The Kesha–Dr. Luke Court Battle: A Comprehensive Guide

Everything you wanted to know about an ugly, complicated case.

Dr. Luke and Kesha.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for City of Hope, James Devaney/GC Images.

After a complicated ruling came down last Friday, the music industry—and the Internet—has been arguing over a court battle between pop star Kesha, her label, and her producer, Dr. Luke. On Monday afternoon, Dr. Luke, aka Lukasz Gottwald—who has worked with Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and Nicki Minaj—unleashed a tweetstorm claiming his innocence of the allegations Kesha has made against him. Below, your guide to what we know so far.

What exactly happened on Friday?

New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich declined to grant Kesha a preliminary injunction that would free her from a six-album deal with her long-time collaborator and producer Gottwald, and his label, Kemosabe Records, a division within Sony Music Entertainment.

What’s a preliminary injunction?

Kesha is, depending upon how one counts, either two or three albums into a six-album deal. She, Gottwald, and the labels are involved in multiple lawsuits against each other. An injunction would allow her to record and release music without Gottwald’s participation, and on labels besides Kemosabe and Sony, before those suits are decided. In deciding whether to grant an injunction, the judge takes into account whether irreparable harm will result without it, along with other factors including the odds of each party prevailing in the trials.

What are these lawsuits about?

In October 2014, Kesha filed a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Supreme Court alleging almost a decade of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by Gottwald, including a rape on an airplane after being forced to snort an unknown substance; waking up “sick and sore” another afternoon after being given “sober pills” the previous night, which she says she later determined to be the so-called date-rape drug GHB; and a career-long campaign to keep her under control, using threats not only to her own safety but also her mother’s and even her dog’s. One night, she alleged, she escaped an attack at his Malibu beach house only by running barefoot down the Pacific Coast Highway.

She filed a civil lawsuit, not a criminal one?

That’s right: Criminal charges have not been filed. The Washington Post reports that Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos (who represented Chris Brown in his felony arrest for assaulting Rihanna), claims rape kits for the alleged incidents don’t exist, but witnesses do, and that the civil suit “allows us to do all the discovery.”

And Gottwald denies the charges?

Gottwald, Kemosabe, and Sony assert that Kesha’s claims are a total fabrication—an extortion designed to release her from her contract. They filed a countersuit that same day in October 2014, calling her claims “defamatory statements [containing] lurid allegations of physical and mental abuse—allegations that Kesha and [her mother] have themselves admitted are false.” On Monday, Gottwald tweeted about the case.

Did Kesha and her mother actually admit that the allegations are false?

It’s not yet clear. It’s a long story and it’s really complicated.

OK, start from the beginning, then.

A decade ago, when Kesha Rose Sebert was 18, Dr. Luke signed her to his publishing company, Prescription Songs, and his Kemosabe label. A year later, she hadn’t released anything, and felt she needed new management. She signed with DAS Communications, who’ve worked with Black Eyed Peas and John Legend. In 2008, DAS secured an offer from Warner Bros. for a debut album, but it was not meant to be. In a 2010 lawsuit against her and Dr. Luke, DAS alleged that Gottwald scuttled the deal and “induced, intimidated, and convinced” her to leave DAS and sign a record deal with RCA through his own imprint. DAS also alleged that, as far back as 2005, Gottwald “engaged in certain unethical and unlawful actions against her and that [Sebert] did not want Gottwald to be part of her career going forward.”

What kind of actions?

They are not fully explicated in the fragmented unsealed portions of Kesha’s 2011 deposition in the DAS lawsuit, though they foreshadow the trouble to come. She stated that she didn’t remember anyone forbidding her to sign with DAS and that she “was fortunate to have the attention and support of Dr. Luke.” She also stated that “Dr. Luke never made sexual advances at me,” although they did sleep in the same bed and were witnessed “making out” on a cross-country flight. She denied that Dr. Luke ever gave her a “roofie,” or date-rape drug; but when asked in her deposition if Dr. Luke ever gave her “any drugs which could not be purchased at a pharmacy,” Kesha replied, “I don’t know.”

So in 2011, Kesha said, under oath, that Gottwald didn’t abuse or drug her, and now she’s saying he did?

We don’t know the full truth of this, because only portions of the deposition have been unsealed. It’s also possible that she’s saying she didn’t tell DAS about the abuse—not that it never happened at all.

