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Hackers target livestreamed IPO fundraiser

The disruption of an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) virtual concert and fundraising gala last weekend was caused by a cyberattack, the orchestra has confirmed.

The attack – the first outage of a major livestreamed show since the format took off amid the coronavirus pandemic – crashed the websites of the IPO and its broadcast partner, Medici.tv, during the stream on Sunday 28 June.

More than 13,000 people had registered to view the hour-long event, hosted by Dame Helen Mirren, which aimed to help the orchestra overcome financial losses as a result of Covid-19.

No group has claimed responsibility for hacking the stream.

“Hackers were determined to silence our message and stamp out our voice, but they will not succeed”

“We were thrilled that so many had registered to join us for this event, giving us the opportunity to bring the healing power of music to people who need it at this difficult time,” comments Tali Gottlieb, executive director of the IPO Foundation.

“Our organisation had high hopes that this event would help us raise emergency funds to support the members of the Israel Philharmonic in the face of an unprecedented financial crisis.”

Danielle Ames Spivak, executive director of American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which helped organise the event, adds: “Hackers were determined to silence our message and stamp out our voice, but they will not succeed. More than ever, we are determined to spread the Israel Philharmonic’s message of hope, peace, and beauty around the world.”

 


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Eventbrite facing legal action over refund policy

Eventbrite has become the latest ticket seller to be hit with a lawsuit over its alleged non-payment of refunds for cancelled or postponed events.

In a consumer class-action complaint filed on 4 June in the US district court for northern California, ticket buyers Sherri Snow, Anthony Piceno and Linda Conner accuse Eventbrite of “deceptive practices relating to its sale of live events tickets and its refusal to provide refunds for live events that have been canceled, rescheduled and/or postponed.”

According to the plaintiffs, by “shift[ing] responsibility” for issuing cash refunds to event organisers, Eventbrite is in violation of section 22507 of California’s Business and Professions Code, which requires that the “ticket price of any event which is canceled [sic], postponed, or rescheduled shall be fully refunded to the purchaser by the ticket seller upon request.”

“After the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancelation or postponement of most large events and public gatherings, Eventbrite has consistently refused to allow for refunds for canceled, postponed and/or rescheduled events, including when events are ‘indefinitely’ postponed,” reads the complaint.

“Instead, Eventbrite has tried to shift responsibility to event organizers, allowing them to refuse refunds for cancellations, postponements and rescheduled events.”

“Eventbrite has consistently refused to allow for refunds … including when events are ‘indefinitely’ postponed”

Secondary ticketing platforms StubHub and SeatGeek are both battling similar class-action suits in the US, with the former also the target of legal action in Canada.

“At best,” the complaint explains, “Eventbrite has urged some organizers to ‘make good’ when events are canceled, postponed and/or rescheduled” between 15 March and 15 May.

This, the plaintiffs say, does not go far enough, because it allows promoters to offer credit or vouchers for future events “no matter when in the future the event might occur or how much or when the credit might apply”.

While many European concert organisers have been empowered to offer ticket vouchers instead of cash refunds, no legislation of the sort exists in California or the wider US.

Among other forms of redress, the trio seek monetary damages, an order that Eventbrite will cease the “unlawful, deceptive, fraudulent and unfair business practices” alleged in the complaint, and legal costs, to be determined at a jury trial.

News of the lawsuit, revealed in the company’s latest filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), comes as Eventbrite records a month-on-month increase in ticket sales for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March.

 


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Ultra Music Festival sued over no-refund policy

Ultra Enterprises, the company behind Miami’s Ultra Music Festival (UMF) and Ultra music events globally, has been hit with a lawsuit over its alleged refusal to offer cash refunds to those with tickets for the cancelled UMF 2020.

The 2020 festival, scheduled for 20–22 March in Miami, Florida, was called off in early March, becoming one of the first casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic that went on to claim almost the entire festival summer.

The proposed class action, filed in the US district court for southern Florida, accuses Ultra of conversion and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs Samuel Hernandez and Richard Montoure claim the company’s insistence that they must hold onto their tickets and transfer them to UMF 2021 or ’22 is based on “impermissible ticket contract terms”, according to Law360; Ultra’s terms and conditions say it reserves the right to issue a full or partial refund, or no cash refund at all.

This, argue Hernandez and Montoure’s lawyers, means UMF – by reserving the right to keep money paid for tickets regardless of whether it puts on the show – is “essentially (and impermissibly) rendering its obligations under the [T&Cs] illusory, and the agreement itself an unenforceable unilateral option contract.”

“We do not believe Ultra Music Festival has the right to shift the burden of this extraordinary crisis onto its customers”

Hernandez sought refunds on four of six tickets he bought, for a total of US$3,000, while Montoure wanted a refund of two three-day passes he purchased for about $1,000.

