Spotify is walking back a policy on “hateful conduct” that initially applied only to two artists R. Kelly and XXXTentacion.
Spotify will rescind a new policy on “hateful conduct” by artists after an uproar among people in the music industry who say that the ill-defined guidelines represented a form of censorship, the company announced in a blog post on Friday.
While Spotify says it remains committed to removing what it called hate content — music meant to incite hatred or violence, like neo-Nazi songs — the company said it was “moving away” from the second part of its policy, which addressed the behavior of artists beyond what they sing or rap about.
“We don’t aim to play judge and jury,” Spotify said in its blog post.
When the policy was introduced three weeks ago, it was the second part, on artists’ conduct, that immediately became controversial, with record companies and some artist representatives complaining that it amounted to selective punishment, and was a slippery slope that could be applied too widely.
Complicating the issue further, the conduct policy — which removed offending artists’ music from Spotify’s playlists, but did not delete it from the service entirely — was initially applied only to two artists: R. Kelly, who has been accused of decades of sexual misconduct, and XXXTentacion, a chart-topping young rapper who faces charges in Florida including aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.
The company is not expected to promote R. Kelly, but by Friday afternoon XXXTentacion’s music was already back on one of Spotify’s most popular playlists, Rap Caviar.
The change represents a quick and embarrassing reversal for Spotify, which once presented itself to the music industry as a neutral platform but has increasingly become a highly influential promotional outlet. In filings before the company went public in April, it said that 31 percent of all the listening on its platform now happens through “curated” playlists like Rap Caviar and Today’s Top Hits.
After introducing the policy on May 9, Spotify immediately came under fire for the “conduct” part of its policy. A representative of XXXTentacion asked why Spotify was not also punishing 19 other artists who have been accused over the years of sexual misconduct or physical violence, like Dr. Dre, Michael Jackson and Gene Simmons.
At the same time, Ultraviolet, a women’s advocacy group, called for more action against artists like Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna, his former girlfriend, and Eminem, whose lyrics have been criticized as encouraging violence against women.
Shaunna Thomas, a co-founder of Ultraviolet, said in an interview on Friday that Spotify’s reversal was “shameful” and “disheartening.”
“There is no consequence for abusing women and they’re just affirming that in a really straightforward way,” she said. “They’ve decided that their bottom line is important.”
Ms. Thomas added that she agreed with the critique that Spotify had been problematic in narrowly targeting only specific black men, but the solution, she said, was “not to reverse the hateful conduct policy, but rather to expand it — to be comprehensive.”
“Women weren’t asking Spotify to play judge and jury,” she said. “We were just asking the company to stop promoting artists that have a documented history of physical and sexual abuse.”
After the policy went into effect, top industry figures quickly put pressure on Spotify to change it. Anthony Tiffith, the head of Top Dawg Entertainment, Kendrick Lamar’s label, said in an interview with Billboard that he gathered Diddy and Tommy Mottola, the former head of Sony Music, to lobby against the policy as one that inordinately affected hip-hop artists.
“I don’t think it’s right for artists to be censored, especially in our culture,” he said. “They could’ve picked anybody. But it seems to me that they’re constantly picking on hip-hop culture.”
By this week, Daniel Ek, the company’s chief executive and one of its founders, admitted that the policy — or at least its introduction — had been a mistake. The company had never intended to single out any particular artists for punishment, he said in an interview at the Code Conference, organized by the technology news site Recode.
“I think we rolled this out wrong,” Mr. Ek said, “and we could have done a much better job.”