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Viagogo fined for breaking Italian anti-touting law

An Italian court has rejected an appeal by Viagogo against a €3.7 million fine for hosting listings for tickets sold in contravention of Italian law.

The judgment, handed down by the regional administrative court (TAR) of Lazio (Latium) on 2 April, upholds a 2020 ruling in favour of the Italian Communications Authority (AGCOM), which brought legal action against the secondary ticketing site for listing tickets to 37 events at above face value between March and July 2019.

Ticket touting is effectively illegal in Italy under the country’s 2017 budget law, which states that tickets to entertainment events may only be sold by authorised retailers. Consumers are permitted to sell unwanted tickets only for a price equal to, or less than, their original face value.

The judges rejected Viagogo’s argument that it was acting merely as a “passive hosting provider” connecting resellers with potential buyers, which would exempt the resale platform from liability under Italian law. Instead, Viagogo was found to provide a range of services and promote and advertise tickets in a way that could not be considered to be carried out without any awareness or control on its part.

“The service provided by Viagogo […] does not have the characteristics of passive hosting,” the court concluded, “given that it clearly does not consist merely of the ‘storage of information’ but rather optimisation, advertising and promotion of the tickets on sale.”

“Uncapped secondary marketplaces … have long been shielding under the liability exemption offered by EU law”

“Nor has the appellant in any way substantiated the claim that such complex activities would be carried out by the platform in a completely automatic manner and without any awareness and/or possibility of control on its part,” adds the ruling.

Additionally, even if Viagogo had qualified as a ‘passive hosting provider’, it would still not have benefited from the liability exemption afforded by the law as it did not act quickly to remove or disable access to the listings once notified by authorities, according to the court.

The ruling follows similar decisions in both Italy (Mediaset v. Yahoo) and the European Court (L’Oréal v. eBay, Google v. Louis Vuitton) which have held websites responsible for the content ‘passively’ hosted on their platforms.

“Uncapped secondary marketplaces such as Viagogo have long been shielding under the liability exemption offered by EU law by claiming to have little to no knowledge of the activity taking place on their sites,” comments Sam Shemtob, director of the Face-Value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT).

“It is time that they’re held responsible for the illegal activity they promote and profit from, both in Italy and across Europe.”

 


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Eventim’s TicketOne fined for anti-competitive behaviour

TicketOne, the market-leading primary ticket agency in Italy, has been fined €10 million by the Italian Competition Authority for alleged abuses of its dominant market position.

The latest judgment follows an investigation by the authority into TicketOne’s parent company, CTS Eventim, that first became public in 2019, when a handful of Italian promoters, led by Zed Entertainment’s Valeria Arzenton, alleged unfair competition on the part of Eventim-owned Friends and Partners (F&P).



Arzenton accused CTS Eventim/F&P of trying to strong-arm promoters and artists into ticketing contracts with TicketOne at the expense of non-Eventim operators – a claim strenuously denied by CTS Eventim, TicketOne, F&P and sister companies D’Alessandro e Galli, Vertigo and Vivo Concerti.

Competitors accuse Italian promoters of foul play (updated)

The verdict of the Competition Authority (known as the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, or AGCM, in Italian), published today (19 January), appear to back up Arzenton’s claims, finding that the ‘CTS Eventim-TicketOne group’ has created a “complex, abusive strategy” which prevents competing ticket sellers from obtaining a “particularly high proportion” (“quota particolarmente elevata”) of tickets for live music events.

In doing so, the group violated EU competition law, in particular Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, according to AGCM.

The authority further found that Eventim particularly sought to exclude TicketOne rival Ticketmaster, a relatively new entrant in Italy (and a non-exclusive ticketing partner of Arzenton’s Zed Entertainment), from the “relevant market”.

By preventing other ticket sellers from obtaining significant ticket inventory for shows organised by F&P, D’Alessandro e Galli, Vertigo and Vivo Concerti, all of which it acquired in a less than eight-month period in 2017–18, Eventim additionally caused harm to consumers, says AGCM, by limiting the choice of tickets available and allowing TicketOne to charge higher prices.

“CTS Eventim … are very confident that this illegal decision will also be overturned by the court”

In addition to the €10m fine, the authority has ordered CTS Eventim to grant TicketOne’s competitors a share of at least 20% of the tickets available for popular music shows organised by owned companies.

Arzenton welcomes the ruling as confirmation that “everything I was complaining about as true, in relation to the pressures and boycotts suffered” by Zed. “But now is the time to look ahead and work all together, as operators in this sector, to face the difficulties caused by this terrible pandemic,” she adds, “and be ready to start again in the name of culture and entertainment.”