The judge’s decision didn’t shed any light on who’s telling the truth here?

That’s complicated, too. She evidently didn’t believe Kesha would endure irreparable harm by being held to the contract. It’s anyone’s guess whether the judge thinks either there’s not enough evidence to prove the charges against Gottwald or that an artist being forced to collaborate with and generate money for her alleged rapist isn’t irreparable harm. Kesha’s lawyers argued that, since Gottwald serves as both her longtime producer and writing collaborator and runs the label that will release her remaining albums, the contract forces her to work both with and for the man who abused her.

So where does that leave Kesha?

“With no new music to perform, Kesha cannot tour,” the lawsuit claims. “Off the radio and stage and out of the spotlight, Kesha cannot sell merchandise, receive sponsorships, or get media attention. Her brand value has fallen, and unless the Court issues this injunction, Kesha will suffer irreparable harm, plummeting her career past the point of no return.”

And the judge disagreed?

That’s right. She noted that Sony would want to protect what was characterized as a $60 million dollar investment in Kesha and her career. For its part, Sony has said she can work with other producers, though it hasn’t commented on whether Kemosabe would release the recordings. Either way, money from her music would likely find a way into the pockets of Gottwald and the label that stands by him. Nonetheless, Kornreich announced that her “instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing” and uphold a contract that is “typical for the industry.”

Is it?

The music industry, like most industries, has a history of shitty contracts. Ask Stevie Wonder. Or Prince. Or Van Morrison. Or Kelly Clarkson.

Kelly Clarkson worked with Dr. Luke, didn’t she?

Gottwald wrote and produced her legendary “Since U Been Gone.” She has also tweeted about the case.

Oof. Which other celebrities are supporting Kesha?

Miley Cyrus, who made “Wrecking Ball” with Dr. Luke, showed her support via Instagram. Lorde and Grimes, among others, have stated they are on her side. Lady Gaga—who has said a producer raped her but denied Kesha’s lawyers’ attempts to pin the crime on Gottwald—tweeted, “I can truly say I am awed by your bravery.” Demi Lovato posted an extensive, outraged take on the situation, which the Internet tore apart for hints of shade before finally settling on a supposed target in Taylor Swift, who either in response or by coincidence announced Monday morning that she was giving Kesha $250,000 of support.

Has Dr. Luke commented about Friday’s verdict?

A few hours after the ruling came down, Gottwald deleted a post from his Twitter—a photo he snapped of Kesha fast asleep. Monday, his lawyers released a long, furious statement to Rolling Stone, taking on not only Kesha’s allegations but the entire #freekesha movement.

That hashtag is everywhere.

It’s actually been around since 2013, when a group of fans began agitating for Kesha to stop working with Dr. Luke.


In 2012, she released a single she co-wrote with Dr. Luke called “Die Young.” The track, with its “Let’s make the most of tonight/Like we’re gonna die young” chorus, came under fire in the wake of that December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; after it was pulled from major radio playlists, Kesha announced in a quickly deleted tweet that “I did NOT want to sing those lyrics and I was FORCED to.” The following May, she devoted an episode of her reality show My Crazy Beautiful Life to “Machine Gun Love,” a track she said Luke refused to release. She told Rolling Stone, “What’s been put out as singles have just perpetuated a particular image that may or may not be entirely accurate.” A New Yorker profile of Dr. Luke from that fall makes an unsourced allegation that “she was proving hard to control.” Although he had just produced the No. 1 hit “Timber” for her and Pitbull, when asked about Kesha, he said only, “I haven’t heard from her in awhile.” By that time, nearly 13,000 fans had signed the online #freekesha petition to “Let Ke$ha have creative freedom.”

What happens next?

Kesha and her lawyers have not announced if they will appeal Friday’s verdict, but interlocutory appeals, as such things are called, are rare. Her lawsuit continues, as does the countersuit brought by Gottwald, Kemosabe, and Sony.

Is Kesha OK?

In January 2014, she entered rehab for an eating disorder; that summer, she wrote a blunt essay for Elle UK, just a few months before launching her current lawsuit, that challenges the standards female musicians are held to. “The music industry has unrealistic expectations for what a body is supposed to look like,” she wrote. “I convinced myself that being sick, being skinny, was part of my job.” Now, apparently, working for a man she says is her rapist is part of her job.