Sony Music is distancing itself from Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) after a long relationship that generated dozens of smash hits for stars including Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and Miley Cyrus, as well as controversy when rape allegations were made by Kesha Rose Sebert.
Together, Sony and Dr. Luke established Kemosabe Records in 2011, after the former Saturday Night Live musician gained prominence for producing such songs as Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." The deal gave Dr. Luke extraordinary creative control in return for exclusive rights to his services as a producer. The label didn't have too many hits - R. City's "Locked Away" was one - but Dr. Luke did continue to churn out chart-toppers for Sony's roster including Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" and Pitbull's "Timber."
Nevertheless, in October 2014, Kesha came forward to accuse Dr. Luke of once forcing her to take a date-rape drug and then proceeding to take advantage of her in a hotel room. She also claimed that Dr. Luke had exerted "suffocating control" over her life for a decade, bombarding her with insults about her looks and denying her meaningful profits from her work, which included the multiplatinum single "Tik Tok."
Dr. Luke filed his own defamation claim against Kesha and framed her attempt to extradite herself from record and publishing contracts as extortion. But soon came a social media "Free Kesha" campaign, which went viral and raised the profile of her claims significantly.
A New York judge rejected Kesha's attempt at an injunction so that she could work away from the auspices of Dr. Luke, then threw out her "hate crime" counterclaims, then denied her a second attempt at counterclaims premised on an alleged breach of contract. Last week, Kesha filed a notice of appeal on a nixed bid to impose California's seven-year limit on personal service contracts - marking the third pending appeal in this Kesha-Luke dispute before a New York appeals court.
Now, Dr. Luke's relationship with Sony is under a microscope, and according to one source, the two sides are in the midst of negotiating a split. Another insider pushes back on the notion of a divorce. But according to court papers, he is no longer the CEO of Kemosabe Records and the company asserts he no longer has authority to act on its behalf. A page devoted to Dr. Luke on Sony Music's website has also been taken down.
Attorneys for Dr. Luke and Sony declined to comment. Kesha's reps were unavailable for comment.
Although any split would be seen in some respects as a victory for the "Free Kesha" movement, there are two potential problems for Kesha. First, in her own court papers, she previously cited reports that Sony's deal with Dr. Luke was imminently about to end and warned the judge that she'd no longer have Sony as a go-between, making her situation worse. Second, Dr. Luke's defamation claims against her are still pending, and in advance of the trial, his attorneys have been collecting evidence about how his career has suffered as a result of her rape allegations. Certainly, the culmination of Dr. Luke's deal with Sony will be spotlighted as the case moves forward.