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Not on the list: Government wants to end 'black market' of Spotify playlists

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Music-lovers who curate playlists for Spotify and Apple Music should be treated like social media influencers and obliged to reveal if they are being paid to include content, the UK Government has told the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The recommendation comes off the back of the Government’s Economics of Music Streaming inquiry, which heard evidence that a ‘black market’ had developed on music streaming services which allowed users to accept payment for including certain songs in their playlists without having to tell their listeners.

The Government recommended to ASA that playlisters be treated in a similar manner to social media influencers, who can be fined if they promote a product or service on social media without making it clear that they’ve received payment.

“Music playlist curators have an important role in the discovery and consumption of digital music and are influential in how creators are remunerated, but the extent of their paid-for activity is currently undisclosed,” said Dr Hayleigh Bosher, an expert in Intellectual Property Law at Brunel University London whose evidence was cited heavily by the inquiry.

“Likewise, the selection methods of platform editorial playlists are not transparent, therefore the influence of behind-the-scenes agreements is unclear.”

During the inquiry, several creators argued that playlists favour those signed to major labels, claiming that songs signed to major labels make up 85% of the music on Spotify and 90% of the music included on playlists.

“In fact, one performer asserted that some playlist curators offered to promote independent performers for a fee, creating a black market for playlisting,” said Dr Bosher.

Dr Bosher’s recommendation to the inquiry was that playlisters should be regulated under ASA standards, as influencers on social media platforms are. Responding to the inquiry, the Government said it agreed with Dr Bosher’s recommendation and has now engaged ASA on addressing the issue.

ASA for its part have highlighted that every example of interaction between commercial interests and editorial expression must be considered on its own merits, and that the case for intervention now requires careful consideration.

In March, ASA issued a final warning to 122 Instagram influencers for not making it clear that they had received payment for promoting a product. Announcing the warning, ASA said that of the 24,000 posts it had accessed over a three-week period, nearly a quarter of the posts were ads, but only 35% of those were clearly labelled as such.

For further information on Brunel Public Policy, please visit brunel.ac.uk/about/brunel-public-policy

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