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Why Sony Music Can't Easily Cancel Kesha's Contract

The law is pretty clear, but the public relations problem is complicated.
Pop star Kesha leaves state court in New York on Feb. 19.

Pop star Kesha leaves state court in New York on Feb. 19.

Photographer: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

After a New York judge refused to release pop star Kesha Sebert from a recording contract with producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, a quarter-million fans signed a petition calling for a boycott of Sony Music Entertainment Inc. And while the ruling last week was a setback for the singer, it wasn't that great for Sony, either.

Sebert, 28, who in 2014 sued Gottwald for sexual assault, has received an outpouring of support on social media, where the #FreeKesha hashtag was trending nationally, Grammy winner Taylor Swift offered $250,000 for her legal bills, and rapper Snoop Dogg's encouragement on Twitter got 10,000 retweets. As it turns out, though, Sebert's link to Sony Music, as with many commercial agreements, involves more than two parties. Regardless of the public outcry and the mounting public relations disaster for Sony Music, the entertainment giant can't unilaterally cancel her contract. It's also up to Gottwald.  

At the age of 18, Sebert says she dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles to record music, at Gottwald's urging. Soon, she was legally intertwined with three of his music companies: Prescription Songs LLC, Kasz Money Inc., and Kemosabe Records LLC. Though Kemosabe is owned by Sony Music, Gottwald serves as its chief executive officer. He owns the other two firms. Sebert alleged in her lawsuit that, starting in 2005, Gottwald started physically and emotionally abusing her. “After forcing Ms. Sebert to drink with him, Dr. Luke instructed Ms. Sebert to take what he described as ‘sober pills’ in order for her to sober up,” according to the complaint, filed in October 2014 in California state court in Los Angeles. “Ms. Sebert took the pills and woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr. Luke’s bed, sore and sick, with no memory of how she got there.”