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Kesha Scores Major Victory in Defamation Battle Against Dr. Luke Ahead of Trial

Reversing a decision criticized by press advocates, a New York appeals court found that Dr. Luke, a world famous record producer, is a public figure.

For years, Dr. Luke (full name Lukasz Gottwald) has claimed that the star legally defamed him with the “false and shocking” allegation that he drugged and raped her after a 2005 party, arguing she did so as leverage to secure a more lucrative deal.

But in a ruling on Tuesday, New York’s Court of Appeal ruled that Dr. Luke is legally a “public figure,” meaning he will need to show that Kesha (full name Kesha Rose Sebert) acted with “actual malice” when she made her statements — a notoriously difficult legal hurdle to clear.

“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,” the appeals court wrote. “He purposefully sought media attention for himself, his businesses, and for the artists he represented, including Sebert, to advance those business interests.”

To show that Kesha acted with “actual malice,” Dr. Luke will now need to prove at trial next month that she either knew her accusation was false or that she acted with a reckless disregard for the truth. That standard, created by the U.S. Supreme Court in a famous 1964 ruling for the New York Times, has made it extremely challenging for powerful people to file libel lawsuits in U.S. courts.

And that wasn’t the only win for Kesha in Tuesday’s decision. The appeals court also ruled that New York’s newly-enacted “anti-SLAPP” law applies to Dr. Luke’s case — meaning that if she beats the accusations, she can demand that he repay some of her legal bills.

“Sebert may assert a counterclaim under [the anti-SLAPP law] and, if successful, recover costs, attorney’s fees, and damages based on Gottwald’s continuation of this action following the [the statute’s] effective date,” the court wrote.

Though largely a victory for Kesha, part of the ruling did go in favor of Dr. Luke. The court largely refused to endorse Kesha’s arguments that many of the allegedly defamatory statements were shielded by so-called privileges — such as statements made ahead of litigation. For 20 of 25 such statements, the court ruled that a jury might side with Dr. Luke and find the statements fair game.

In a statement to Billboard, Dr. Luke’s lawyer Christine Lepera focused on those aspects of the ruling and said she and her team were still “fully confident that Mr. Gottwald will prevail at trial on his defamation claims.”

“We are pleased that the Court of Appeals agreed with Dr. Luke that the vast majority of Ms. Sebert’s statements are properly the subject of his defamation claim,” Lepera said. “Therefore, at trial, Ms. Sebert will be required to defend her harmful and long-standing press campaign against Mr. Gottwald.”

An attorney for Kesha did not immediately return a request for comment.

After nearly eight years of litigation, a trial in Dr. Luke’s lawsuit is scheduled to finally start on July 19. The trial had been repeatedly pushed back while both sides awaited Tuesday’s ruling by the Court of Appeals.

You know I am most definitely #TeamKesha on this, and if you haven't heard it yet, her new album Gag Order is awesome.

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