What Does the Kesha vs. Dr. Luke Settlement Mean? Two Legal Experts Explain

The almost decade-long legal battle between Kesha and Dr. Luke ended Thursday after both parties said they reached a “resolution.” But why did they settle, and why now? Rolling Stone spoke to two legal experts who offered their thoughts on what this agreement means for both parties.

In her statement, Kesha said that “only God knows what happened” on the night when she has claimed she was raped by the producer, adding, “As I always said, I cannot recount everything that happened.” Luke, for his part, maintained his full innocence: “I am absolutely certain that nothing happened. I never drugged or assaulted her and would never do that to anyone.”

Susan Crumiller, a feminist attorney based in New York, says she’s “glad” that Kesha will be able to move past this case — but adds that in her opinion, the statements were “heavily negotiated” and “certainly slanted” in Luke’s favor.

Though she has no direct knowledge of the settlement’s terms, Crumiller sees it in terms of a broader pattern when allegations of abuse wind up in court. “To the extent that he wanted to continue putting her through hell, he probably succeeded,” she says. “We see abusers using defamation lawsuits as a way to continue their abuse all the time… They’re not looking for some big pot of money at the end, they’re asserting power and control.”

Kesha first filed suit against her producer and label owner Dr. Luke in 2014, alleging an extended period of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and attempting to extricate herself from her contract. Luke, real name Lukasz Gottwald, countersued that same year, vehemently denying all her allegations and claiming that the singer had defamed him. (A judge dismissed Kesha’s claims in 2016, largely on the grounds that they were too old.)

Entertainment attorney Camron Dowlatshahi says the language in the two statements saying that Kesha does not remember what happened that night was “obviously crafted” as part of the settlement. “I think it’s a clear compromise,” he says. Crumiller sees the settlement as a way for Luke to “save face.” Both note that it offers Kesha, who released her latest album last month, a chance to move on.

Statement releases following settlements in high-profile cases are common, according to both attorneys. Such settlements often also include non-disparagement clauses (meaning neither side can talk negatively about the other publicly), financial compensation, and confidentiality as to the amount that was paid, according to Dowlatshahi, who has worked on defamation and harassment cases in the past.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [the amount] is not something significant in this case, and just more them agreeing to keep things confidential and not disparage each other moving forward,” he says.

Crumiller agrees: “I don’t think either of these parties is motivated by the money. I think it’s about their public reputation and the public opinion.”

While the wording of the statements may seem like a win for Luke, Crumiller sees this as a “positive development” for Kesha, since it gives her a way to avoid the harsh public scrutiny of going to trial.

“She is a celebrity and is used to having eyes on her everywhere she goes, and litigation is unpredictable,” Crumiller says. “We all saw how much backlash Amber Heard faced. I think that ultimately if litigation proceeded, she would be risking a verdict against her.”

The decision to settle came days after Kesha earned a pre-trial win when a judge said that Luke would be considered a “limited public figure” in the defamation lawsuit, subjecting the producer to a higher standard of proof in court.

Dowlatshahi believes that the court’s decision to designate Luke a public figure “absolutely” played a role in Luke’s decision to settle. “[The court decision] opened up Luke to significant damages,” he says. “If one side thinks they’re gonna have an absolute win, they’re less incentivized to settle. So this ruling certainly incentivized Dr. Luke to come to the table.”

Both statements reference “closing the door on this chapter” (Kesha) and “put[ting] this difficult matter behind me” (Luke), which the attorneys say may be the biggest takeaway from any settlement.

“They get peace of mind, and do not have to deal with litigation, which is hard — financially, emotionally, spiritually, it’s very taxing,” Dowlatshahi says. “It’s very involved, even if you have the best lawyers. Hopefully, it gives them the freedom to grow creatively, too.”

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