Katy Perry's Testimony, Kesha's PR Plan Made Public in Dr. Luke Legal Battle

Kesha's PR plan ahead of filing her lawsuit against Dr. Luke included "inciting a deluge of negative media attention and public pressure," according to unsealed court documents.
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic; David M. Benett/Getty
Kesha, Dr. Luke, Katy Perry

The names of witnesses whose testimony in the legal battle between Kesha and Dr. Luke is now public reads like the lineup of a major summer music festival: Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Adam Levine and Kelly Clarkson. 

Kesha claims her former producer Lukasz Gottwald sexually assaulted her, and pursued legal action in an effort to get out of her recording contract. Gottwald is suing her for defamation and claims the allegations were fabricated. During the course of their very public, very ugly legal fight, a rumor began to spread that Katy Perry also had been assaulted by Gottwald.

Perry says it never happened and she never told anyone otherwise, according to a heavily redacted deposition transcript that was unsealed Monday along with dozens of other documents. 

During the questioning, Perry testifies that Gottwald never sexually assaulted her, they never had a romantic relationship and that she never told anyone he was sexually inappropriate with her.

Lady Gaga testified that Interscope Records CEO John Janick told her he heard a rumor Gottwald raped Perry. In his own deposition, Janick denies having said such a thing.

Gottwald's legal team has argued the rape claim was a "sham" designed to extract Kesha from her contract and that the artist's team devised a "press plan" to destroy the producer's reputation and force him to settle.

"Beginning in 2012, Defendant, her mother Pebe, and her manager Vector Management, LLC hatched a campaign expressly and admittedly designed to ruin Plaintiffs through defamation, blacklisting, and extortion," writes Gottwald's attorney Christine Lepera in a Monday filing. "These allegations were confirmed through discovery: as far back as 2012, Defendant’s representatives were discussing their 'Jihad' against Gottwald and their desire for a 'public execution.'" 

She's referring to emails between managers Jack Rovner and Ken Levitan and Irving Azoff that were also unsealed.

In a May 25, 2012, exchange, Levitan says he had dinner with Kesha the night before and she "beyond despises Luke." Azoff responds, "Get me in the mix. I will ruin him." Then Levitan writes, "We need the album done and its close...there are huge hits on it...lets ruin him after he delivers." 

The conversations continue into the next year. "Let's battle this guy in the press," writes Levitan on April 2, 2013. "Take down his business."

Also unsealed Monday is an October 2014 email exchange outlining a press plan for coverage of Kesha's lawsuit. It includes Sunshine Sachs providing the complaint to TMZ 30 minutes prior to its filing, then reaching out to Billboard's Shirley Halperin to ensure it "gets an industry audience."

A memo sent from Sunshine Sachs to "Those Concerned" states: "Our goal is to help extricate CLIENT K from her current professional relationship with PERSON L by inciting a deluge of negative media attention and public pressure on the basis of the horrific personal abuses presented in the lawsuit." (Read the press plan in full here.)

Lepera also alleges that the organizer of the "Free Kesha" campaign, Michael Eisele, was secretly working with Kesha's reps "under the ruse of a purported fan-led grassroots movement." 

Kesha's legal team issued a lengthy statement Monday, and shared these testimony excerpts. The full statement is posted below.

"As a threshold matter, Kesha looks forward and trusts that the legal process will indeed fairly adjudicate this matter and the truth will be revealed in full.

Kesha’s experience as a victim of abuse, as reflected in the evidence that was unsealed earlier today, will be all-too-familiar to many women around the country. Kesha testified that on October 5, 2005, a few days after she signed an exclusive contract with Dr. Luke’s music-production company, a then-32-year-old Dr. Luke attended a nightclub party in Los Angeles with an 18-year-old Kesha. Kesha testified that when she told Dr. Luke that she felt nauseous after two glasses of champagne, Kesha testified that he gave her a “sober pill” that Kesha took because she thought it would make her feel better. Kesha’s and Dr. Luke’s testimony show that after Kesha vomited at an after-party, Dr. Luke took Kesha to his hotel room, where she woke up the next morning alone, naked, vomiting, and painfully sore like she had sex without lubrication. Sworn testimony and contemporaneous phone records show that Kesha immediately reported the incident to her close friend and mother (with frantic phone calls from her mother trying to find her), and later sought professional help from medical providers. Kesha’s decision to not report to law enforcement is unfortunately very common: according to the NCVS Survey, only 20% of such victimizations are reported to police. And Kesha testified that she believed she had good reason not to report. She was terrified and ashamed, and knew she had granted Dr. Luke exclusive control over her music career just days earlier.

