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Kesha and Dr. Luke: Everything You Need to Know to Understand the Case

After a New York judge sided with Sony Music and Dr. Luke, what’s next for the pop star?

Over the weekend, a New York judge denied Kesha a court injunction that would have allowed her to record new music outside of her record label Sony Music and working with producer Dr. Luke. Since then, Taylor Swift has agreed to give the singer $250,000 to help with any financial needs and other female artists — including Lady Gaga, Lorde, Grimes, Lily Allen and Kelly Clarkson — have publicly supported the singer-songwriter. 

Related: Taylor Swift Donates $250,000 to Kesha After Court Ruling

But if you’re arriving late to the story, it may be difficult to figure out what is going on. Here, we break it down to understand what’s going down as the case continues to unfold.

Kesha’s had some big hits, so what’s at stake?
Nashville native Kesha Rose Sebert, formerly known as Ke$ha, first hit the pop charts as an uncredited collaborator on Flo Rida’s chart-topping single “Right Round.” Her whiskey-soaked debut solo single “Tik Tok” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks and sold 610,000 digital units during the week ending Dec. 27, 2009, and her debut album Animal — which was also re-released with the EP Cannibal — has been certified platinum, spawning singles like the jubilant “Your Love Is My Drug” and the anti-bullying anthem “We R Who We R.” Warrior, Kesha’s second album, came out in 2012; its lead single, “Die Young,” hit No. 2. She also contributed the hook to Pitbull’s chart-topping 2013 single “Timber.”  

So who is Dr. Luke?
Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald was a former guitarist for the Saturday Night Live band and protégé of superproducer Max Martin who has writing and production credits on some of the 21st century’s biggest hits: Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” Pink’s “U + Ur Hand,” Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” and Miley Cyrus’s “Party In The U.S.A.” Since November 2011, he has had an arrangement with Sony Music that involves him running an imprint, Kemosabe Records, and writing and producing music exclusively for the conglomerate. (He did, however, work with Perry on her 2013 album Prism.)

What was the public relationship between Kesha and Dr. Luke like before the lawsuit
Dr. Luke was the executive producer for both of Kesha’s albums, and he also produced “Timber.” “After “Die Young” was pulled from radio stations in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, Kesha said that she was “forced” to sing the Dr. Luke-produced track’s chorus — “let’s make the most of the night, ’cause we’re gonna die young” — on Twitter. She later clarified in a post on her website: “Forced is not the right word. I did have some concerns about the phrase ‘die young’ in the chorus when we were writing the lyrics especially because so many of my fans are young and that’s one reason why I wrote so many versions of this song.”

Why do fans hold up signs reading “Free Kesha”?
In late 2013, a group of Kesha fans started a petition to sever the relationship between Kesha and Dr. Luke, saying that he was “controlling Ke$ha like a puppet, feeding her what she doesn’t want and her creativity is dwindling.” A few months later, after Kesha was admitted to a rehab center to treat an eating disorder, Kesha’s mother Pebe Sebert told People that Dr. Luke had pressured her daughter to lose weight, comparing her to a refrigerator. Now, the “Free Kesha” movement includes fans and supporters who protest with signs and one recently created a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to buy Kesha out of her Sony contract.

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Kesha fans protest Sony Music Entertainment outside New York State Supreme Court in New York, NY on February 19th, 2016 Roy Rochlin/Getty

What is Kesha’s lawsuit against Dr. Luke about?
Filed in California in October 2014, the suit is looking to void Kesha’s contracts with Dr. Luke and his business subsidiaries, allow Kesha to work with other labels and publishing units and receive damages. It claims that over the 10 years leading up to its filing, Dr. Luke had “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused Ms. Sebert to the point where Ms. Sebert nearly lost her life,” all in the service of his being able to “maintain complete control over her life and career.” The suit — which can be read in full on Scribd — claims that “Ms. Sebert wholly believed that Dr. Luke had the power and money to carry out his threats; she therefore never dared talk about, let alone report, what Dr. Luke had done to her.” (It should be noted that in 2011, Kesha testified in a deposition that Gottwald had never made advances at her.) This suit alleges sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender violence, civil harassment, violation of unfair business laws, infliction of emotional distress (both intentional and negligent) and negligent retention and supervision.

How did Dr. Luke respond?
In New York in October 2014, Gottwald countersued Kesha and Pebe Sebert and Kesha’s representatives at Vector Management for defamation and breach of contract, claiming that the “false and shocking accusations” and Kesha’s refusal to record were tantamount to extortion.

What’s this injunction got to do with it?
New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied an injunction that would have let Kesha record new music for labels that aren’t Kemosabe while the details of both lawsuits were being hashed out. “There has been no showing of irreparable harm. She’s being given opportunity to record,” Kornreich said while handing her decision. Kesha was present for the ruling along with her mother and her boyfriend, and afterward she met with about 50 fans who had assembled outside.

Why was Friday’s decision in a New York courtroom?
In June, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Barbara Scheper froze Kesha’s lawsuit against Luke, saying that her contracts require any legal disputes arising from them to be resolved in New York. Scheper noted that there was “no evidence to support her assertion that the agreements were not entered into freely or voluntarily as a result of arm’s length negotiations.” Kornreich, who had previously said that she was going to wait for the California courts’ ruling before deciding whether or not to dismiss the case, subsequently decided to hear arguments.

Has Kesha been working on music since she filed the suit?
Kesha has played occasional concerts at universities over the past 18 months. In late 2015, she played a show in Nashville with a band of local musicians called Yeast Infection. “Don’t worry NO ONE will ever shut me up,” she captioned a Facebook video of the show.

Who has come out in support of Kesha?
Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha “to help with any of her financial needs during this trying time,” according to a statement from Swift’s publicist. Demi Lovato, Lorde, Lady Gaga and Clarkson are among the stars who have tweeted in support of Kesha since the verdict hit on Friday; Cyrus reposted a photo of Fiona Apple holding a supportive sign to Instagram late Sunday; and fans have started a GoFundMe aimed to help buying Kesha out of her contract.

What’s next?
Judge Kornreich said in her ruling on Friday that she was waiting to hear more evidence before outright dismissing the case. Dr. Luke’s lawyer Christine Lepera released a statement overnight: “The New York County Supreme Court on Friday found that Kesha is already ‘free’ to record and release music without working with Dr. Luke as a producer if she doesn’t want to,” it said. “Any claim that she isn’t ‘free’ is a myth. As Dr. Luke has said repeatedly, the allegations against him are outright lies that have been advanced to extort a contract renegotiation and money.”