Kesha and the Legal System

“What’s happening to Kesha highlights the way that the American legal system continues to hurt women by failing to protect them from the men they identify as their abusers.” – Lena Dunham.

By now most people have heard about the recent court case involving singer Kesha and her producer, Dr. Luke, the founder of Kemosabe Records, owned by parent company Sony. In 2014, after Kesha accused Dr. Luke, real-name Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, of subjecting her to a decade of emotional and sexual abuse, a long legal case ensued and remains ongoing, with Gottwald countersuing for defamation. In the lawsuit, Kesha claims that Gottwald not only subjected her to years of mental abuse, which resulted in her going to rehab to treat an eating disorder, but also drugged and raped her. Last Friday, fans waited outside Manhattan Supreme Court for the verdict of Kesha’s latest court case, in which she asked for a preliminary injunction that would release her from the terms of her contract with Gottwald whilst the case against him remained ongoing, and were dismayed to hear that judge Shirley Kornreich denied the motion. Kornreich, concerned that granting Kesha a break of the terms of her contract would undermine state contract law stated that, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing”. This is the most saddening conclusion to be drawn from Kesha’s case: it would seem that the legal system continues to favour monetary assets and the safeguarding of corporate reputations rather than protect individuals.

The court ruled against Kesha’s demand for a release from her contract with the man who allegedly abused her, as it did not pose “irreparable harm” in terms of her career. Gottwald’s lawyers stated that Kesha’s freedom to make music was not impinged upon, and that Sony has already given her permission to fulfil her contract without direct contact from the producer. But what if Kesha were opposed to producing music for a company that shadowed her experience of abuse, or did not want to make music that profited the man she accused of committing this abuse? And what if Kesha were to be subjected to ramifications for her actions, for example if Sony were to avoid promoting her work? Surely the protection of a young, vulnerable woman should be viewed as a greater priority than saving corporate face. Apparently though, Kesha’s words and own insistence of events are not enough. The individual, and in particular the individual woman, is still not represented as equal to corporations. Surely it should be the other way round. Corporations are not people. It is worrying that the legal system continually treats them as such. Also interesting to note is the case of Zayn Malik, who was released from his contract with Sony when he left One Direction, citing stress and creative differences for his reasons for doing so. He seems to have had few difficulties in breaking his contract and is now pursing a successful solo career. Is Kesha’s demand less reasonable?

Kesha’s decision to come forward with her accusation against Gottwald sparked the support of fans and celebrities alike and has highlighted certain levels of inequality and corruption within the music industry itself. After the court’s decision was made public, other high-profile singers and celebrities (notably, mostly all women) showed their support to Kesha via Twitter, and Taylor Swift gave a sizeable donation to help Kesha during the legal process. Fans and the general public alike were also largely outraged at the decision taken. For most people who don’t have the bank account of Taylor Swift, the greatest way of showing support is via social media, which can never really make a difference, right? A tweet here or a facebook post there, what do they achieve? Well, in this case, I would argue that the voices of Kesha’s supporters, whether they be expressed online or outside a courtroom, mean quite a lot. Whilst the ruling against the injunction doesn’t present an entirely optimistic platform for the larger case against Gottwald, overwhelming public support and high profile nature of the case could bring about a change to proceedings, and Sony’s future treatment of Kesha will certainly be closely monitored regardless of the outcome.

So, what does the result of Kesha’s case tell us? It is a sad reflection on the legal system as a whole, which chooses to shy away from standing with individuals, who need the law the most, in favour of supporting corporations, surrounding which, accusations of exploitation and misrepresentation are not exactly unheard of. The case against Gottwald goes much further than the encouraging trope of a young woman standing up to a powerful mentor. Whether or not he is ultimately found guilty of abuse, the case has brought to light the underlying facts that Kesha has little control over her own career, her personal wellbeing seems to mean little next to financial gain and that her experience highlights gender inequality in the music industry and beyond. The outpourings of support can only be positive; reminding a young woman that she is not alone and that she is brave. Brave for standing up to systems that refuse to recognise the very core of human wellbeing and individual freedom.


[photo from Raymond Hall GC Images]


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