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Spotify CEO tries to clear up handling of R. Kelly controversy

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says his company’s new hate speech policy wasn’t intended to punish one individual.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Spotify

Spotify’s CEO believes the music-streaming service could have handled its R. Kelly situation better, conceding the company “screwed up.” Earlier this month, Spotify initiated a new policy around hate that lets the music-streaming service ban or bury music or artists it judges to be “hateful,” whether it be songs that incite violence or artists whose conduct it won’t tolerate.

The first artist to be affected by the new policy was R&B star R. Kelly. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek now says that the implementation of the policy, especially in regards to Kelly, could have been handled better.

“I think we rolled this out wrong and could have done a better job communicating it,” Ek said Wednesday during an on-stage interview at Recode’s Code Conference, which is being held this week in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. “The goal for this was to make sure we didn’t have hate speech on the service; It was never about punishing one individual.”

“What we wanted to be was just transparent,” Ek said. “If you are talking about being KKK and doing that kind of stuff, I think it’s pretty obvious that we don’t want you on the service.” Kelly has come under heightened criticism lately as decades-long claims of his 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.

While Kelly’s catalog will remain to stream on Spotify, and you can listen to or playlist any songs of his you like, the streaming service itself won’t promote Kelly’s material on what is arguably the most powerful single force in getting an artist’s music heard and getting that artist paid. With 71 million paying members, Spotify is the biggest streaming music service in the world. Apple Music, its closest rival, has 38 million subscribers. And Apple Music only launched in 2015 after Spotify had proven people would pay a monthly fee for tunes.

Ek was contrite about his company’s dealt with the situation and is looking at how it could have been better handled. “We screwed up,” he said. “We’re now taking feedback, taking comments from a lot of groups.” CNET’s Joan E.

Solsman contributed to this report.

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