Appeals court sides with Dr. Luke on an issue in Kesha clash

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FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2016, file photo, pop star Kesha leaves Supreme court in New York after a hearing involving her producer, Dr. Luke. An appellate court ruled for music producer Dr. Luke Thursday, April 22, 2021, on an important legal question in his defamation suit against pop star Kesha, concluding that the Grammy-nominated hitmaker isn't a public figure in the eyes of the law. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK – An appellate court ruled for music producer Dr. Luke on Thursday on an important legal question in his defamation suit against pop star Kesha, saying the Grammy-nominated hitmaker isn't a public figure in the eyes of the law.

The decision isn't a final judgment in the long-running court clash between the multiplatinum-selling singer, who says Dr. Luke raped her, and the producer, who denies it and says his onetime protege smeared him with lies.

But Thursday's ruling upholds a lower court's 2020 finding that Kesha made a defamatory statement about him — to Lady Gaga — and that she can't defend it by saying that Dr. Luke is a public figure. That matters because public figures have to meet a higher legal standard than everyday people do in order to prove they've been defamed.

Requests for comment were sent to lawyers for Dr. Luke, for Kesha and for more than a dozen media outlets and organizations that filed friend-of-the-court papers in the case. The media group argued that the lower court's ruling would help powerful people squash free speech and reporting on sexual abuse.

But a divided panel of state Supreme Court Appellate Division judges ruled that the lower court was right to decide that Dr. Luke wasn't a public figure.

“Although he is an acclaimed music producer and well known in the entertainment industry, he is not a household name,” the opinion said.

Nor, it said, could he be deemed a public figure simply because he's involved in the public conversation about sexual assault in the entertainment world.

“He never injected himself into the public debate” on the issue and “has limited his involvement to what was necessary to defend himself,” the ruling said.