Why Spotify's U-turn over artist blacklist matters

Spotify has walked back on a policy that saw artists accused of misconduct in their personal lives ditched from the site's influential playlists.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
Why Spotify's U-turn over artist blacklist matters - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

Spotify has reversed its policy of blacklisting artists for actions in their personal lives. The policy, it said, had caused "confusion and concern".

Earlier in May, the Swedish streaming service launched its Hate Content & Hateful Conduct policy, which saw artists dropped from playlists over "harmful or hateful" behaviour. Their music would still be available on Spotify, but the removal from playlists would result in reduced revenues for these artists.

But others accused the streaming service of censorship, with many wondering where the line would be drawn: for example, would artists be blacklisted over offences committed years ago, over unproved allegations, or over crimes they had already served prison sentences for? 

In its latest statement, Spotify notes that the policy "left too many elements open to interpretation" and said that the company did not intend to serve as "judge and jury".

The controversy is a taste of the difficult decisions to be made in the wake of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Some of the men accused of misconduct and assault have already begun to be rehabilitated or given a second chance by the entertainment industry -- the same industry that often sees assault survivors shut out. Indeed, given the high number of men facing allegations, and a lack of legal evidence for many of them, finding the appropriate response in each instance is a fine line to tread.

Spotify's intentions were good, but they were right to admit they got this wrong. The question is how they, and the music industry along with others, can get it right -- and their choice to ditch the policy rather than finding ways to adapt it shows this will not be easy. 

Details from the story:

  • Spotify has 174 million users around the world.
  • The company did not release a list of the artists affected by the policy when it was introduced in May.
  • The affected artists included singer R Kelly, who has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct, and rapper XXXTentacion, who is awaiting trial over assaulting a pregnant woman.
  • Spotify's policy followed calls from many equal rights campaigners for the music industry to drop R Kelly.
  • Also in May, the Washington Post claimed that music industry executives had long been aware of R Kelly's misconduct but had failed to respond appropriately.
  • After Spotify's announcement of the initial policy, both Apple and Pandora also stopped promoting R Kelly's music.
  • Being ditched from playlists did not mean the affected artists' music was no longer available on the site: users could still search for and play it, but Spotify playlists have been influential in tracks' success and chart positions, as well as providing a way for users to discover new music.
  • One part of the original policy is being kept in place -- a ban on 'hate content', where the music itself constitutes incitement to hatred or violence.
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Karolina ZbytniewskaEuractiv, Europe
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