Kesha fans who believe the time has come for a new album from the musical mind behind “TiK ToK” may have to hold out a bit longer.
Though Kesha dropped her sexual assault lawsuit against record producer Dr. Luke in order to “focus on getting back to work,” in the words of attorney Daniel Petrocelli, six months ago, a new counterclaim she filed with the New York Supreme Court on Monday alleges that Luke’s label has not approved any of her new songs, set a release date for them, or addressed whether the album will be promoted much like other artists on the Sony record label. Petrocelli claimed that she had recorded 28 new songs in August.
For now, it seems, Kesha fans will have to make do with the Kesha non-original “True Colors,” her remake of a 2015 song made in collaboration with the artist Zedd, which Zedd says Luke’s label Kemosabe Records, owned by Sony Music Entertainment, approved in April.
In the counterclaim, Kesha’s legal team alleges that, until last month, Kemosabe had withheld accounting statements and hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to Kesha per her recording contract. Luke’s company has still not paid her recording and publishing royalties for her 2013 single “Timber,” a collaboration with Pitbull, it adds. “This is not about money or business. It is a vendetta against Kesha,” the counterclaim reads.
But in a counterclaim also filed on Monday, Dr. Luke introduced a new defamation claim arguing that Kesha’s own vendetta has put his career at risk. The claim asserts that, one week after a judge denied an injunction that would have given Kesha a break from her contract, Kesha sent a text to fellow Sony Music recording artist Lady Gaga alleging that another (unnamed) female recording artist had been raped by Dr. Luke. If it seems odd that a private text could fall under the auspices of defamation, the document alleges that, ever since receiving the text (which Luke’s team uncovered in the “discovery” phase of litigation) on February 26th, Gaga has criticized Luke in the press. (That same day, Gaga posted a message on Instagram and Twitter telling Sony to drop Dr. Luke.) Luke’s legal team called this “a conscious and coordinated effort to ‘blacklist’ [Luke] from the music industry.”
While the counterclaim released by Luke’s legal team renews the plaintiff’s intent to hold Kesha to her original contract and pay punitive damages, Kesha’s lawyers have invoked a plea for liberation. Since at least last February, Kesha fans have been voicing their support of the artist during her ongoing legal battles with the hashtag #FreeKesha. Kesha is neither seeking a renegotiation of her contract nor more money, but is asking for “the freedom to make music without being bound indefinitely to the very producer who subjected her to years of abuse and continues that abuse to this day,” the counterclaim asserts.
If Kesha succeeds in breaking her contract, it would be an exceptional moment for the music industry. As Allison Shapiro wrote for Pacific Standard in August, “the music industry has a history of systematically controlling and underpaying its artists” with punitive contracts that invoke a record label’s right to “option” future work. Like “gig economy” workers employed by Uber or Lyft, artists under contract often don’t hold the same sex-discrimination and sexual-harassment protections as employees. Last April, a New York judge denied the artist’s attempts to sue Luke on the grounds that he had violated New York’s “hate crime” laws. The judge dismissed those claims in the case of Luke, writing, “Every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime.”
Kesha’s lawyers have changed legal strategy since: Rather than frame her accusation as a gender-motivated hate crime, her lawyers are now saying he simply breached the terms of Kemosabe’s contract, The Hollywood Reporter’s Eriq Gardner writes, by focusing attention on Luke’s alleged reticence to produce and promote Kesha’s third album.
Kesha and Dr. Luke are due in court for depositions this week, and the next court hearing is set for February 14th.