The public will soon learn a lot more about pop music dealmaking thanks to a marathon libel case headed to trial. On Tuesday, as the legal battle between Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald and Kesha Rose Sebert continues to progress after seven years in court, New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter rejected Sony Music’s concerns and ordered that various contracts, business plans and other financial records be unsealed within days.
Dr. Luke, a hugely successful pop song producer, is suing Kesha after she accused him of rape. She’s countersuing on the basis that his claims of defamation and breach of contract have no merit and are subject to a New York law designed to protect free speech from frivolous litigation. The parties are getting ready for trial, and Schecter will soon make evidentiary determinations on what’s admissible and what’s prejudicial.
To prevail at trial, Dr. Luke will not only have to convince a jury that he didn’t drug and rape the budding pop star 15 years ago in a hotel, he’ll also attempt to show damage from her accusations. Kesha is now making a bid to preclude testimony on lost business opportunities. As such, court exhibits include financial experts opining about the music business plus what’s said to be “reams of data regarding his earnings and revenue,” which could be revelatory considering he’s worked with artists such as Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.
Additionally, the contractual relationship between Dr. Luke’s companies and Kesha is front and center in this case. What she’s been paid for her work recording “Tik Tok” and other hits has been a secret, as has all information relating to Dr. Luke’s joint venture with Sony, Kemosabe Records.
Much of this could soon be seeing the light of day.
In a bid for continued secrecy, Sony argued that the release of information including royalty rates, artist advances, producer fees and recording budgets would cause “substantial harm” to its business interests.
And as for the confidentiality of Kesha’s recording agreement, Sony told the judge that if the terms “were made publicly available, Sony’s competitors would likely use it to encourage artists and producers to sign with other record companies, instead of Sony.”
“That is a stunning admission of the unreasonableness of Sony’s deal terms for Kesha’s albums,” responded Kesha’s attorneys at O’Melveny in slamming the secrecy demand. “Sony, at bottom, may be embarrassed about the terms of the deal under which it is requiring Kesha––a Grammy-nominated artist who has generated enormous amounts of money for the label––to continue to work, but that is not a valid basis on which to keep the information confidential.”
In fighting the request, Kesha’s team also foreshadowed trial strategy.
“Dr. Luke is suing Kesha for breaching her contract with his production company, and Kesha will show at trial that the paltry deal terms and nearly a decade of never-actually-fulfilled promises to improve the contract is one of the manipulative tools that Dr. Luke used to coerce Kesha into keeping silent about his abuse,” continued a brief.
In her latest order, Justice Schecter is allowing Sony to redact personal identifying information and contact information of its employees upon the music giant’s discussion of a public backlash to this case. But otherwise, she sees no good reason to keep the info under wraps.
“Any other asserted privacy interest Sony has in its records, many of which are quite old, is overwhelmingly outweighed by the public’s right to fully understand the parties’ contentions regarding the substantial damages sought by plaintiffs,” Schecter writes.
The lengthy dispute between Dr. Luke and Kesha, which was filed back in 2014 and preceded the #MeToo movement, has consistently produced legal precedence on all sorts of topics ranging from interpretation of gender-motivated crimes to the definition of public figures. And it continues to be influential. On Monday, for example, in a separate libel battle over a sexual misconduct claim, Donald Trump’s attorneys pointed to how Kesha was allowed a counterclaim against Dr. Luke. The ex-president is looking for similar treatment in an upcoming trial against an Apprentice alum who accuses him of smearing her by publicly denying inappropriate behavior.