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Key recent legal developments in live music

The live business is a well-oiled machine, but sometimes unexpected events and legal matters can impact and profoundly shape the sector. Below are some of the major developments over the past year as featured in IQ‘s newest publication, the Touring Business Handbook, and what they could mean for the future of the business.

Shows starting late
What happened: Some acts made unpredictability their calling card and would start shows incredibly late and, because they ended incredibly late, they would break curfews and invariably get fined. Now consumers are starting to take things into their own hands. Two US fans filed a class action against Madonna for allegedly starting her three shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in December 2023 late, claiming a breach of contract with the audience who “had to get up early to go to work” the following day. The original suit also named the venue as a defendant.

What it means: Madonna and Live Nation responded and denied this was the case, insisting that due to a “technical issue 13 December during soundcheck” this was the only show affected. “We intend to defend this case vigorously,” they said. The case could quietly disappear or, if it reaches court and the claimants are successful, it could have profound implications for all other late-running shows by setting a major legal precedent. The concern is that fans could become ever-more litigious around different parts of the live experience.

“There is a clear move by both the public and legislators to put better safeguards in place around resales”

Ticket resale, scalping & bots
What happened: A number of major developments in major markets in 2023 are still unfolding in 2024. Six US senators introduced the Fans First Act in late 2023 aimed at delivering greater transparency for consumers around re-sales and greater accountability for bad actors in the space. This came after Taylor Swift fans in the US attempted to sue Ticketmaster for alleged “price fixing” around pre-sale tickets for Swift’s Eras tour.

Swift tickets were also a legal focus in Australia where in June 2023 the government in Victoria designated her shows at Melbourne Cricket Ground as a “major event” and therefore heavily restricted under Victoria’s anti-scalping laws. This snowballed into calls for tougher and unified national laws in Australia to clamp down on re-sales at inflated pricing and scalping.

In late 2023, FEAT (Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing) was looking to the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) to clamp down on illegal ticket resales following the DSA introducing new measures from August that require large search engines to clamp down on illegal product listing. In Texas, following chaos as Taylor Swift tickets went on sale, state senators proposed new laws that would clamp down on ticket-purchasing bots and this was signed into law in May 2023.

What it means: There is a clear move by both the public and legislators in different markets to put better safeguards in place as well as tougher measures in action around re-sales. For now, no change in national legislation has been pushed through in the US or Australia, but this could only be a matter of time unless the ticketing sector moves to better and more robustly self-regulate here. The developments in the EU could have much wider repercussions with regard to takedown notifications for secondary ticketing sites.

“Artists need to be incredibly aware that mass lawsuits could prove controversial and damage their public image”

Touring crew treatment & allegations of harassment
What happened: In September 2023, clothing designer Asha Daniels accused Lizzo and members of her team of creating an “unsafe, sexually charged workplace culture” for members of her touring production. A spokesperson for Lizzo called the harassment suit filed by Daniels “a bogus, absurd publicity stunt” and in December, Lizzo’s legal representatives moved to have the lawsuit dismissed.

What it means: It is impossible to speculate at this stage if the case will make it to court and, if so, which way the judgement would fall. Regardless of the merits (or not) of the suit, it raises important issues about safeguarding and welfare for contracted workers on tour.

Counterfeit merchandise
What happened: The perennial issue of counterfeit merchandise was brought into sharp relief in 2023 when lawyers acting for Luke Combs targeted multiple individuals for selling unauthorised merchandise. Nicol Harness was among those targeted for having sold 18 tumblers (featuring Combs’s name and face) she had made herself. Combs found out about the $250,000 suit against Harness (who is disabled), and said it “makes me sick,” insisting her name was dropped from the suit against rogue operators and he also sent her $11,000 by way of apology.

What it means: The issue of fake merchandise has long been an issue for musicians, beginning with people selling counterfeit and unlicensed goods on the street outside shows and then the process becoming industrialised on online sites such as eBay, Etsy, Redbubble and more.

This has echoes of the first waves of legal action against filesharers in the early 2000s and the PR backlash when individuals were being targeted. Artists need to protect their merchandise business but will also be incredibly aware that mass lawsuits could prove controversial and damage their public image.

