Responding to backlash from the controversial immigration clause in its artists’ contracts, South By Southwest (SXSW) has tweaked language in the document for its 2018 festival, which is currently underway in Austin. Pitchfork first reported the change, which TrackRecord confirmed after obtaining an updated artist contract.
Brooklyn band Told Slant leaked portions of the original contract last year, and pulled out of the festival upon learning that SXSW vowed to “notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities,” (ICE) if artists or “their representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.” It also posed harsh consequences and possible deportation for international artists performing at unofficial showcases. This led to dozens of artists booked for the festival, including popular up-and-comers Downtown Boys, Priests, Helado Negro, and many more to sign a petition demanding its removal from the contract.
The new wording, which still leaves questions of how the policy has changed beyond relaxed language, makes no mention of notifying immigration authorities:
An Artist seeking to enter the United States to perform at SXSW is solely responsible for obtaining any applicable visa(s) and complying with all pertinent immigration rules. To secure Artist’s spot in SXSW Music, Artist agrees to notify SXSW about how Artist intends to enter the U.S. (what type of visa or if using the Visa Waiver Program) by February 5, 2018.
SXSW CEO Roland Swenson went on something of a damage control press tour this time last year, insisting that the language was simply precautionary—assuring that the fest had never turned anyone over to ICE. He essentially blamed one of the festival’s lawyers for the outcry (via Pitchfork):
We didn’t write this language. One of our lawyers did. We’ve been using it since at least 2013, and so far it’s all worked out pretty well. We’ve never turned somebody into ICE or anything like that. In our agreement, it’s saying these are the things that could happen to you if you don’t follow the terms of your visa. It’s not stuff that we’re going to do to them. It’s stuff that Immigration would do to them.
Whether SXSW’s immigration clause had been in the contract with its original wording for five years or 20, it’s easy to see how it might have been re-contextualized during an administration that was and has since been weaponizing ICE to the fullest extent. This is a welcome change, but one that could have been avoided if SXSW never posed to act as an extension of the law, instead of an entertainment and tech festival, in the first place.