The legal battle between Kesha and producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald has dragged on for more than five years. In 2014, the singer alleged that he had “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused” her. In 2016, she dropped the complaint, explaining she wanted to put her trauma behind her and focus on music. Her 2017 single “Praying” became an anthem of the #MeToo movement.
Dr. Luke also countersued Kesha for defamation and breach of contract to the tune of $50 million. And while her complaint was dropped, his is still winding its way through the justice system. The bulk of the complaints in the lawsuit will be decided by a jury, but on Thursday, New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter issued a number of preliminary rulings in Dr. Luke’s favor. The splashiest and most surprising ruling to come out of this first round: the judge said Kesha defamed Dr. Luke in a private text message she sent to Lady Gaga in 2016.
Kesha said she and Katy Perry had been raped by “the same man,” meaning Dr. Luke. But Perry testified on the producer’s behalf, stating “unequivocally” that he never raped her. Even though Kesha’s allegation only ever appeared in a private text, the judge ruled it was still defamatory.
“Dr. Luke has been whittling away at her claims, and she's not been doing great in the litigation in general,” entertainment lawyer Jeremy S. Goldman told Mic. “It's pretty astounding for a plaintiff to win so many issues on summary judgment, especially on a defamation claim,” he added. “Whether something's defamatory usually goes to a jury, not decided by a judge as a matter of law.”
There are a few takeaways: for one, the ruling stacks the cards in Dr. Luke’s favor. Kesha will be fully on the hook for any claims she made about the producer that she can’t back up — including any false allegations made by her representatives, another point the judge ruled on this week. That’s notable, because Dr. Luke says Kesha’s team cooked up a “sham” complaint to get her out of her contracts and waged a smear campaign against him.
Secondly, it saddles Kesha’s lawyers with the burden of proving that her assault allegations against Dr. Luke are true — a feat that probably won’t be easy, since the singer and her mom gave contradictory testimonies in 2011. They’ll be called upon to explain the inconsistencies, and if they can’t, Kesha may have to pay up for all the times she called Dr. Luke a predator. The precedent set with the Lady Gaga text is that Kesha’s private communications count, too.
In the broadest sense, this ruling could put celebrities on the hook for anything they say privately or publicly, including in their emails, texts or DMs. “Communications that you believe to be private are fair game in litigation,” Goldman said. “Things that a person would presume to be private [...] can absolutely become discoverable. And people have a false sense of security around text messages.”