“The issue of free speech and if/how it crosses the line into hate speech is a complex and contested area”

Hate speech, censorship & show cancellations
What happened: Three very different cases but they collectively raise complex debates about artists holding/ expressing certain views and engaging in certain behaviour and how that runs into calls for censorship of cancellation.

In early 2023, Roger Waters said he would take legal action against city authorities in Germany who threatened to cancel several of his shows in Germany, accusing Waters of antisemitism (a charge he denies). Waters subsequently won his battle to stage his shows in Frankfurt in May 2023.

In summer 2023, authorities in the Mexican state of Chihuahua banned acts from performing songs live that contain what are deemed to be misogynistic lyrics. Those who do could face fines of 1.2m pesos (circa £54,661).

Finally, in summer 2023, Matt Healy of The 1975 caused a political storm at the Good Vibes festival in Kuala Lumpur when he kissed bass player Ross MacDonald on stage. After just seven songs, the band were ordered to end their performance and the rest of the three-day festival was pulled after an “immediate cancellation directive.” The band pulled their upcoming shows in Indonesia and Taiwan while Malaysian authorities banned them from performing in the country.

What it means: The political views as well as the lyrical output of musicians are under growing scrutiny. The issue of free speech and if/how it crosses the line into hate speech is a complex and contested area. The issue of actions on stage like that of Healy are clearly specific to the moral and political views of certain countries, but this is something all musicians need to be aware

These are extreme examples but they raise difficult questions about how far artistic expression can go and if censorship is the best response or if it is the thin end of the wedge that could see even greater restrictions placed on what musicians can say.

More information about recent developments with tax, legal, insurance, currency, and immigration is available to subscribers in IQ’s Touring Business Handbook, found here.


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Study: bots generate 40% of all ticketing traffic

Distil Networks, a global leader in bot mitigation, has released an in-depth study into the impact of bots on the ticketing industry, finding that nearly 40% of ticketing traffic is comprised of “bad bots”.

The study, developed by the Distil Research Lab, analysed 26.3 billion requests from 180 domains between September and December 2018. The results show that ticket bots – the automated software used by scalpers to bulk buy concert tickets and resell at inflated prices – are major drivers of traffic on ticketing platforms.

Bots lead to high infrastructure costs and poor website performance. The activity also “compromises the integrity of ticketing websites and impacts the user experience,” according to Distil Networks.

The study finds that primary ticketing markets are the main targets of bot activity, experiencing a higher volume of traffic from bots (42%) than secondary ticketing platforms (24%) and venues (27%).

The vast majority of bots launched against ticketing companies (85%) originated in North America, and 78% of bots classified as sophisticated or moderately sophisticated, often evading detection.

“Although the ticketing industry has led the way in terms of bot legislation, websites still face a huge hurdle when protecting against bad bots,” says Tiffany Kleemann, chief executive of Distil Networks.

“Although the ticketing industry has led the way in terms of bot legislation, websites still face a huge hurdle when protecting against bad bots”

“These automated tools attack ticketing websites every day, leveraging more advanced and nuanced techniques that evade detection. Any website that sells tickets can fall prey to this criminal activity, and a better understanding of the threat landscape can ensure the proper protective protocol is put in place,” adds Kleemann.

The usage of bots has come to the forefront of the music industry’s consciousness in recent years. Former US president Barack Obama passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act in December 2016, making the use of ticket-buying software a crime nationwide. The state of New York had previously initiated a statewide ban on bots.

The UK government followed suit in 2018, criminalising the usage of ticketing bots, along with Ontario, Canada, and the Australian states of Adelaide and New South Wales.

Distil Networks’ figures indicate the prevalence of ticketing bots and may serve to assuage concerns among music industry professionals that ticketing bots are a “red herring” in the debate concerning secondary ticketing.

Suspicions have arisen surrounding the lack of correspondence between the implementation of anti-bot technology and the prevalence of secondary ticketing, as well as the support that secondary ticketing platforms have voiced for the banning of ticketing bots.

A full version of the Distil Networks report can be found here.


