Spotify reverses controversial music policy after artist protest

Artists such as rapper Kendrick Lamar threatened to boycott the service

FILE PHOTO: Musician Kendrick Lamar arrives at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards in Inglewood, California, U.S., August 27, 2017.    REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
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Spotify Technology SA rescinded a short-lived policy that penalised artists for misconduct, bowing to pressure from irate musicians and record labels.

The owner of the world’s largest paid music streaming service will no longer police artist behaviour, but it will still remove hate speech, according to a blog post on June 1.

Spotify enacted the guidelines last month, a move that included scrubbing R&B singer R. Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion from its playlists.

Misguided intentions

Spotify’s attempt to take a stand against sexual misconduct quickly turned into its first major crisis as a publicly traded business. Artists such as rapper Kendrick Lamar threatened to boycott the service, and the company’s top liaison to artists discussed quitting.

Under the rules, offending acts were pulled from playlists but listeners could still seek them out on the service. The policy didn’t specify which behaviour it considered hateful, and Spotify didn’t communicate its plans with the music industry in advance. Some people mistakenly believed the artists weren’t available on the service in any form.

Spotify ultimately decided it was foolish to have a policy at all. “While we believe our intentions were good, the language was too vague, we created confusion and concern, and didn’t spend enough time getting input from our own team and key partners before sharing new guidelines,” the company said in a blog post.

XXXTentacion’s return

The company will still programme playlists, deciding which acts should and shouldn't appear. Songs from R. Kelly still won't be included on Spotify playlists, but the same penalty no longer applies to XXXTentacion, a rapper accused of assaulting a pregnant woman. The rapper's song Sad! appeared on the popular RapCaviar playlist Friday.

The reversal angered civil rights groups, some of which had helped craft the policy in the first place. “Two weeks ago, Spotify declared that, ‘We want our editorial decisions — what we choose to programme — to reflect our values.’ Now, we know exactly what those values are: profits over people, and music industry bigwigs over survivors of abuse,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of Ultraviolet, a national women’s advocacy organisation, said in a statement.


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Spotify never intended to single out specific artists, co-founder and chief executive officer Daniel Ek said at the Code Conference earlier this week. Ek adopted the language used by many of his critics in the music community, such as a reluctance to play the “moral police.”

Ek placed the ultimate responsibility on communication. “We rolled this out wrong and could have done a much better job,” he said.