The Wrinkle in #FreeKesha

This is not rape apologia.

The idea that you need a legal standard to find it likely Dr. Luke abused Kesha is rank misogyny; public opinion does not carry the same weight as a court decision and a lower standard is appropriate. Intentionally ignoring circumstantial evidence because a criminal trial (this is a civil suit, by the way) does is intentional obfuscation. If you want to ignore evidence, I can’t stop you. But your comments are not welcome here. The silence of women who have worked with him—in some cases, pointed silence—is deafening. Those tied to other producers have come out saying they support Kesha because, hey, it happens all the time. Artists openly sing about it, and one must imagine they are at least sometimes drawing from experience.

Sony has offered Kesha a way out, however. She can stay with the label but not work with Dr. Luke. Again, this is not apologia: when she countered by saying that she does not believe her label will vigorously promote her albums, she is probably right. The problem is that seriously undermines her legal standing. This kind of solution is typical, and often comes with the force of the law. It walks the delicate balance between contract law and civil redress. If not for the fact that she has six—six—albums to go, this would not be the worst solution.

In many ways, that is where I land on this. The real problem is that producers sign contracts with 18-year-olds that can stretch decades. At the pace she produced albums from the time she signed until she sued, she would fulfill the terms of her contract in 2029. Part of that is because Dr. Luke did not let her release an album for the first five years, which is neither atypical nor an inspiring reflection on how she was treated. Even at the faster pace she was releasing albums, it would take 15 years to make all the albums she was required to.

Is it any wonder that sexual abuse is so common in the music industry? If women fight the abuse, the contracts are so strong that seeking unlikely recourse is professional suicide. What should Kesha have done? Signed with the producer who raped Lady Gaga? Or the one who evidently coerced Halsey to have sex? (Halsey has never, as far as I can tell, confirmed that the “three piece” she “sold my soul to” was real; do you really doubt it?) Kesha, standing on a mountain of privilege and in front of a passionate, feminist fan base still does not have enough power to win against the contract she signed as a teenager and to protect herself from her rapists’ friends. But please, tell me again about how she is accusing Dr. Luke for gain.

Too many people pointing out that Kesha has run afoul of contract law stop there. Why is Kesha locked in decades of indentured servitude to Dr. Luke’s label? Why do artists have so little recourse when their producers sexually abuse them? Why are so many producers predators? The problem is much less that Kesha is being kept in her contract and much more that her contract even exists.

It is, I think, obvious that I support the essence of #FreeKesha. But more important than Kesha’s case is creating contract law that does not privilege predators. It is important that we do this, not just for the music industry, but for everyone. It is important that we do this for the next generation of women and men signing creative contracts. It is important that we look past Dr. Luke and Kesha and put our eyes on the people who made this possible: The executives at Sony who allowed such a blatantly unethical contract, the legislature that created these nightmarish laws, and the entire culture that says that women in the music industry are consumable.

Kesha is nothing less than a national hero for staking everything she has on fighting this. We owe it to the next generation of creative women to change the law in her name.

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