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Ticketmaster blasts pro-bot ticket touts as “delusional”

Ticketmaster has hit back at what it calls “delusional posturing” by big-time ticket touting operation Prestige Entertainment, after the latter had the “temerity” to claim in court its alleged hoovering up of tickets to Broadway hit Hamilton using bots was “beneficial to Ticketmaster and its consumers”.

Ticketmaster accuses Connecticut-based Prestige of using an army of bots to purchase from its site around 30,000 tickets for Hamilton and other shows – a violation of its terms of service and, since the passage of the Bots Act in December 2016, illegal in the United States. According to the US$10m lawsuit, filed in the US district court for central California last October, Prestige was, over a period of 20 months, able to acquire 30–40% of TM’s total Hamilton inventory.

According to court documents, Prestige “commandeer[s] significant portions of available tickets for popular events, and, overall, have placed at least 313,528 ticket orders from 9,047 different accounts”.

Prestige has since sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that Ticketmaster’s lawyers’ argument – that the use of bots, which need to repeatedly copy website pages “far in excess” of normal browsing in order to operate, violates the company’s copyright –  would make any normal ticket buyer a copyright infringer, as as all web browsers download pages in order to display them.

“It would be impossible for anyone to access plaintiff’s [Ticketmaster’s] website without exposure to a claim of infringement and violation of law, with plaintiff having the right to pick and choose who gets prosecuted,” wrote Prestige’s attorneys (H/T TicketNews/Law360).

“It is Ticketmaster that bears the brunt of consumer discontent for a perceived lack of fairness in the ticket market”

It is also allegedly told Ticketmaster its buying up of thousands of tickets for hot shows is a good thing for the Live Nation-owned business, the world’s largest primary ticket reseller.

The ‘everyone’s a copyright infringer’ argument, say TM lawyers Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, is a “straw man”: While the company “expressly permits” its customers to “view” the site for non-commercial purposes – ie ‘normal’ ticket buying – copying “excessive pages at an excessive speed in order to purchase an excessive quantity of tickets for the purposes of reselling them” is in clear violation of Ticketmaster’s terms of use.

“Online commerce – and online ticketing especially – is under constant attack from illicit bot use,” Ticketmaster attorney Robert H. Platt told judge Otis D. Wright on Monday. “Ticketmaster has spent years in a war of attrition with users of bots, diverting substantial time, energy and resources in an often-vain effort to maintain a level playing field for consumers who simply want a fair chance to buy a ticket. California, New York, and the federal government have passed laws expressly prohibiting the use of bots to buy tickets, but defendants [Prestige], addicted to unseemly ticket-resale profits, remain undeterred. Ticketmaster therefore turns, as it has successfully in the past, to litigation against major bot offenders.”

“In their motion to dismiss Ticketmaster’s complaint,” Platt added, “defendants have the temerity to describe their prolific bot use as beneficial to Ticketmaster and its consumers”. “Such delusional posturing”, he said, is “no substitute for valid legal argument”, recommending the request to dismiss be “denied in its entirety”.

“Such delusional posturing is “no substitute for valid legal argument”

Should the suit continue, Ticketmaster is hoping for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, believed to be around $10 million, and a court order to stop Prestige’s bot use.

Highlighting the perceived damage to the Ticketmaster brand by resale operations such as Prestige, Platt says: “Even assuming […] defendants pay stated ticket prices and fees when purchasing tickets, they still inflict significant harm on Ticketmaster, its clients, and legitimate consumers who simply want a fair chance to buy tickets without resorting to extortionate resale prices.

“By using bots and other methods to angle for an unfair advantage, defendants interfere with the ability of Ticketmaster and its clients to gauge and manage ticket demand [and] circumvent flows of commerce on the website and mobile app, and require Ticketmaster to go to extraordinary lengths and expense to try to detect and prevent the use of bots and to cancel purchases where bot use is timely detected.

“To  the extent these nefarious efforts succeed, it is Ticketmaster that bears the brunt of consumer discontent for a perceived lack of fairness in the ticket market.”

The next hearing is set for 5 February.


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Ontario proposes ticket resale price cap

Building on the potential ticket bot ban announced in October, the Canadian province of Ontario has unveiled legislation that would cap the resale price of tickets at 50% above face value.