In a statement provided to IQ, a CTS Eventim spokesperson refutes the ACGM ruling as being based on flawed data and says the company plans to appeal the verdict.

“TicketOne and CTS Eventim firmly reject AGCM’s claims that the group allegedly abused a dominant position,” they say. “On the basis of incorrect market definitions and in violation of essential procedural rules, the authority made a decision that should never have been made.

“Accordingly, TicketOne and CTS Eventim will appeal to the competent administrative court and are very confident, also with a view to the previous case law on decisions of the AGCM, that this illegal decision will also be overturned by the court.”

AGCM has previously been forced to return money to TicketOne, having refunded the company €1m after a court found it was wrong to claim TicketOne had facilitated unlawful ticket resale.

 


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Ticketmaster UK fined for 2018 data breach

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Ticketmaster £1.25 million over a data breach that compromised the payment information of an estimated 9.4m customers in Europe, including 1.5m in the UK.

Concluding its investigation of a 2018 cyberattack which targeted Ticketmaster, TicketWeb and Get Me In! websites through a third-party customer support plug-in, the ICO found that Ticketmaster UK Ltd violated GDPR by failing to put in place “appropriate security measures” to protect its customers’ data.

ICO investigators found that, as a direct result of the Ticketmaster breach, 60,000 payment cards belonging to Barclays Bank customers had been subjected to known fraud. Another 6,000 cards were replaced by Monzo Bank after it suspected fraudulent use.

James Dipple-Johnstone, ICO deputy commissioner, says Ticketmaster failed to assess the risks of including the third-party product, a chatbot developed by Inbenta Technologies, on its payment page, as well implement appropriate security measures to negate those risks.

“Looking after their customers’ personal details safely should be at the top of organisations’ agenda”

The company also failed to identify the source of the fraudulent activity in a timely manner, having taken nine weeks from first being alerted to possible fraud (in February 2018) to finally monitoring the network traffic through its online payment page, according to the ICO.

“When customers handed over their personal details, they expected Ticketmaster to look after them,” says Dipple-Johnstone (pictured). “But they did not. Ticketmaster should have done more to reduce the risk of a cyberattack. Its failure to do so meant that millions of people in the UK and Europe were exposed to potential fraud.

“The £1.25 million fine we’ve issued today will send a message to other organisations that looking after their customers’ personal details safely should be at the top of their agenda.”

The Ibenta bot was removed from Ticketmaster’s websites in June 2018.

 


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Safe & Sound promoter fined $20,000

The promoter of a New York drive-in concert event that went viral for the lack of social distancing among audience members has been handed a US$20,000 fine.

Via the New York department of health, the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has charged In the Know Experiences with violating public health laws by holding a non-essential gathering and failing to enforce mask wearing at Safe & Sound Hamptons, which took place near Southampton on Saturday 25 July.

The show, headlined by the Chainsmokers, was accused of “egregious social distancing violations” after video from the event showed attendees leaving their cars and dancing in close proximity to one another.

“We will continue to hold people and businesses accountable for their actions”

“The Chainsmokers concert promoter is charged today with violating an executive order and section 16 of the Public Health Law,” says Cuomo. “As I said immediately following reports of this event, it was an egregious violation of the critical public health measures we have had in place since the beginning of this pandemic to protect New Yorkers from Covid-19.

“We will continue to hold people and businesses accountable for their actions and the local governments must enforce the rules or else we will hold them accountable as well.”

Other performers at Safe & Sound, which had space for around 600 cars, included DJ D-Sol, Matt White and a band fronted by Southampton’s town supervisor, Jay Schneiderman. Tickets for the upmarket event cost up to $25,000, with profits going to local charities.

 


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UK braces for long weekend of illegal events

Police, local authorities and industry associations have warned would-be party promoters against organising illegal gatherings in the UK this long weekend, after the government announced tougher fines for those found to be facilitating “the most serious breaches of social distancing restrictions”.

Britain’s home secretary, Priti Patel, announced earlier this week that anyone who organises an illegal rave, unlicensed music event or any other “unlawful” gathering of more than 30 people could be liable for a fine of £10,000.

Those who attend said events could also be punished with a fine of £100 for each violation, Patel (pictured) said.

“To the organisers of this sort of activity, I strongly advise that you seriously consider the risks you’re creating for everyone in attendance and the wider community,” says Commander Ade Adelekan, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for unlicensed music events.

Illegal raves have been on the increase in the UK in recent months amid the continuing shutdown of live entertainment, with unlicensed events also reported in France and elsewhere in continental Europe.

