Today, a New York judge denied the injunction that could have given pop singer Kesha a temporary break from her contract with Sony Records. The 28-year-old musician faces a difficult choice: work with the producer she alleges abused her or continue to put her career on hold.
As I wrote yesterday:
Kesha's case is unprecedented. Many industries must grapple with issues of sexism and harassment, but Kesha's case is further complicated by the potential for abuse that's built into the structure of music industry contracts. The vast majority of artists sign contracts with "options" for the record company, meaning the artist signs on to make an initial record with the potential for more if the record company chooses to invoke one of these options. "That very option structure puts the company and representatives of the company in a position of really truly awesome power," says Matt Stahl, a professor at the University of Western Ontario and author of the book Unfree Masters: Recording Artists and the Politics of Work. "By signing a contract, Kesha and every other major label artist have basically consigned control of their labor and image to a company for a period of time that's not specified."
"You're asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry," said New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich. Kesha's representatives say the injunction is necessary since any lull can be a career-ender for pop stars, and that requiring her to make an album with Dr. Luke is tantamount to not letting her make an album at all. Dr. Luke denies the allegations, and his lawyers have argued that Kesha is using claims of abuse to get out of her contract, and that Sony has offered to let her work with a different producer, which Kesha disputes.
Yet the judge hasn't dismissed the lawsuit, making this a temporary setback in a case that could still strengthen artists' rights.
From my story yesterday:
Kesha's waiting for the kind of legal action recording artists rarely get to pursue, within a legal system that is unkind to both rape victims and artists. But she's stuck to her story. "Whether or not these allegations turn out to have merit, this is the closest we've come to a real challenge to this very stable, long-standing, legally supported relationship of domination in a long time," Stahl says. "She may be able to take it further than anyone has for a very long time."
In the meantime, fans have rallied around her, even protesting outside the courthouse during the hearing today. Kesha hasn't released an album since 2012, and with open lawsuits in three states, it may be years before she can get back to the recording studio.