The proposed measures on ticket touting form part of a broader bill, the Strengthening Protection for Ontario Consumers Act, and would, if passed, also criminalise the use of ticket bots; bar the sale of tickets purchased using bots; and require business selling or reselling tickets to disclose information including the capacity of the venue, the number of tickets on general on-sale and the original face-value ticket price.

“Stronger rules for buying and selling tickets will help give fans a fair shot”

“Stronger rules for buying and selling tickets will help give fans a fair shot at getting music, sports or theatre tickets,” says Ontario attorney-general Yasir Naqvi. “Our proposed changes will ban bots and excessive mark ups, prevent fraud and provide more information in the ticket industry. We are putting fans first by making the industry more transparent and tickets more affordable.”

“I am pleased to introduce proposed legislation that will provide consumers with the protection they deserve when making significant purchases, like a new home, a dream vacation or concert tickets,” comments Tracy MacCharles (pictured), the province’s minister of government and consumer services. “Building a fair, safe and informed marketplace is a key priority of this government. We are committed to strengthening consumer protection and making it work better for everyone.”


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Australia gov urged to follow US, UK lead on bots

Live Performance Australia (LPA) has called for Australia to follow the UK’s lead in banning ticket bots.

Now that “new laws criminalising bots have just taken force in the UK overnight“, the trade association says it is time for the government of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to “support legislation which outlaws the use of bots to buy tickets which are then resold on the secondary market, often at vastly inflated prices”.

Using automated software to buy tickets is also illegal across the US and in the Canadian province of Ontario.

“The UK and US have taken action, but the Turnbull government is missing in action”

Among those calling from similar legislation in Australia is senator Nick Xenophon, whose parliamentary motion to ban bots is supported by opposition parties but opposed by the government.

“Bots are a problem for all ecommerce businesses, not just our industry,” says LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson. “This is a global problem and the impact on fans is enormous. Ticketmaster has publicly reported that it blocked five billion attempts by bots to unfairly access their websites globally in 2015, and bot activity increased by 10% in 2016.

“The UK and US have taken action, but the Turnbull government is missing in action. Bots are a global problem, and Australia should be part of the global response.”


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LN deploys ‘fan-first’ tech for Linkin Park tour

The first batch of tickets for Linkin Park’s 12th concert trek, the One More Light world tour, will be released exclusively via a Ticketmaster ‘Verified Fan’ presale, tour promoter Live Nation has announced.

Ticketmaster Verified Fan, launched earlier this year, is described by Live Nation as a “groundbreaking fan-first technology” that allows fans to “compete against other fans for tickets – not software”. For the Linkin Park presale, fanclub members will get priority access, but everyone else takes their place in a queue – with those willing to hand over more data, such as those signing in with Facebook, given a better spot in the line.

“The more you participate, the higher your spot in line and the better your access to tickets,” explains Live Nation. “Linkin Park Fan Club (LPU) members will get priority, but anyone can work their way to the top.”

Other ways to move up the queue include pre-ordering Linkin Park’s (pictured) new album (One More Light), inviting friends to sign up and by sharing news about the tour on social media and email. Those who end up in the top five will receive a package of signed merch from the band, with numbers one and two in each market getting to meet Linkin Park before the show.

“The more you participate, the higher your spot in line and the better your access to tickets”

Ticketmaster’s North America head of music, David Marcus, told Recode in March that the Verified Fan programme has so far been a success in reducing the amount of tickets scooped up by bots, which are now illegal to use in the US. Unlike traditional presales, an average of just 1% of tickets end up on the secondary market, he said.

“Bots are about speed, and if you make distribution about speed, you’re fighting a very hard battle,” he explained. “If you make it about identity, it’s much different.”

The One More Light world tour, supported by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, kicks off on 27 July at the Xfinity Center (19,900-cap.) in Boston, Masachussetts, finishing up at LA’s Hollywood Bowl on 22 October.


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Digital Economy Bill signed into law

The Digital Economy Bill 2016-17, which criminalises the use of ticket bots in the UK, has received royal assent and become law.

The bill, which also includes provisions relating to online pornography, direct marketing, digital intellectual property and increasing broadband speed, prohibits the misuse of an “electronic communications network” or “electronic communications service” to bulk-buy tickets.