“We understand that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every part of the global economy but we do not believe that gives the Ultra Music Festival the right to shift the burden of this extraordinary crisis onto its customers, who, in some cases, paid hundreds of dollars to attend this festival,” Joe Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf – which is also suing South by Southwest on behalf of out-of-pocket ticketholders – tells Rolling Stone, “and now the Covid-19 pandemic has or will preclude them from ever using any credit.

“We look forward to seeking to recover cash refunds for our clients and the class members.”

In addition to Ultra and South by Southwest, several ticketing companies are also facing legal action over their refusal to offer cash refunds for cancelled shows, with SeatGeek and StubHub the target of one and two legal actions, respectively.

 


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Live Nation pulls out of Ocesa acquisition [updated]

Updated (27 May): Live Nation confirmed in an SEC filing yesterday that the company has terminated its ‘material definitive agreement’ to acquire 51% of Ocesa after being unable to agree revised terms with CIE and Televisa.

“On May 25, 2020, Live Nation notified CIE that it was terminating the CIE purchase agreement as a result of CIE’s failure to comply with its contractual obligation to continue operating the target companies [Ocesa] in the ordinary course of business and the occurrence of a material adverse effect (as that term is defined in the CIE purchase agreement),” reads the 8-K form, dated 25 May, which appears to say CIE and Televisa’s failure to keep Ocesa operating as normal amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is grounds for cancelling the acquisition.

“Live Nation simultaneously notified TV that it was terminating the TV purchase agreement, which agreement may be terminated if the CIE Purchase Agreement is terminated for any reason.

“Live Nation has commenced binding arbitration proceedings, seated in New York, New York, before the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce, seeking a declaratory judgment that it has properly terminated the CIE purchase agreement and that any obligations thereunder are excused on the grounds set forth above, among others.”

 


CIE, one of two parent companies of leading Mexican promoter Ocesa Entertainment, has told investors that Live Nation’s impending acquisition of Ocesa is no longer going ahead, after the US concert giant exercised “an alleged right to terminate” the agreement, one “with which CIE disagrees”.

Live Nation announced last July it intended to acquire 51% of Ocesa, which also owns Ticketmaster Mexico, from CIE and Televisa Group for a combined US$480 million, with the transaction expected to close by the end of 2019.

According to CIE, on 5 May (two days before Live Nation announced its Q1 2020 results) the parties signed a ‘standstill agreement’ that put the deal on hold; that agreement, reports Televisa, has now expired, with no agreement on terms of the acquisition reached.

CIE “will continue to analyse its alternatives and reserves all of its rights under the agreements executed in connection with [the] transaction and the applicable laws”, according to a notice filed by the company today (26 May) with the Mexican Stock Exchange (BMV).

Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino spoke about the deal during the company’s Q1 investor call, saying the company needed to pause the deal; while he is “long term, still bullish on [Ocesa’s] business and ours”, Rapino explained, Live Nation “is not looking to take on any losses from Mexico while they’re going through their six or eight months of business downturn” due to Covid-19, reports MBW.

“We want to delay the cash payment of the deal until we both know how and when we’re on the other side of this crisis,” he added. “So that’s the intent.”

Televisa – which owns 41% of Ocesa compared to CIE’s 11% – said on 7 May it agrees that Live Nation does not have the right to terminate the agreement unilaterally.

 


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Austrian Supreme Court rules against secondary sites

Austria’s supreme court has ordered ticket resale site Viagogo to better inform its buyers about the identity of ticket sellers, and the type of ticket being sold, before a purchase is made.

The 5 May ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice (Oberster Gerichtshof, OGH) forces Viagogo.at and other Viagogo websites – as well as other secondary ticketing sites selling in Austria – to disclose the identity of ticket sellers, including name and address, and whether tickets are personalised, ahead of ticket purchase.

The verdict also means that for the first time, customers in Austria are protected from losses caused by misleading information or the absence of essential information by sellers, such as travel costs when access to the show is denied.

Furthermore, if Viagogo doesn’t ensure sellers’ compliance with the registration and the disclosure of their identities, the platform itself would be held accountable.

Until now, tickets on secondary platforms operating in Austria were sold anonymously, with buyers not informed when tickets were personalised, leading to them often being denied access to events.

“The verdict is a remarkable step towards a fairer secondary market in Austria”

The case against Viagogo was brought by the trade body for sports and leisure companies of the Upper Austrian Chamber of Commerce, through competition protection group WSV (Wettbewerbsschutzverband). The basis for the lawsuit was the “significantly inflated” prices for tickets sold on Viagogo.at for cabaret events by Monika Gruber and Viktor Gernot, promoted by events agency Stage.

