Can Sony Break Kesha’s Contract With Dr. Luke? Legal Roadblocks Make The Situation A Complicated One
On Friday, a New York-based judge ruled that Kesha will not be allowed to break her contract with Dr. Luke (real name, Lukasz Gottwald). In October 2014, Kesha accused Gottwald of raping her when she was 18 years old. (Gottwald has denied the allegations since, and countersued Kesha for defamation.) Following the ruling, Kesha's fans have shown massive support for her and her case. So much, in fact, that the #FreeKesha movement plans to protest outside of Sony's headquarters in New York City this Friday. However, with the protest plans now public, it's worth wondering if, despite the judge's ruling, Sony could break Kesha's contract themselves. After all, Kesha even said in a statement released to her Facebook page Wednesday that she would be "willing to work with Sony" if they "break all ties that bind" her to Gottwald.
However, according to Sony's attorney, Scott A. Edelman, in a statement to the New York Times, Sony can't break Kesha's contract because of legal reasons:
Sony has made it possible for Kesha to record without any connection, involvement or interaction with Luke whatsoever, but Sony is not in a position to terminate the contractual relationship between Luke and Kesha. 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.
To break this down, the label supposedly isn't legally allowed to dissolve the contract because Kesha is signed to a subsidiary of Sony, Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records. Rather than an actual "recording contract," Kesha is signed to Dr. Luke's two production companies — Kasz Money Publishing and Prescription Song — under a "furnishing agreement." According to this statement, Kesha's contract doesn't technically belong to Sony and instead belongs to Dr. Luke and his production companies. So even if Sony were to terminate their contract with Dr. Luke, Dr. Luke would still have control over Kesha's music.
To make things more complicated, in a statement to Rolling Stone, Dr. Luke's lawyer Christine Lepera explained that Kesha is free to make music without Dr. Luke:
The New York County Supreme Court on Friday found that Kesha is already "free" to record and release music without working with Dr. Luke as a producer if she doesn’t want to. Any claim that she isn’t "free" is a myth. The sound decision Friday by the Court in denying Kesha's motion for an injunction made it clear Kesha's allegations of purported abuse were unconvincing and that she had no basis to void record contracts and copyrights. Dr. Luke and his companies invested in Kesha's success through their contributions, Sony Music has already spent over $11 million promoting Kesha, and Sony Music and its label Kemosabe Records are committed to continuing to promote her work.
This statement echoes what Judge Shirley Kornreich — who made the decision in Kesha's case to block her from being released from her contract with Sony — said in her ruling on Friday:
[Sony] are willing to allow her to record without any involvement of Mr. Gottwald ... and there are papers from Mr. Gottwald that say he will agree to allow her to record without his involvement. [...] She doesn't have to work with him... Now the other side has come forward to say, 'We will let her record without Dr. Luke.' I don't understand your problem ... It's not in [the company's] best interest to not make money and not promote a recording artist.
Though Sony has offered to let Kesha work on new music without Dr. Luke — the best they can do, according to Edelman — there are still potential roadblocks. According to TMZ, Kesha's team claims that Sony is able to shut out Kesha entirely if she doesn't work with Dr. Luke. Jim Urie, the former President and CEO of Universal Music Group Distribution, made similar claims in an affidavit submitted to the court on Friday. "...no mainstream distribution company will invest the money necessary to distribute songs for an artist who has fallen from the public eye, as is happening to Kesha at this very moment. Accordingly, if Kesha cannot immediately resume recording and having her music promoted, marketed, and distributed by a major label, her career is effectively over." Sony did not immediately respond to Bustle's request for comment regarding these claims — but, as mentioned in Judge Kornreich's ruling, Sony claims they "are committed" to promoting Kesha's work.
When the allegations first surfaced in October of 2014 — Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke citing verbal and sexual abuse, and Dr. Luke quickly filed his own countersuit against Kesha and her mother for defamation — Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos told Billboard that this is about Kesha's personal freedom, not her career freedom. He said:
This lawsuit is a wholehearted effort by Kesha to regain control of her music career and her personal freedom after suffering for ten years as a victim of mental manipulation, emotional abuse and sexual assault at the hands of Dr. Luke. The facts presented in our lawsuit paint a picture of a man who is controlling and willing to commit horrible acts of abuse in an attempt to intimidate an impressionable, talented, young female artist into submission for his personal gain. Kesha is focused on moving her life and her career beyond this terrible time.
Since the ruling, Kesha has posted a response to her fans on Instagram, thanking them for their continued support.
Her short caption on Instagram was followed by a more lengthy letter on Facebook, where Kesha shared the following message:
All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused. 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.
You can read the entire thing here.
With Sony allegedly unable to break the contract, it's not clear how Kesha will choose to carry on with her career, and if she'll make any music at all with the label or Dr. Luke in the future.