It also builds on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 by requiring secondary ticket sellers to provide a “unique ticket number that may help the buyer to identify the seat or standing area or its location”.

Matt Hancock, the UK’s minister of state for digital and culture (pictured), says he’s “delighted the Digital Economy Act has become law”, saying the legislation will provide “better support for consumers” and “help build a more connected and stronger economy”.

Anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance has welcomed the news, but cautioned that the effectiveness of the bill “will be for nothing” without proper enforcement.

“It is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review are fully implemented”

“On top of government measures to criminalise the bulk-buying of tickets, this relatively minor amendment to the Consumer Rights Act, for a ‘unique ticket number’ to be displayed when a ticket is listed for resale, should greatly increase transparency in the so-called secondary ticketing market,” it said in a statement.

“If enforced, it will give users some assurances that the ticket they are buying actually exists, as well as disrupting the practices of hardcore touts that thrive on sites like Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! and Seatwave. FanFair Alliance would like to thank everyone who has supported us in campaigning for these changes – and particularly Nigel Adams MP, Sharon Hodgson MP, Lord Moynihan, Baroness Hayter, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Stevenson, the late Baroness Heyhoe-Flint and members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“We were also heartened that the culture minister has clarified unequivocally that secondary platforms must provide information of any resale restrictions. Going forward, it is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review of secondary ticketing are fully implemented.

“After the general election [on 8 June], we will need details on how all these changes will work in practice. Only then, and combined with a concerted effort from industry and regulators, will this broken market be fixed and British audiences provided with the open and properly functioning resale market they deserve.”


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Ticket bots: Hidden menace or red herring?

While ticket bots – automated software used to hoover up concert tickets to then resell – remain legal in most of the world, the last 12 months have seen official sentiment in several major markets shift towards prohibition.

The state of New York was the first to criminalise the usage of bots, with legislation introduced by Carl Heastie and Marcos Crespo providing for up to a year in prison for offenders. The Canadian province of Ontario followed suit in September, and the US as a whole outlawed bots in December with then-president Barack Obama’s signing of the Better Online Ticket Sales – or Bots – Act into law.

The UK, meanwhile, is set to soon introduce its own ban, while Adelaide senator Nick Xenophon is pushing for anti-bot legislation in Australia.

The vast majority of those working in the live music industry agree on the need for a ban on bots – including, tellingly, secondary ticketing giants StubHub and Ticketmaster (Seatwave, Ticketmaster Resale, TicketExchange, Get Me In!) – but there are concerns among some anti-touting activists that a singular focus on bots could detract from the conversation around what they see as a fundamentally broken ticketing market.

Speaking to the UK parliament committee on ‘ticket abuse’ earlier this month, Rob Wilmshurst, CEO of Vivendi Ticketing/See Tickets – which recently launched its own face-value ticket exchange, Fan2Fan – said he believes bots have been a “red herring” in the debate over secondary ticketing in the UK. “We’ve added more technology to thwart them [bots], but we don’t see conversion rates dropping,” he told MPs.

Similarly, Adam Webb, of anti-secondary campaign group FanFair Alliance, responded to the US’s bot ban with a note of caution, highlighting that the legislation was “supported by companies who run secondary ticketing services, and who benefit directly from mass-scale ticket touting”.

Are ticket bots, then, a straw man on which the big secondaries are happily pinning the blame for headline-grabbing $3,000 Adele tickets, or could a global ban on bots actually be effective in eliminating price-gouging in the secondary market?

“Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market”

Reg Walker, of events security firm Iridium, says any legal initiatives aimed at combatting bots “can only be a good thing”. He concedes that while there are “systemic problems in the ticket industry as a whole”, including ticket agencies with a “foot in both camps” (primary and secondary), “any legislation that goes any way towards levelling the playing field must be welcomed”.

Walker cautions, however, that “legislation is only as good as the amount of enforcement that goes into supporting it”. A major problem with the law in the UK, he tells IQ, is that the onus is on secondary sites themselves to report attempts to buy tickets using bots: “Is there any incentive to report bot attacks when the same company may well end up, by intention or inadvertently, being a net beneficiary of that activity?” he asks.

