Dr. Luke Faces Setback in Long-Running Defamation Battle Against Kesha

Dr Luke Kesha
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Dr Luke Kesha
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Photo Credit: Albany NY at the English-language Wikipedia / CC by 3.0

In Dr. Luke’s ongoing defamation battle against Kesha, the producer faces additional setbacks thanks to the New York Court of Appeals ruling.

The latest in the ongoing legal battle between Kesha and Dr. Luke, the producer has hit a snag: The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that Dr. Luke is sufficiently famous to be considered a “limited public figure.” 

That ruling increases his burden in court — he must now prove that Kesha acted with actual malice when she made her allegedly defamatory statements.

Dr. Luke’s defamation lawsuit against Kesha is the remaining chapter in the multi-layered, multi-state legal battle between the producer and the musician that began when she accused him of rape. He continued to deny those allegations and sued her for defamation, arguing that Kesha’s claims had negatively impacted his career.

There has been much debate as to whether Luke must show that Kesha acted with actual malice when making her allegations, which will inherently make winning his case against her more difficult. 

Under New York law, the requirement of “actual malice” can apply in defamation cases filed by people who are not public figures if the allegedly defamatory statement relates to issues of public concern. Initially, the judge overseeing the lawsuit ruled that the producer was not a public figure — until new free speech laws in New York and a series of appeals on both sides as to Luke’s status as a “public figure” led to a different ruling.

“We hold that (Luke) is a limited public figure who must prove by clear and convincing evidence that (Kesha) acted with actual malice,” wrote appeals judge Michael J. Garcia. 

“(Luke) purposefully sought media attention for himself, his businesses, and for the artists he represented to advance those business interests,” the judge added. “He had been featured in various publications, as well as on radio and television, highlighting the nature of his relationships with those artists and his development of their talent and careers.”

And as a result of New York’s new laws, if Kesha is successful in court, she can seek to force Luke to pay legal costs and damages incurred since the law came into effect in 2020. But legal reps for Dr. Luke maintain confidence that their client will win in court.

Christine Lepera, an attorney for Dr. Luke, told Law360 that his legal team remains “fully confident” that he will “prevail at trial as a limited public figure given (Kesha’s) conduct and knowledge in issuing the defamatory statements at issue.”