Pop star Kesha and producer Dr. Luke settle longstanding legal battle over rape and defamation claims

The deal averts a trial that had been scheduled for this summer over allegations that became a #MeToo cause for Kesha’s supporters and came to involve a lineup of music industry luminaries

Songwriter Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwalk poses with singer Kesha after receiving his award at the 28th Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards in Los Angeles
Songwriter Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwalk poses with singer Kesha after receiving his award at the 28th Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards in Los Angeles, on April 27, 2011.Chris Pizzello (AP)

Pop star Kesha and producer Dr. Luke have settled nearly a decade of suits and countersuits over her accusation that he drugged and raped her and his claim that she made it up and defamed him, they announced Thursday, with the singer saying that “only God knows what happened that night.” Dr. Luke, meanwhile, said he was “absolutely certain that nothing happened. I never drugged or assaulted her.”

Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed, as both she and he revealed on Instagram that they had agreed to “a resolution” of the case and to a statement from each of them. Messages seeking comment were sent to their attorneys.

“I cannot recount everything that happened,” Kesha wrote, adding that she wishes “nothing but peace to all parties involved.”

Dr. Luke, in turn, said he wished her well and wanted “to put this difficult matter behind me” after years of fighting to clear his name.

The deal averts a trial that had been scheduled for this summer over allegations that became a #MeToo cause for Kesha’s supporters and came to involve a lineup of music industry luminaries. Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Adam Levine and Taio Cruz are among those who gave testimony or sworn statements related to the case.

At the same time, the case raised important legal questions about fame and defamation. The stakes were seen as high enough that media outlets weighed in about pretrial rulings that they worried could help powerful people suppress unflattering reporting.

The court clash between the multiplatinum-selling singer and the Grammy-nominated producer has been playing out since 2014 and looming over both of their careers.

The Associated Press does not generally name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Kesha has done.

The singer made her name — originally styled Ke$ha — with a series of swaggering, just-try-to-stop-me party anthems, beginning with 2009′s TiK ToK. Those early hits were produced by Dr. Luke, who founded the record label that signed a Nashville unknown named Kesha Rose Sebert at age 18.

Born Lukasz Gottwald, he has produced chart-toppers for Perry, Lavigne, Flo Rida and more. Besides notching multiple Grammy nominations, Dr. Luke has repeatedly won pop songwriter of the year awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Kesha sued him in 2014, alleging he drugged and raped her nine years earlier and psychologically tormented her throughout their working relationship. She said he harangued her about her weight, denigrated her voice and lorded his power over her career.

“The abuse I suffered from Luke was a decade long, every day, every moment of every day,” she said during sworn questioning in 2017. According to Kesha, the ordeal sparked a flare-up of an eating disorder that led to her spending two months in a rehabilitation clinic in 2014.

Dr. Luke, who has not been charged with any crimes, responded by suing Kesha. He has asserted that she made “completely untrue and deeply hurtful” claims to tarnish him and get out of her record contract.

“Any reasonable person will not believe her,” he said when questioned under oath in 2017.

His attorneys have noted that Kesha herself said he “never made sexual advances at me” during sworn questioning in a separate lawsuit in 2011. She has since said she was “not entirely transparent” in those 2011 statements because she was terrified of Dr. Luke and felt compelled to protect him.

Kesha went five years without releasing an album during the standoff, saying she could not work with a “monster” but couldn’t get away from him because she was under contract with his label. His lawyers and the label’s attorneys maintained that she did not have to work with him personally.

She eventually returned with 2017′s Rainbow and two subsequent albums, all with other producers. Her most recent album, Gag Order, came out in May.

Dr. Luke’s career also took a hit after she went public with her allegations. He has said various artists, particularly female ones, eschewed “working with someone who’s called a rapist.”

But under the name Tyson Trax, he made it back to the top of the charts in 2020 with Doja Cat’s Say So, garnering his first Grammy nomination since 2014. By this year, he was ASCAP’s pop songwriter of the year once again.

Along the way, Kesha’s sexual abuse-related claims were dismissed because of time limits and other legal issues, without any findings about the merits of the allegations themselves. But she countersued Dr. Luke under a New York law against bringing frivolous suits to try to intimidate critics into silence; New York’s highest court recently ruled that she could pursue those claims.

The top court, which New York calls the Court of Appeals, also declared that Dr. Luke is a “public figure” in the eyes of the law. That’s significant because the legal requirements for proving defamation are tougher for public figures than for everyday people.

Lower courts had said the producer wasn’t a public figure. Over a dozen media outlets and organizations got involved in the case to argue that those earlier rulings could end up helping famous people squash free speech and reporting on sexual abuse allegations.

Earlier in the case, Kesha was ordered to pay Dr. Luke more than $373,000 in interest on royalties she paid him years late.

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