The chief executive of the UK’s Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), Jonathan Brown, agrees on the importance of ticketing sites reporting all bot attacks. “Bots are certainly one way that touts get hold of tickets, and it’s great that there is action specifically on this issue,” he explains. “However, we have always said that this also needs to go alongside far greater understanding and technical defences against such attacks – and, of course, a need for attacks or suspected attacks to be reported.”

Legislation targeting bots is a “great first step”, says Ant Taylor, the founder and CEO of Lyte, which powers the new ‘fan-to-fan’ ticket exchange from Ticketfly, a supporter of the bot ban in the US. “The public has experienced longstanding frustration from not having access to tickets for their favourite artists, or having to pay exorbitant prices to do so.”

Taylor highlights the importance of fans genuinely unable to attend a show having a “viable technological alternative”, such as Ticketfly/Lyte, to resell their ticket. “We’ve integrated Lyte directly with a primary ticketing company,” he continues, “so their venue and promoter partners now have complete control of the fan experience. This keeps the money in the hands of those who contribute to these incredible live event experiences and away from scalpers who purely profit off them.”

Patrick Kirby, managing director of recently launched white-label platform Tixserve, cautions that overemphasis on bots could lead to a spike in “low-tech” crime such as counterfeiting. “An unintended consequence of the ban on bots might be an increase in the fraudulent duplication or counterfeiting of tickets, which is a low-tech activity when tickets continue to be paper-based,” he tells IQ.

“Professional touts already use other, non-bot, methods of acquiring primary tickets for the secondary market”

Kirby says the effectiveness of banning bots will depend largely on the “extent to which bot operators will seek to circumvent the new legislation. The previous experience of the Tixserve team in the card payments and mobile-airtime distribution sectors is that the targets of anti-abuse measures always look to find creative ways of protecting their lucrative, ill-gotten incomes. Sometimes, it can be akin to pinning down a lump of jelly.”

Walker believes, however, that it’s extremely easy to tell when a site has fallen victim to a bot attack.

“We live in a technological age, and there is an overdependence on computer programs and algorithms to detect this activity,” he comments. Bot attacks are “so easy to spot on primary ledgers”, says Walker – providing ticket agencies actually take the time to look. “We haven’t found a single case, bar one, where a primary or secondary ticket agent has gone to police or Trading Standards and asked them to investigate,” he explains.

“Bottom line: it [banning bots] is not a silver bullet,” comments Adam Webb, who as FanFair campaign manager welcomed plans by the British government to ban bots as part of its implementation of the Waterson report.

“Moves by government[s to] criminalise the misuse of technology to bulk-buy tickets are an important and welcome step,” Webb tells IQ. “However […] not every tout has this sort of software in their armoury. There are many alternative ways to access large volumes of inventory…

“That’s why FanFair, in our response, was keen to give equal weight to the other elements of government’s announcement, particularly the blanket acceptance of Professor Waterson’s recommendations and suggestion of further actions to improve transparency in this market. (Waterson’s recommendations largely centre on proper reinforcement of the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which obliges resellers to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any ticket restrictions.)

“Bottom line: It is not a silver bullet”

Kirby adds that banning bots ignores “professional touts [who] already use other non-bot methods of acquiring primary tickets for placement on the secondary market”. In response to bot bans, resellers could, says Kirby, “ramp up the practice of using teams of people masquerading as genuine fans to buy significant amounts of tickets using multiple identities, addresses and credit cards”.

Stuart Cain, managing director of NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory, agrees with Walker that “banning bots is just one part of a much wider story”, but says any legislation “that allows for greater transparency in the market and help to stop fans being conned is a positive”. “There’s still a way to go, but [banning bots] is a promising first step when it comes to the industry finally cleaning up its act,” he comments.

While Walker praises the recent raft of anti-bot measures as “fantastic” – and the recent British legislation, in particular, as having real “teeth” – he warns against the tendency to think of banning ticket bots as a panacaea to sky-high prices on the secondary market.

“The danger is that while we have all this focus on bots and software, the other structural issues in ticketing could be ignored,” he concludes. “Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market.”