“The verdict is a remarkable step towards a fairer secondary market in Austria, as it not only forces ticketing transparency, but places responsibility at the feet of the platforms themselves,” says a spokesperson for the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT).

Linz-based competition law expert Johannes Hintermayr provided WSV’s legal representation.

“Congratulations to Dr. Hintermayr and the WSV, who have led this extraordinary fight, and let it be one step of many towards the creation of an ethical market – which is all the more important in getting the industry back on its feet post Covid-19.”

 


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Coronavirus forces end of Love Parade inquiry

A regional court in Germany has ordered a definitive end to the trial of the organisers of the 2010 Love Parade festival.

The current trial began in December 2017 after previous legal proceedings cleared the defendants – four employees of festival promoter Lopavent and six of the city of Duisburg, in North Rhine-Westphalia – of any wrongdoing.

While prosecutors said at the start of the trial they were confident of securing prosecutions, the impact of the coronavirus means that reaching a verdict before the ten-year statute of limitations expires in July would be impossible, Duisburg regional court ruled. The trial lasted 184 days, according to Deutsche Welle.

Twenty-one people died, and more than 650 were injured, on 24 July 2010 in a crush in a tunnel that served as the sole entrance to the long-running techno festival. Over a million people are said to have attended the 2010 event, which was held at a former goods yard in Duisburg with a capacity of around 250,000.

The victims included festivalgoers from Spain, Australia, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China and the Netherlands.

 


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Eventbrite IPO investor lawsuit dismissed

Eventbrite has beaten a class-action lawsuit that accused it of misleading investors at the time of its September 2018 flotation.

As previously reported, the suit – filed on behalf of claimants who purchased Eventbrite stock in the company’s initial public offering (IPO) at US$23 a share – alleges the ticketing company deceived potential buyers in its IPO registration statement by declaring that the acquisition of Ticketfly “had a positive impact on net revenue growth” in the third quarter of 2017, when in fact the migration was progressing more slowly than stated, delaying integration and negatively affecting growth.

San Francisco-based Eventbrite denied the allegations, its lawyers calling the case without merit and saying the complaint contains no “facts suggesting that Eventbrite made any false or misleading statements of material fact”.

On Tuesday (28 April), California judge Edward Davila ruled in favour of Eventbrite, according to Law360, granting the company’s bid to dismiss the suit in its entirety, while giving the investors a chance to amend their complaint by 24 June to make it more specific.

Judge Edward Davila ruled in favour of Eventbrite, granting the company’s bid to dismiss the suit in its entirety

“Plaintiffs’ vague allegations that the Ticketfly acquisition was ‘delayed’, ‘costly’ and that the integration missed ‘key features’ are insufficient to show that defendants ‘affirmatively’ created an impression of a state of affairs that differs in a material way from reality”, said Davila, adding: “In fact, a closer inspection of Eventbrite’s SEC filings appears to belie plaintiffs’ claims that the company projected that the Ticketfly integration was going ‘smoothly’”.

The suit was filed following a plunge in Eventbrite’s share price, from a high of over $32 to less than $16 in June 2019.

In common with other live entertainment companies, Eventbrite shares have plummeted further as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with stocks trading at just shy of $10 at press time, up from a low of $5.86 on 3 April.

 


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SeatGeek sued over alleged U-turn on refunds

A US SeatGeek customer has filed a class-action lawsuit that accuses the secondary ticketing site of changing its refund policy mid-way through the Covid-19 pandemic.

The suit, which alleges that SeatGeek rescinded its money-back guarantee amid the widespread cancellation of live events, comes three weeks after similar legal action was initiated against ticket-resale rival StubHub, which is also offering credit instead of cash refunds for cancelled or postponed events.

In a filing in a Manhattan court, William Trader says New York-based SeatGeek – which also has a significant European presence, where it primarily focuses on primary ticketing for arts venues – changed the terms of its ‘buyer guarantee’ from a full refund to “a credit to be used for a future purchase to be determined in SeatGeek’s sole discretion”.

“Defendant has sought to surreptitiously shift its losses onto its innocent customers”

Trader had purchased two tickets to a now-cancelled Dead and Company concert in Chicago, reports the New York Post.

“In the midst of the greatest public health and economic crisis in living memory, defendant has sought to surreptitiously shift its losses onto its innocent customers, furthering the financial hardship endured by people across the country,” says Trader’s lawyer, Nicholas Coulson.

SeatGeek has been contacted for comment.

 


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Ticketmaster clarifies US refund policy

Ticketmaster has moved to clarify its refund policy in the United States, amid reports of fans struggling to secure refunds on tickets for cancelled events.

