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Spotify cancels its 'R. Kelly' hateful-conduct policy

From bans to backlash to buh-bye in three weeks.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has acknowledged his company "screwed up" with its hateful-conduct policy.
Joan Solsman/CNET

Spotify canceled its controversial hateful-conduct policy on Friday in a policy update post

Earlier this month, Spotify initiated a new policy addressing hate speech and hateful conduct, which let the music-streaming service remove songs or artists from its service or bury them without any promotion, like banning them from playlists. Under the new policy, Spotify stopped promoting the music of at least two people: R&B star R. Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion. The penalty against XXXTentacion, in particular, drew backlash from big names in hip-hop, like Pulitzer Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar, and reportedly sparked an outcry among some of Spotify's own employees. 

On Friday, Spotify said that its policy cracking down on hate content remains, but the company will be "moving away from implementing a policy around artist conduct."

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"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 Friday. That confusion led some artists to worry "that mistakes made in their youth would be used against them."

"That's not what Spotify is about," the company said. "We don't aim to play judge and jury."

With 75 million paying members, Spotify is the biggest streaming-music service in the world, and its success proved that people would pay a monthly fee for tunes. Apple Music, its closest rival and a later arrival, has 40 million subscribers.

Kelly has come under heightened criticism lately as decades-long allegations of sexual misconduct, sometimes with underage women, took on a new tenor in the #MeToo era. Though Kelly was acquitted in a child pornography case in 2008, he's settled numerous lawsuits, and the accumulation of testimonies about his behavior has mounted. 

XXXTentacion is a lesser-known, younger star, who's been charged with crimes like aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and domestic battery by strangulation, but he hasn't been tried nor convicted.

Under the original policy, Kelly's and XXXTentacion's catalogs remained on Spotify for streaming, but the streaming service itself wouldn't promote their material, crimping the artists' opportunities on what is arguably the most powerful single force in getting an artist's music heard today -- and getting that artist paid. 

Daniel Ek, Spotify's chief executive, conceded Wednesday that the music-streaming service "screwed up" how it informed people about the policy and implemented it. 

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