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Earlier this month, a New York judge was so optimistic about brokering a settlement between Kesha Rose Sebert and songwriter-producer Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), the parties were ordered sua sponte into a conference in private chambers. But alas, peace isn’t breaking out in a feud where she claims being the victim of sexual abuse and he claims having his name tarnished.
On Monday, both sides asked permission from New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich to amend counterclaims.
“You can get a divorce from an abusive spouse,” begins her new countersuit. “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. After a February 19, 2016 preliminary injunction hearing, Kesha Rose Sebert is, for the time being, no longer forced to record in the same room with Lukasz ‘Dr. Luke’ Gottwald, the abusive music producer who has had her under contract for the past eleven years. But allowing Kesha to make music outside Dr. Luke’s presence does not free her from her abuser’s control.”
According to Kesha’s latest papers, she has started recording a new album, but “not one song has been approved, no release date has been set, and there has been no agreement on the critical issue of whether the album will be promoted commensurate with an artist of Kesha’s stature and historical success.”
Dr. Luke, she continues, is trying to punish and coerce her for speaking up. Kesha claims her finances have been cut off, and that until last month, she couldn’t get accounting statements nor hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments allegedly owed under her music publishing contract.
“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,” continues her amended counterclaims. “Still, he has not paid her all of the amounts owed. Dr. Luke has similarly worked to deprive Kesha of royalties from ‘Timber,’ the multimillion-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.”
Kesha’s lawyers characterize what’s happening as a “vendetta.”
“To be clear, Kesha does not seek the renegotiation of contractual terms,” her lawyers write. “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.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Luke has a different story.
Represented by attorney Christine Lepera, he is still alleging that Kesha and her mother, Pebe, have engaged in a “smear campaign,” and that the “Tick Tock” artist won’t fulfill her obligations under contracts, but he’s now adding that since the preliminary injunction motion, Kesha’s team has “embarked on a conscious and coordinated effort to ‘blacklist'” him from the music industry.
Dr. Luke’s amended complaint alleges that Kesha and her reps are spreading defamatory statements in the media, encouraging the creation of “bogus Internet petitions” to pressure Sony, and falsely asserting that he raped another recording artist to another huge name in the industry.
“On February 26, 2016 — one week after losing her motion for preliminary injunction — Kesha initiated a text message conversation with Stefani Germanotta, the recording artist who is professionally known as ‘Lady Gaga,'” states his proposed amended complaint. “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. Specifically, Kesha told Lady Gaga that ‘she [i.e., the Other Recording Artist] 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.”
As for Kesha’s live performances and new work, Dr. Luke complains that Kesha is “acting in bad faith in attempting to force KMI,” Dr. Luke’s company, “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.”
According to Kesha, the current situation figures to only get worse. That’s because Sony’s contract with Dr. Luke and his companies ends in March 2017.
“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. 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.”
Kesha, formerly represented by Mark Geragos but now star litigators at O’Melveny & Myers, including Daniel Petrocelli, has dispensed with an attempt to hold her situation up as a gender-motivated hate crime under New York civil law to pursue more straightforward claims of alleged contractual breaches with declaratory relief requested. If there’s something particularly novel here, Kesha also is asserting the so-called Seven Year Rule on personal service contracts under California law in a New York court.
“To protect young, newly discovered recording artists from this precise manner of exploitation in quasi-lifetime un-severable professional relationships, California labor law requires all music contracts to end within seven years of execution,” states her proposed counterclaim. “The Court dismissed certain of Kesha’s First Amended Counterclaims on the grounds that Kesha could not avail herself of New York laws that protect against abuses in the employment context because the alleged events did not occur in the state or city of New York. To also deny Kesha the protection of California labor law — because of choice-of-law provisions in the KMI and Prescription Contracts designed to rob Kesha of her rights under the California Labor Code — would leave Kesha without labor protections and be fundamentally unjust. The Court should thus apply basic choice-of-law principles and apply California’s Seven Year Rule.”
The next step in this dispute is depositions. In the coming week, both Kesha and Dr. Luke are scheduled to undergo questioning under oath. Dr. Luke is providing documentation on how his career has been financially hurt from this bitter struggle.
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