 fans who had assembled outside.
Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Grimes, Lily Allen, Kelly Clarkson and other celebrities have lent their support to Kesha. See below:
Why was the February 19th decision in a New York courtroom?
In June, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Barbara Scheper froze Kesha's lawsuit against Luke, saying that her contracts require any legal disputes arising from them to be resolved in New York. Scheper noted that there was "no evidence to support her assertion that the agreements were not entered into freely or voluntarily as a result of arm's length negotiations." Kornreich, who had previously said that she was going to wait for the California courts' ruling before deciding whether or not to dismiss the case, subsequently decided to hear arguments.
Why can't Sony just terminate Kesha's contract?
On February 25th, Sony lawyer Scott Edelman told The New York Times that the company is "not in a position to terminate the contractual relationship between Luke and Kesha" because she entered into agreements with Dr. Luke's company Kasz Money, and not Sony itself. "Sony is doing everything it can to support the artist in these circumstances, but is legally unable to terminate the contract to which it is not a party," Edelman said.
Has Kesha been working on music since she filed the suit?
Kesha has played occasional concerts at universities over the past 18 months. In late 2015, she played a show in Nashville with a band of local musicians called Yeast Infection. "Don't worry NO ONE will ever shut me up," she captioned a Facebook video of the show.
Aside from fans, who has come out in support of Kesha?
Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha "to help with any of her financial needs during this trying time," according to a statement from Swift's publicist. Demi Lovato, Lorde, Lady Gaga and Kelly Clarkson are among the stars who have tweeted in support of Kesha since the verdict hit on Friday; Miley Cyrus reposted a photo of Fiona Apple holding a supportive sign to Instagram; Lady Gaga said before her Oscars performance of the nominated track "Til It Happens To You," which is about sexual assault on college campuses, that she would be thinking of Kesha. And Adele caused headlines when she dedicated her Brit Award, when she won Best Female Solo Artist onFebruary 24th, to Kesha, saying "I'd just like to take a quick moment to publicly thank my management and my record label for embracing the fact that I'm a woman and be encouraged by it."
What has Dr. Luke said?
The Monday after Judge Kornreich's verdict, Dr. Luke took to Twitter to make his case. "I didn't rape Kesha and I have never had sex with her. Kesha and I were friends for many years and she was like my little sister," he wrote. "This is an ongoing legal case so I won't be responding/talking much about this. This should be tried in a court of law." After Kesha tweeted a thank-you note to Lady Gaga and Vice President Joe Biden for "bringing attention to sexual assault at the oscars" on Sunday night, Dr. Luke's lawyer Christine Lepera told TMZ, "Ms. Sebert, who in sworn videotaped testimony from 2011 stated that she had never been sexually abused or drugged by Dr. Luke is neither a victim nor the appropriate person to be held up as an example for this important issue."
Judge Kornreich stated in her February 2016 ruling that she was waiting to hear more evidence before outright dismissing the New York case. If it doesn't get dismissed, the next step is a phone conference, scheduled for May 5th, which will precede the "discovery" period during which lawyers for both sides collect evidence. If there are no delays during this period, or if the case isn't settled out of court, a trial date will be requested on February 28th, 2017. (On May 16th, a California judge will hear updates on the case.)
"All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused," Kesha wrote on February 24th. "This case has never been about a renegotiation of my record contract — it was never about getting a bigger, or a better, deal. This is about being free from my abuser. I would be willing to work with Sony if they do the right thing and break all ties that bind me to my abuser."