Musician R. Kelly was recently found guilty on eight counts of sex trafficking and an additional count of racketeering in his recent trial, and could be facing life in prison when he is sentenced next May. The news has been sparking another round of the debate on whether streaming services and download stores should remove his music or not.
As Spotify well knows from its attempted de-promotion of Kelly and XXXTentacion in 2018 under a quickly-abandoned policy around hateful conduct, the potential pitfalls are deep, and spiky. One of the frequent arguments against taking such action is when artists have not been convicted of a crime – putting the DSP at risk of playing judge and jury before an actual judge and jury have reached a verdict.
Well, R. Kelly has now been found guilty, and YouTube has become one of the first and biggest platforms to respond. In its case, it has taken his two video channels – R. Kelly TV and R. Kelly Vevo – offline “for a violation of YouTube’s terms of service”.
“Egregious actions committed by R. Kelly warrant penalties beyond standard enforcement measures due to a potential to cause widespread harm,” wrote YouTube’s head of legal Nicole Alston in a memo published by Bloomberg. However, it also reported that Kelly’s (audio) music remains on YouTube Music.
Campaigners want more DSPs to take action. “The beginning of the seismic paradigm shift of R. Kelly’s legacy,” is how Kenyette Tisha Barnes, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly movement put it today. “It is my hope that other platforms follow suit.” That campaign’s official Twitter account has since tweeted“Waiting on you @youtubemusic, and you too @Spotify @AppleMusic @AmazonMusic, etc”.
The crucial aspect of this debate remains one of responsibility. If music is to be removed because an artist has been convicted of serious crimes, should it be the DSP’s responsibility or the label’s? Sony Music’s RCA Records dropped Kelly in 2019, but still owns his back catalogue of recordings.
With 4.9 million monthly listeners on Spotify – the most obvious public metric of his streaming popularity – that company may field the most pressure in the short term. But we sense that YouTube’s action may be the first of several dominos to fall in the coming weeks as DSPs (and RCA) decide what to do.