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After Public Battle, SXSW Apologizes And Pledges To Change Its Artist Contract

Fans at the NPR showcase at SXSW in March 2015.
Michael Loccisano
Getty Images for SXSW
Fans at the NPR showcase at SXSW in March 2015.

Last week, a fierce battle was pitched between the Austin, Texas-based music mega-festival South by Southwest (SXSW) and artists who took exception to a certain passage in the agreements which SXSW sends to its performers.

Some musicians and fans, including a group of over 80 artists and record labels who signed an open letter against SXSW, objected to what they interpreted as an overt threat by the festival's management to report international artists to immigration authorities if those artists performed outside of their official SXSW showcases, or otherwise violated their agreements with the festival. This year's edition begins this Friday.

Today, SXSW released a statement, which included both an apology and a promise to change that contract language to assuage those concerns.

The festival organizers, including SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson had maintained in interviews, including with NPR, that they were only reminding artists of what might happen if they breached the terms of their immigration standing with the American government. Nevertheless, last week's controversy generated enough public pressure on the festival to catalyze a response.

Specifically, SXSW has pledged to remove the one of the current agreement's most controversial clauses, beginning with next year's artist invitation letters and performance agreements.

"We will remove the option of notifying immigration authorities," the statement reads, "in situations where a foreign artist might 'adversely affect the viability of Artist's official showcase.' Safety is a primary concern for SXSW, and we report any safety issues to local authorities. It is not SXSW's duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities." Today's statement also reiterates that SXSW has never reported any artist to U.S. immigration authorities.

SXSW's general counsel, Heather Liberman, told Member Station KUT in an interview published this afternoon: "We understand, in light of the current political climate, this type of language is a lot scarier than perhaps when it was originally drafted a number of years ago."

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.