Recording Contracts

That Time Kesha Taught Us Something about Employment Law

This one's for the employees. 

If you ever check or a similar celebrity-centric website, you've heard about Kesha (f.k.a. "Ke$ha") and her on-going legal battle to get released from her recording contract.  For those of you who don't know what a "Kesha" is, I recommend you start here.  

Image Credit:  RollingStone / ABC/ Getty 

Image Credit:  RollingStone / ABC/ Getty 

Kesha, who brought us charming ballads like "Tik Tok" and "Die Young,"  signed a recording contract with music producer Dr. Luke.  Allegedly over a 10-year period of time Dr. Luke was sexually and physically abusive which prompted Kesha to file a lawsuit in 2014.  This 2014 lawsuit included a request to be released from the recording contract due in large part to the abuse allegedly suffered.  A few weeks ago, a New York Supreme Court Judge ruled against Kesha's request.  This in turn made Taylor Swift,  Lady Gaga, and these fans very angry.  

Although I am not privy to the details of the recording contract at issue, my guess is it is written a lot like an employment contract since at its core, it's a contract for employment.  As you may know, most states (North Carolina included) are "at-will employment" states which means an employee can quit a job at any time for any reason and employers can terminate an employee at any time for any reason.  There are exceptions to the at-will doctrine such as employment discrimination and as you may have guessed, employment contracts.  

Kesha's case is an interesting example of when at-will employment may turn out to be a better deal for employees.  Usually at-will employment is seen as a vicious tool for employers to purge itself of unwanted employees but as seen in Kesha's case, it is kind of the same vicious tool for employees.  

The lesson learned is this:  tread cautiously before signing an employment agreement, particularly a long-term employment agreement.  Employment agreements may give you a certain level of job security but it may also give you a taste of job-clauterphobia because you are likely stuck for the duration of the contract.  So long as you are decently intelligent, it would be rare for a court to void a contract or otherwise release a party from a contract without some mutual agreement (or a lot more evidence of sexual and physical abuse).  Also keep in mind most employment contracts include non-compete language that may inhibit your future job-hunt within a reasonable time and territory after the agreement.   

Another lesson learned?  Never (ever, ever, ever) sign an employment agreement without taking it to an attorney for a review - even if it's a quick review.  I promise it will be worth learning what exactly you are getting yourself into.