NY top court hands win to Kesha in Dr. Luke defamation case

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – New York’s top state court on Tuesday made it more difficult for music producer Dr. Luke to win his lawsuit claiming pop star Kesha defamed him by falsely accusing him of raping her nearly 20 years ago.


The New York Court of Appeals said Dr. Luke, whose real name is Lukasz Gottwald, is a “public figure” and so he must prove that Kesha acted with actual malice in order to prevail in his 2014 defamation lawsuit.

The ruling reverses a mid-level appeals court that said Dr. Luke was a private figure subject to a lower burden of proof because he is not a household name.

“By 2014, when Gottwald initiated this defamation action, he was, by his own account, a celebrity — an acclaimed music producer who had achieved enormous success in a high-profile career,” Judge Michael Garcia wrote for the court on Tuesday.

The court also said a state judge should have allowed Kesha to file counterclaims against Dr. Luke for emotional distress, punitive damages and legal fees.

Lawyers for Kesha, whose full name is Kesha Rose Sebert, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Christine Lepera, a lawyer for Dr. Luke, said she was confident that Kesha’s counterclaims would ultimately be rejected. Lepera added: “At trial, Ms. Sebert will be required to defend her harmful and long-standing press campaign against Mr. Gottwald.”

Kesha sued the producer and Sony Music in 2014 seeking to get out of a multi-album recording deal, and Dr. Luke counter-sued her for defamation. Kesha had a string of hits beginning in 2009 including “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R.”

Dr. Luke denied Kesha’s claim that he had raped her in 2005 and said she had made a series of false statements on social media, in court filings and in text messages to fellow pop star Lady Gaga.

A New York state judge ruled against Kesha in 2020 and an appeals court upheld that decision in 2021. But the Court of Appeals on Tuesday largely reversed that ruling and remanded the case so it can proceed to trial.

The court also ruled that several of Kesha’s allegedly defamatory statements could not form the basis of a lawsuit because they were made during the course of her separate litigation against Dr. Luke. She later dropped her lawsuit, saying she wanted to focus on her music.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Lisa Shumaker)