Kesha’s Legal Ordeal Gets Worse

Imagine having a judge tell you that you have to keep working for a company that supports and stands by a person who assaulted you, locking you into several years of hell.

For the past few days, fans, supporters and critics alike have been coming out of the woodwork to fight on behalf of Kesha, who, on Friday, was denied the ability to get out of her recording contract that requires her to work with Dr. Luke, a big-shot producer Kesha says sexually assaulted her.

Headline after headline uses words alluding to Kesha being trapped, locked in, stuck, but in truth, she’s being forced to be victimized time and again by someone who was supposed to be supporting her, working with her, getting her music out, making her career bigger and better. And now there’s legal positioning to compel her to do this work with this person for the next few years. It’s almost unimaginable.

A little background: Kesha signed with Dr. Luke as part of the Sony label in 2005, and for the past 10+ years, the same contract has been in place. That’s a little unusual on its own. In the intervening years, Kesha became a huge star in the pop world, and then, aside from a few little things, she’s been almost silent in the recording studio. In 2014, she filed a lawsuit alleging Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) drugged and raped her repeatedly at the start of her career, right around the time she first signed with him. He, of course, has denied everything, even going so far as to countersue Kesha and her mother, which is being handled in a separate court case in New York City.

On Friday, Judge Shirley Kornreich denied Kesha’s request to be released from her contract, admitting she didn’t fully believe that the allegations were based in fact but, as Dr. Luke has alleged, an outrageous attempt to get her out of her obligations to Dr. Luke and Sony.

“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry,” she said, according to numerous reports. Based on Dr. Luke’s reported $60 million investment in Kesha’s career, and pointing to the agreement that Kesha will be allowed to record without his involvement, Kornreich ruled that her “instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing” and keep the contract in place.

Mark Geragos, Kesha’s attorney, has suggested Sony won’t promote anything Kesha records without Dr. Luke.

Dr. Luke, by the way, also works with Katy Perry, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus, among others, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Kesha broke down in court as the decision was announced. Any person, being forced to face a person who allegedly sexually assaulted her and being told she must remain beholden to the company he works for, would do the same.

Outside the courtroom, she hugged fans and others who waited to see her, thanking them. Online, the hashtag #FreeKesha was trending on Twitter for most of the day.

As Rolling Stone reports, the judge went so far as to question what harm there is in Kesha continuing to work.

“There has been no showing of irreparable harm. She’s being given the opportunity to record,” Kornreich said. Further, she dismissed Kesha’s claims that Sony was setting her up to fail, as Geragos suggests, calling that idea speculative. “You’re asking me to presume an entity like Sony, who is in a competitive position…will not want to make money on their investment.”

It’s hard enough for victims of sexual assault and abuse to come forward and tell their stories, because every time a woman opens her mouth to talk about this kind of treatment she’s instantly labeled a slut or a tease who was “asking for it.”

When a judge comes down with a ruling denying someone the ability to be fully and wholly free from a legally binding contract that demands the contract be upheld, in light of such accusations, it’s a dark day. That the judge is a woman is reprehensible.

Some have asked why, if such things actually happened, she didn’t come forward sooner, to which Kesha has said she was too terrified of the consequences to speak up. This, of course, has raised eyebrows and accusations she’s made the whole thing up just to get out of the contract.

Maybe nothing happened. Maybe Kesha didn’t get drugged and assaulted. Maybe this is all a legal ploy to get out of a bad, outdated deal.

It’s so easy to attack the accuser when the alleged attacker is a prominent man and there is serious money involved. It’s so easy to simplify all this down to he said-she said-follow the money.

But every time a woman comes forward to say she’s been taken advantage of in this way, every accusation that she’s lying is a knife in the heart of women who have been sexually assaulted. That Kesha is continuing her fight, in public, against a big name producer, makes her someone worth backing up.

If she’s lying, she’s doing a hell of a job sticking to her story.

If she’s telling the truth, and she was assaulted by the very person who brought her into the public eye—someone it could be said she owes her success to—how could any woman considering a career in music feel they can trust any male producer or record label exec not to do the same and know he would get away with it? It almost goes back to the antiquated idea that if a man takes a woman on an expensive date he’s “owed” sex. It’s disgusting and archaic.

#FreeKesha indeed.

UPDATE: Taylor Swift has donated $250,000 to Kesha’s cause to “help her through difficult times.”

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.