The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Dr. Luke Is a Public Figure for Purposes of His Libel Lawsuit Against Ke$ha


From Judge Garcia's majority opinion in Gottwald v. Sebert, decided today by New York's high court, though all the judges agreed on this point:

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. As self-described in the complaint, he "has written the most Number One songs of any songwriter ever" and "was named by Billboard as one of the top ten producers of the decade in 2009." Gottwald's engagement with the media was "obviously designed to project his name and personality" before a wide audience to establish his reputation in this field. He purposefully sought media attention for himself, his businesses, and for the artists he represented, including Sebert, to advance those business interests. He had been featured in various publications, as well as on radio and television, highlighting the nature of his relationships with those artists and his development of their talent and careers.

Sebert alleged that, shortly after establishing a professional relationship as her producer, Gottwald sexually assaulted her. Therefore, Gottwald is appropriately considered a limited-purpose public figure, and as a result he must prove that Sebert's allegedly defamatory statements were made with actual malice.

To quote Judge Rivera's dissent, which agrees with the majority on this point,

Respondents are Lukasz Gottwald, known professionally as "Dr. Luke," and his two affiliated companies. The moniker identifies him as the music producer of several pop hits which have made him both a well-known and well-fixed personality—and not just within the music industry. For years he has actively promoted his success in the media, having appeared on a major television network and having been the subject of major stories in print and digital publications with extensive readership. By any account, his public relations agents have done a masterful job.

The court reversed the intermediate appellate court's 3-2 decision to the contrary. My Amicus Brief Clinic students Rachel Levin, Avi Oved, and Aaron Schroeder and I—with the help of our local counsel Eileen Monaghan DeLucia (many thanks to her, and to Scott & Cyan Banister, for their continuing support of the Clinic)—filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and various media organizations, arguing for the position that the high court just took. The court's decision also contains various other important holdings (which our brief didn't deal with); I hope to blog about them shortly.

Anton Metlitsky (O'Melveny & Myers) represents Sebert.