Neil Young wasn’t bluffing.
Spotify confirmed on Wednesday that it had begun removing Young’s music from the streaming service, two days after the star briefly released a public letter calling on Spotify to choose between him and Joe Rogan, the star podcast host who has been accused of spreading false information about the coronavirus and vaccines.
Young’s challenge to Spotify has become a high-profile, if unexpected, flashpoint in the battle against misinformation and free speech online. It has also raised questions about the power of performers to control where their work is heard.
In a second statement that was posted to his website on Wednesday, Young called Spotify a “hotbed of life-threatening Covid misinformation.” He added: “Lies are sold for money.”
His criticism of Rogan – a comedian and actor who has become Spotify’s most popular podcast host, sometimes speaking at length with controversial figures – came after a group of hundreds of scientists, professors and public health experts asked Spotify to remove an episode of Rogan’s show from December 31. This episode, featuring Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious disease expert, promoted “several lies about Covid-19 vaccines,” according to the group’s public letter, published January 10.
In a statement released Wednesday, Spotify said, “We want all of the music and audio content in the world to be available to Spotify users. With this comes a great responsibility to balance both the safety of listeners and the freedom of creators. We have detailed content policies in place and have removed over 20,000 Covid-related podcast episodes since the pandemic began.
“We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify,” the service added, “but hope to see him again soon.”
Young’s most popular songs, like “Heart of Gold,” “Harvest Moon,” and “Old Man,” have been radio staples for decades and have garnered hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify. In his statement Wednesday, Young said Spotify accounts for 60% of his music’s streams globally.
Young’s music was to be completely removed from Spotify within hours. News that the service was removing his songs was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
In his original letter, which Young had addressed to his label, Warner Records, and his manager, he said, “Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform. I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music removed from their platform.
He added: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
This letter was removed from Young’s website shortly after it was published, although it received some media attention.
Rogan, a comedian and actor, signed an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify in 2020 which is reportedly worth $100 million, although Spotify has not confirmed that figure. His show is the most popular on Spotify.
Spotify has defended Rogan in the past, including after an episode featuring conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in 2020.
“We want creators to create,” Daniel Ek, CEO and co-founder of Spotify, told the Financial Times at the time. “It’s what they do best. We’re not trying to play a part in what they should say.
Spotify has 318 million monthly listeners worldwide, including 172 million who pay subscriptions, according to the company’s latest financial information.
In the past, Young has taken his music off streaming services, only to quietly reinstate it. In 2015, after complaining about streaming sound quality, he pulled his music from all major audio streaming services, including Spotify and its biggest rival, Apple Music. But it was added shortly after.
Jenny Gross contributed report.