SoundCloud’s new personalized playlist is serving up unlicensed mashups

SoundCloud has announced a new personalized playlist for users called SoundCloud Weekly. Updated every Monday, the playlist appears at the top of your SoundCloud account under the “Discover” tab.

Like Spotify’s Discover Weekly, which has been around for three years, SoundCloud Weekly should reflect your listening habits and serve up 30 tracks and DJ mixes that fit what you’ve played recently. Aside from plays, SoundCloud also takes into account the tracks you like and share when it decides what to put on the playlist.

A weekly playlist is an obvious, if not late, step for SoundCloud, which has been trying to regain footing under the eye of new CEO Kerry Trainor since last summer. Under Trainor’s direction, SoundCloud has seen several redesigns and feature implementations in efforts to compete with rival services like Spotify and Apple Music and maintain its relationship with independent creators.

SoundCloud Weekly is supposed to integrate discovery back into the platform and show off the creator-first mantra the company was founded on. Instead, it unintentionally exposes SoundCloud’s continuing struggle with copyright management. My current SoundCloud Weekly playlist does showcase some legitimate underdog tracks with relatively few plays, but it’s also serving me mashups that violate SoundCloud’s own terms of use.

As of March of last year, SoundCloud inked deals with all three major labels, but even so, the platform is explicitly clear that users must not upload “to the public any content to which you do not hold the necessary rights.” Yet, one of the songs in my SoundCloud Weekly playlist is a mashup of two major label artists that was created by a third well-known artist but uploaded to a random account with 22 followers. The account in question is full of other unauthorized edits and remixes and appears to not be associated with any of the acts it has uploaded. Thus, it has no rights to the music.

SoundCloud’s algorithm plucked the mashup for my playlist along with several other mashups that fit the same description: derivative works uploaded by anonymous users, and not the creator(s) or label(s). Another track selected by SoundCloud for my playlist is an Ekali edit of an A$AP Ferg song. It was not uploaded by either artist or their labels but by an anonymous account with seven followers.

SoundCloud playlistImage: SoundCloud

SoundCloud first endeared itself with independent creators, but in recent years, many from the community have looked elsewhere. As streaming replaced physical albums as a primary method of music consumption, SoundCloud couldn’t keep up with the industry’s quickly changing demands around copyright. Its inability to deal with sampling and remix culture led to a heavy hand with doling out strikes — SoundCloud’s term for instances of copyright infringement — with a system that was (and still is) unreliable, despite efforts to allow some gray area content like DJ mixes.

On top of that, it still hasn’t figured out how to allow swaths of indie creators to monetize their content. SoundCloud Premier is supposed to be the platform’s solution for members to make money from their music directly, but years later, it’s still invite-only. An attempt to register pings back a message stating, “We’re working to open up monetization opportunities to every creator while continuing to keep SoundCloud great for everyone. Enter your details below to join the list and we’ll notify you once you’re invited.”

A discovery playlist is, in theory, a welcome addition to a platform that favors small creators. But SoundCloud has served me a list chock-full of copyright infringements — the very kind it rails against while continuing to fumble over an inability to deal with user-uploaded and gray area content. Ideally, SoundCloud should be frictionless for small creators, but its new playlist feature woefully highlights how far away it is from that achievement. SoundCloud Weekly isn’t demonstrable of the platform’s progress. Instead, it highlights that SoundCloud’s foundational problems with copyright and monetization are still alive and well.

The Verge reached out to SoundCloud for comment, and a spokesperson issued the following statement: “SoundCloud operates under an established combination of express licenses from rights holders, and the provisions of safe harbor that apply to user-generated content platforms. SoundCloud responds promptly to all rights holders regarding content disputes.”