In late 2013, around the time that Kesha testified she was struggling with an eating disorder that had been intensified by Dr. Luke’s verbal abuse, Kesha identified Dr. Luke’s abuse as the reason why she could not continue working with him. Notably, Kesha is not alone in her inability to work with Dr. Luke. Kelly Clarkson testified that Dr. Luke can be a “bully and demeaning,” with her record label acknowledging internally that “almost every female [at the label] doesn’t like working with” him. Similarly, Avril Lavigne and Pink have submitted sworn statements that there are reasons other than Kesha’s abuse allegations why they haven’t worked with Dr. Luke in recent years. 

Because Kesha’s dispute with Dr. Luke has never been about money, testimony from her former attorney, Kenneth Meiselas, shows that Kesha was willing to let Dr. Luke and his companies continue to earn money from her songs, if she did not have to be in the same room with him. When Kesha reported the abuse and initiated settlement discussions, Dr. Luke did not sue her for defamation or accuse her of extortion. Instead, the record in the case shows that Dr. Luke’s lawyers represented him in months of settlement negotiations, which ultimately failed because Kesha could not agree to, among other things, the terms of the requested non-disclosure agreement.

Before Kesha filed a complaint against Dr. Luke in 2014 as a last resort when she had no other options, her attorneys engaged public-relations specialists at Sunshine Sachs, because the attorneys knew that Dr. Luke’s public-relations strategy would be ruthless, and Kesha would have to respond. As expected, the deposition transcripts in this case reveal that Dr. Luke’s litigation strategy has been straight out of the blame-the-victim playbook, intended to humiliate and intimidate Kesha into issuing a retraction of her statements. But Kesha has never wavered in her account of Dr. Luke’s abuse, even in the face of mocking laughter and highly inappropriate questions by Dr. Luke’s team, who seek to call into question her credibility as a victim asking questions that most certainly would be barred by most states’ laws intended to protect victims. One of the first things that Dr. Luke did after filing this retaliatory lawsuit against Kesha was publicly release 2011 testimony in which Kesha denied that Dr. Luke made sexual advances. But Kesha has since testified that Dr. Luke threatened before her 2011 testimony that he would take away her and her family’s livelihood if she failed to protect him. These types of denials are common in cases where a power disparity leaves the victim too fearful of retaliation to tell the truth. 

With regard to Dr. Luke’s claim that Kesha defamed him by falsely stating he also assaulted Katy Perry, Kesha has never claimed to have any independent knowledge of any alleged assault of Katy Perry (which Ms. Perry has denied in a later deposition). But, to be clear, Dr. Luke is suing Kesha based on a private, one-on-one text message that Kesha sent Lady Gaga in 2016, shortly after Interscope CEO John Janick told Kesha and Lady Gaga he’d heard a rumor that Dr. Luke had also abused Katy Perry. Mr. Janick’s statement was discussed privately between the two friends and would never have become public, except that Dr. Luke decided to publish it to millions of people in his 2017 complaint against Kesha. This defamation claim, based on a private text message which was based on the statement of a third party, is also frivolous.

Finally, Kesha’s immediate reporting of the October 2005 incident squarely refutes Dr. Luke’s Legal Team’s claim today that Kesha’s managers concocted the allegation to get her out of her recording contract. Kesha testified that Dr. Luke told her when she signed her initial contract that it would be renegotiated if she was successful, as is customary in the music industry. By 2012, Kesha’s management team was justifiably frustrated that Dr. Luke was unreasonably refusing to renegotiate, even after Kesha’s 2010 platinum hit album, Animal. In fact, Kesha remains under her initial contracts with Dr. Luke today despite this lawsuit, with the unfairness of those deals reflected in the fact that she has yet to be paid any album-sale royalties from the highly successful, Grammy-nominated Rainbow album or 2013’s Timber. Indeed, the only reason the Rainbow album was allowed to be made was a commitment to the Court by Sony and Dr. Luke that Dr. Luke would have no involvement in the recording of the album, the separation that Kesha has consistently sought since early in their relationship. 

Contrary to Dr. Luke’s Legal Team’s assertion that today’s evidentiary record reveals something Kesha doesn’t want the public to see, Kesha has consistently requested that the evidence in the case be unsealed, while Dr. Luke has fought vigorously to keep the evidence from seeing the light of day. Kesha looks forward to defeating Dr. Luke’s meritless $40+ million damage claims at summary judgment or trial."