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UK accepts Waterson recommendations, bans bots

As promised in October, the British government has published its long-awaited response to last year’s Waterson report into secondary ticketing, accepting Prof. Michael Waterson’s recommendations in full – including a total ban on ticket bots.

The government’s commitment is described by anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance as “extensive”, and includes an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to criminalise the use of bots to bulk-buy tickets, with potentially unlimited fines for those who break the new law.

Other measures include a substantial investment in consumer-protection agency National Trading Standards, and renewed pressure on four secondary ticketing sites – StubHub, Viagogo and Ticketmaster’s Seatwave and Get Me In! – to identify touts and make clear to consumers when tickets are being sold on the secondary market.

FanFair’s campaign manager, Adam Webb, comments: “A crackdown on the misuse of bot technology to bulk-buy tickets will be hugely important in helping clean up this market, but of equal significance is government’s blanket acceptance of recommendations in the Waterson review, which, if implemented, should lead to greater transparency.

“Banning bots is a step towards ensuring the ticketing market for live events works more fairly for gig-goers”

“That aspect is absolutely vital. Only with proper enforcement of the law will this market work in favour of consumers.”

Alex Neill, managing director of home services at the Consumers’ Association/Which?, also welcomes the news. “Banning bots is a welcome move, as it should give genuine fans a better chance of getting tickets for popular events,” he says. “Ticketing sites must have much more robust protections in place to combat bots, and the competition authorities now need to make sure that this crackdown really works and take strong action against anyone who breaks the law.”

In a response sent to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), industry umbrella group UK Music writes: “UK Music is pleased that government is responding to industry representations and is now acting on the recommendations of the Waterson review.

“The use of bots to bulk-buy tickets amounts to industrial-scale touting. Massive profit is made by people who are taking value out of the music industry and putting tickets out of the reach of music fans. Banning bots is a step towards ensuring the ticketing market for live events works more fairly for gig-goers.”

“Of equal significance is government’s blanket acceptance of recommendations in the Waterson review, which should lead to greater transparency”

Jonathan Brown, chief executive of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), says: “Over the last ten months, STAR has been very focused on progressing the recommendations made to the primary ticket market in Professor Waterson’s excellent 2016 review of the secondary ticket market. With the co-operation of DCMS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), we facilitated two meetings to enable the entertainment industry to discuss those recommendations and consider further actions. In addition to STAR and the organisations mentioned above, those meetings were attended by representatives of other entertainment industry bodies with an interest and responsibility for the primary ticket market.

“The meetings were a step towards fulfilling some of the recommendations made in the review, particularly in discussing with the CMA fair terms and conditions around the resale of tickets. STAR therefore very much welcomes the government’s commitment to improving the secondary ticket market for consumers by accepting and acting on the recommendations made by Professor Waterson.”

Richard Davies of face-value ticket resale site Twickets, meanwhile, says the government action is “heartening” but reiterates his calls for for-profit resale to be banned outright. “It’s heartening to hear that after years of campaigning, the government appears to have gotten the bit between its teeth on clamping down on the profiteering rife within the secondary market,” he comments.

“The news that Trading Standards will be funded to enforce these measures and that Waterson’s other recommendations have been accepted in full are also welcome, though we urge the government to go further and ban secondary ticketing for profit outright.”


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Bots banned… on Twitch

A prolific operator of bots on popular live-streaming platform Twitch has been slapped with an injunction ordering him to shut down his business.

Justin Johnson, one of seven defendants, was the target of a lawsuit by the company and its parent, Amazon, for selling software to artificially boost streamers’ viewer numbers.

Several of the most-followed streamers on the service, known as partners, are entitled to a share of ad revenue. The complaint alleged the defendants “design, sell, and deploy bot services – software that mimics the behaviour of real users. These bot services capitalise on broadcasters’ desire to become popular on Twitch and to become partners by promising shortcuts to both… [making] channels appear higher in directories and trick Twitch into accepting broadcasters into the partnership programme, with its promise of additional revenue.”

California judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled on Wednesday (1 March) that Johnson must immediately shut down his business, and banned him from offering similar services in future.

Twitch is best known as a platform for videogamers, although it also has a music live-streaming service, Twitch Music, for Kelly Clarkson-style broadcast of live music.


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