Yesterday The Wrap reported that Sony Music plans to “end its working relationship with Lukas “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, citing both “knowledgeable individuals” and “insiders” close to Sony. Representatives for Gottwald — who has deals with the label through his companies Kemosabe Records and Prescription Songs — denied the report, and as of today, it’s a case of anonymous-said/my-lawyer-said.
So what does any of this mean? For one, it’s clear that Kesha’s beef is more with Gottwald (who she’s accused of sexual assault) than with Sony Music. The injunction she filed to be allowed to record for other labels while her suit against Gottwald was sorted out may have been denied by a cold-hearted New York Supreme Court Justice (“There has been no showing of irreparable harm,” judge Shirley Kornreichin wrote in her decision).
But while her mom may be in the news for her account of the harrowing saga (“He almost destroyed us,” she told Billboard), Kesha has already said she’d be willing to work with Sony, provided she didn’t have to work with Gottwald. But it’s also clear that Sony has no legal recourse to dissolve Kesha’s contract with Gottwald, since he’s the middleman that connects them. Kesha is signed to Kemosabe, itself a subsidiary of Sony, through a separate deal with Gottwald’s production company, Kasz Money Inc. As the label’s attorney, Scott A. Edelman told The New York Times , “Sony is doing everything it can to support the artist in these circumstances, but is legally unable to terminate the contract to which it is not a party.”
So how exactly could Sony dissolve its relationship with Dr. Luke? It doesn’t seem like they have many options. “We have done everything we could to resolve this,” a Sony rep told Billboard. Any unilateral breach of the contract would open up Sony to yet another lawsuit, this time from Gottwald. And Gottwald likely needs Kesha more than he’d like to admit — Kemosabe hasn’t had a true hit since she last recorded for him in 2012. Gottwald still stands to make a considerable amount of money during the last year of his deal, so he has absolutely no incentive to walk away.
At this point, the likeliest scenario is that Sony won’t renew their deals with Gottwald’s companies when they expire — the bad PR may have already hit critical mass. A big reason they signed Luke was to get access to his palpable hit-making abilities (even when he produces records for other labels’ artists, like say, Katy Perry, Sony still gets a cut), so what happens if his big-name collaborators defect? But if Sony feels the need to terminate the contract prematurely, they’re going to need Gottwald’s approval, and that is unlikely to come cheap. The real question is, how much is it worth to Sony to avoid another year’s worth of brutal headlines and the world’s biggest stars openly shitting on its business partner? You can bet its bean counters are working on it as you read this.