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Sexual Abuse in the Music Industry: Can Record Labels Be Held Liable for Abuse?

By May 9, 2019Blog
sexual abuse in the music industry

The #MeToo movement has been instrumental in creating a safe space for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault to come forward. In the film industry, modeling agencies, corporations, and schools, many of the cases of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse have one thing in common: abuse suffered at the hands of someone in power. Sexual abuse in the music industry is no different.    

Sexual abuse that occurs where someone in a position of authority has abused their power and trust doesn’t have to be accepted. The law is very clear: rape, forced sexual interactions, and any sexual contact between adults and minors are crimes against society. If someone in the music industry has sexually abused you, you may have grounds to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and possibly against their enabling record label.

Recent Stories Involving Sexual Abuse in the Music Industry

Stories involving sexual abuse in the music industry have begun to make headlines in recent news.  

  • As a survivor of sexual abuse herself, Lady Gaga spoke out in support of fellow singer Kesha during a deposition against Dr. Luke, a music producer. Kesha accused the producer of sexually assaulting her after a party. The legal dispute is still ongoing.  
  • Robert Sylvester Kelly, known as “R. Kelly,” has denied allegations of sexual misconduct with minors for decades, but accusations have finally caught up to him. He faces 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault involving four minors, according to the February 2019 indictment.
  • A New York Times article described Ryan Adam’s disturbing pattern of offering career opportunities to aspiring musicians, pursuing sex, and subjecting women to emotional abuse when his advances were rejected.
  • Daniel Hernandez, also known as rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, pled guilty to three counts of using a 13-year-old girl in a sexual performance in 2015 and was sentenced to four years of probation.
  • Digital Music News published a list of “Every Musician and Music Executive Facing Abuse Allegations in 2018,” which includes 20 high-profile names, including hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, E! News correspondent Ryan Seacrest, and former Epic Records executive L.A. Reid.

Many of the stories involving these high-profile celebrities have similar plots. USA Today tells the story of a budding vocalist raped by a music producer. “With these producers, they’re putting you in rooms that you’ve dreamed of. You’re in the studio with artists like… Lil Wayne, you’re seeing T-Pain, you’re seeing Beyonce. You’re just seeing all these people stop by,” the aspiring vocalist told the news outlet. “So, you’re like, ‘OK, this person is a little creepy, but I have to be here… I’m in the right place, I just got to maneuver around this person’s creepiness. I got to figure out how to dodge the bullet.’ And you’re dodging somebody who is set out to abuse you.”

Steps to Take After an Incident of Sexual Assault

If you have been sexually assaulted by someone in the music industry, here are a few steps to take:

Get Help: Call 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger. To file a formal report, call the local police department. If you feel you need additional assistance, contact a counselor.  

Get Evidence: Seek medical attention at a local hospital that does forensic medical exams. Take photographs of bruises, torn clothing, and any other indication of struggle. Keep in mind, depending on where the lead up to assault took place, there may be surveillance footage to corroborate parts of your story. Working with an attorney right away can ensure the tapes are not erased. Get the names and contact numbers of any possible witnesses if you can. Start maintaining a daily journal of your physical symptoms, how you’re feeling, and what you’re thinking to document your mental state.  

Press Criminal Charges: If your goal is to put the perpetrator behind bars, tell the police you’d like to press charges, if possible. Ultimately, it will be up to a district attorney to determine whether there is enough evidence to convict the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt. A guilty verdict could lead to prison time, probation, fines paid to the state, and registry on the state sex offender list.

File a Civil Lawsuit: If you were physically injured or emotionally damaged by what happened, you may contact a civil attorney to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your losses. A legal team can investigate further into what happened to you. Often, third-party liability may be ascribed—such as holding a record label accountable for the sexual abuse by their artist.  

Can the Record Label Be Held Liable for Sexual Abuse by a Musician?

It’s certainly not an easy case to make—that the record label is directly responsible for their independent contractor’s behavior. There is little, if any, direct legal liability ascribed to the musician-record label relationship. That said, fans do exercise considerable power over music labels to dump notorious artists. Music bans by radio stations and boycotts by fans often hit record labels where it hurts. Without avenues to publish new music, songwriters have trouble continuing with their careers and using their celebrity status to lure new victims.

Sometimes a strong claim can be made that record label executives knew (or should have reasonably known) sexual assault was being committed by artists on their roster, but they failed to act. As in any business relationship, record labels have a legal obligation to investigate the claims internally and reprimand artists who are using their positions of power and affiliations with the organization to groom victims and commit crimes.

Record labels may have “right to terminate” stipulations expressed in their contracts for cases where an artist is convicted of a crime. However, in the absence of such provisions, music artists who feel unjustly wronged could, in theory, sue the record label for damages like “emotional distress” caused by the termination. In addition, franchise artists with a lot of support from other artists and players within the industry could cause the label to lose some leverage. In the cases of R. Kelly and Adam Grandmaison, the record labels that once supported them did eventually opt to part ways, rather than send the message they tolerate sexual assault and misconduct as long as it profits them.

The case for liability is much clearer, in a business context, when the perpetrator is harassing fellow employees. For instance, Republic Records—home of Lorde and Ariana Grande—bid adieu to president Charlie Walk after conducting their own internal investigation following reports he was making lewd comments, exposing himself, and inappropriately touching coworkers. Under civil rights law, all businesses have a duty to maintain a workplace environment that is free from sexual discrimination and harassment.   

In the future, with increasing public pressure and legal pressure, we’re likely to see clearer contract terms related to proper behavior and general decency for artists, employees, managers, agents, and producers, say music attorneys.  

Let an Experienced Sexual Abuse Attorney Fight for Your Justice

Criminal charges may only hold a single person accountable for sexual abuse, but civil law allows for many others to be held liable. There are many different laws that attorneys can pursue to hold record labels accountable for their actions or inactions. For this reason, it is imperative that you find a law firm with particular expertise in litigating sexual abuse cases relative to the music industry. An experienced sexual abuse attorney will know exactly who to sue for sexual abuse in the music industry.

Large organizations may try to shield themselves from liability but the experienced civil attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn have what is required to prevail in a civil lawsuit against a record label.
Whether you’re advocating for your child or are an adult seeking closure for abuse suffered, Lewis & Llewellyn has the experience, grit, and compassion to help you obtain justice and maximum compensation. Contact our team online for support and guidance to see you through this emotional time, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to schedule an appointment with an advocate today.

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