Earlier this month, Spotfiy began implementing new policies meant to remove controversial and "hateful" artists from promoted positions throughout its platform - which notably resulted in R. Kelly getting bounced from playlists. However, the music streaming platform appears to be continuing to promote merchandise from artists in violation of its guidelines.
Mashable pointed out that the merchandise page for R. Kelly is still up and running, complete with an affiliate link that leads the user a third-party site the that sells the products. Spotify told Mashable it "do[es] not take any percentage of merch sales on the platform."
Gizmodo reached out to Spotify and Merchbar, the merchandise site in question, for clarification on the partnership and whether Spotify makes a commission on sales through affiliate links. We will update this post if we hear back.
Spotify hasn't been able to offer an explanation as to why it uses affiliate links to send users to Merchbar. Those types of links are typically used to track where a purchaser came from and to provide a cut of the sale to the referring service. Spotify first announced its partnership with Merchbar in 2016 but did not provide any details about profit-sharing or revenue splits. Spotify's financial disclosures don't appear to make any reference to Merchbar or affiliate sales.
Continuing to offer merchandise of controversial artists doesn't necessarily undermine Spotify's apparent attempts to shrink their presence on the platform. A user would still have to go out of their way to find the artist page and click on the "Merchandise" tab to see what is available before being redirected to the Merchbar website.
It does go to show just how sloppily Spotify's new "hate content" rule appears to have been crafted and applied, though. The streaming service announced last week that it would start punishing artists that produce hateful content or " have demonstrated hateful conduct personally," which could cover a huge swath of musicians who have their music on the platform.
R. Kelly is pretty much a no-brainer for removal under the policy, given the two decades worth of accusations of sexual abuse committed by the artist as well as rumours that he created a sex cult. But it's possible to make a case against other artists should be hit with the same punishment. The women's advocacy group Ultraviolet recently asked Spotify to remove a number of other artists from its playlists over accusations of abuse, including Chris Brown, Eminem, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Spotify appears to have opened a can of worms with its hate content policy, and no matter how well-intentioned the rules may be, it could prove difficult to enforce them in a way that satisfies everyone.