As reported by the New York Times, some consumers in the US have accused the ticket agency of changing its policies to mitigate cashflow issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Times, “[w]hereas “a few weeks ago”, the wording on the Ticketmaster website “said that people can get refunds ‘if your event is postponed, rescheduled or canceled’ [sic], now it only lists cancellation as a basis for getting your money back, though it suggests there may be other circumstances in which refunds might be considered.”

However, says TM, its refund policy in US has remained the same throughout the crisis – promoters, many of whom are working to reschedule their events, are in charge of ticket monies and the refund process – and the new wording aims to clarify that policy. (Similarly, IQ understands, in other markets, such as Denmark, the refund procedure remains the same as pre-coronavirus).

A statement from the company reads: “Ticketmaster serves as the sales platform for event organisers worldwide. Our standard practice is for our clients to hold the cash from their ticket sales. Clients using our platform also retain the ability to set individual policies for their postponed or rescheduled events.

“Typically, event organisers have had the flexibility to offer refunds for virtually all postponed and rescheduled events. However, the unprecedented volume of over 30,000 events impacted to date, coupled with continued uncertainty over setting new dates while awaiting clearance from regional governments, has led to event organisers needing additional time to reschedule their events before deciding to offer refund options.

“Clients using our platform retain the ability to set individual policies for their postponed or rescheduled events”

“As of today [16 April], over 11,000 events, including over 4,000 postponed sports, concerts and arts events, have already authorised refunds. While we cannot guarantee all event organisers will offer refunds on their rescheduled events, we anticipate the vast majority will make a refund window available once new dates have been determined. In addition, Ticketmaster continues to issue refunds for all cancelled events.”

On the promoter side, AEG Presents – with Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation one of the big two global concert promoters – has also put out a statement explaining its refund policy, saying it will offer customers a 30-day window to receive refunds for postponed events, starting from 1 May.

Ticketholders for cancelled AEG-promoted events, meanwhile, will automatically receive a refund, a company rep explains.

Similarly, “Live Nation’s plan is to continue offering an opportunity for refunds on all of its rescheduled shows as new dates are set,” an LN spokesperson tells the Times. “We anticipate those windows will begin to open up on an event-by-event basis in the next few weeks.”

The clarification from Ticketmaster follows secondary ticketing platform StubHub being slapped with a US$5 million lawsuit over its refusal to issue cash refunds for tickets resold on its site.

In Europe, many governments are backing promoters’ requests to be able to offer credit or vouchers in lieu of refunds, with the German live business the latest to be given the go-ahead. Cash refunds, however, must be given if they are specifically requested.

 


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StubHub sued over new no-refund policy

Secondary ticketing giant StubHub has become the first ticket seller to face legal action as a result of a refund policy that offers credit vouchers in lieu of cash.

Ticket vouchers have become a popular refund mechanism for cancelled shows during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, with a growing number of governments backing industry associations’ calls for their members to be able to temporarily hold onto customers’ funds. Vincenzo Spera, president of Italian promoters’ association Assomusica, last week described a government-backed voucher scheme in Italy as a “lifesaver” for the struggling concert business.

StubHub similarly recently moved to a voucher-only model in North America, amid speculation the US ticket resale site, which is in the process of being acquired by Viagogo, is struggling financially.

Now, a class-action lawsuit filed in Wisconsin on Friday (3 April) afternoon accuses StubHub of violating its own consumer protection promise with the move, with plaintiff Matthew McMillan saying the company is “retroactively” backing out of its “longstanding ‘FanProtect’ guarantee […] in response to apparent liabilities it would incur stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Instead of instituting responsible financial transaction policies, StubHub made it their practice to pay ticket sellers before the event had occurred

According to Law360, McMillan’s suit alleges StubHub brought on its financial crisis itself through its own policy of paying ticket resellers (touts/brokers) before the event has occurred, despite the “entirely foreseeable scenario that world occurrences would cause the simultaneous cancellation of numerous public events.”

“Instead of instituting responsible financial transaction policies, defendants [StubHub] made it their practice to pay ticket sellers before the event had occurred,” the complaint reads, “exposing themselves to the possibility that they would be left holding the bag (or have to ignore their own guarantee and cheat their customers) if an event was canceled and they could not promptly collect from sellers.”

In a statement, McMillan’s lawyer, Nicholas Coulson of Liddle & Dubin, says: “Dumping promised refunds for expiring coupons during the time of greatest financial suffering in recent history is cruel and wrong, especially because people have no idea if they’ll even be able to use the coupons. We don’t know what the next 12 months are going to look like.

“Through this action, we hope to provide people some small bit of relief during this uncertain time.”

As of 25 March, StubHub is offering fans with tickets for cancelled events with a coupon valued at 120% of their original purchase.

 


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