In London alone, the Metropolitan Police has responded to more than 1,000 unlicensed events since the end of June, receiving information on more than 200 events across the city in a single weekend, according to the Home Office.

“The government must consider safe options to allow the night-time economy and events sector to reopen”

There are fears the three-day weekend (Monday 31 August is a public holiday in the UK) could see an escalation in the number of illicit events, with councils across the country warning people against organising or attending illegal mass gatherings.

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night-Time Industries Association, says a spike in unlicensed parties over the bank holiday weekend will “escalate an already increasing number of unregulated and unsafe events placing young people at risk”.

“Small house parties and raves have been bubbling under the surface of society for many years now – but lockdown has intensified this, with young people searching for alternatives to late-night venues as they struggle to cope with continuing restrictions on their lives due to the pandemic,” he comments.

“Bank holidays present a particular challenge, but given the imminent reintroduction of student communities to university cities, and restrictions on the reopening of nightclubs and venues, we are concerned that the freshers’ period will result in an eruption of illegal house parties and gatherings. This will create challenging times for police forces up and down the country.”

He continues: “As the night-time economy and events sector is unable to reopen to provide safe spaces for young people to express themselves, DIY alternatives are being organised which are unregulated and may compromise young people’s safety. Previous illegal events have resulted in several serious incidents, but have continued to grow in popularity over the last few months.

“Thousands of businesses remain closed and struggle to survive and protect the livelihoods of their staff while unsafe illegal events continue. The government must consider safe options to allow the night-time economy and events sector to reopen to help combat the rise in illegal parties and raves across the country.”+

 


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Council to pay £15k as secondary sites evade fines

The North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has to foot £15,000 in legal costs, after losing a long running court battle against secondary ticketing sites.

The council had appealed a decision to annul fines it brought against secondary ticketing sites, sparking criticism of its conduct by the judge, who ruled that “a costs order would be appropriate to mark the strength of my concern”.

The judge concluded that the council had imposed excessive financial penalties on individuals and businesses breaching resale regulations by “adopting an unfair process and misrepresenting that process to the tribunal in its written submissions.”

Last year, the NYCC authorised a national cyber crime team to take action against secondary sites that failed to provide sufficient details about the face value of tickets, seat numbers and restrictions on usage.

“A costs order would be appropriate to mark the strength of my concern”

The NYCC requested a maximum fine of £5,000 for each tout that breached legislation. Although admitting fault, the resellers concerned challenged the decision, claiming the financial penalties were too high.

In April, a judge granted the secondary ticketers’ appeals, stating that the council had failed to act in a timely manner, serving notices of intent more than six months after gathering evidence.

A court order was also drawn up to oblige the NYCC to remove the £5,000 blanket fine on touts from its secondary ticketing enforcement policy. The council is yet to make the necessary changes.

A spokesperson for National Trading Standards said it was “disappointed” by the latest ruling.

 


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AGCM ordered to return €1m Viagogo fine

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) must return a €1 million fine to Viagogo, after the Council of State rejected claims made against the secondary ticketing site in 2017.

The watchdog levied fines against Viagogo and three other resale sites in April 2017 for failure to supply transparent information to customers. A year later, the regulator raised the fine against Viagogo to €1 million for lack of compliance.

However, following an appeal by Viagogo, the council ruled that the site is a “passive hosting provider”, and therefore not responsible for ensuring sellers provide all the ticket information required by law.

The council also sided with Viagogo over its self-denomination as an ‘official site’, which many deem misleading to fans who believe they are buying from a legitimate, artist-approved seller.

Allegations related to so-called ‘drip pricing’ – advertising a cheaper price to attract customers before disclosing extra fees – and false claims of scarcity of tickets were similarly rejected.

As a result of its rulings, the court also annulled all fines for non-compliance.

“We have always sought an open dialogue with the AGCM to ensure we are compliant with Italian consumer law”

Viagogo managing director Cris Miller “welcomes” the “landmark judgement from Italy’s highest administrative court.”

“We have always sought an open dialogue with the AGCM to ensure we are compliant with Italian consumer law,” states Miller.

“We look forward to continuing discussions about the positive role viagogo plays in Italy and around the world through our platform.”

The AGCM is no stranger to refunding fines. In 2018, the regulator was ordered to return €1m to CTS Eventim-owned TicketOne, after a court rejected allegations that the ticketing site had made insufficient attempts to prevent its tickets ending up on the secondary market.

Last week, TicketOne chief executive Stefano Lionetti criticised the national communications regulator, AGCOM, for its “failure” to tackle secondary ticketing sites in the country.

 


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SGAE fined €2.95m for anti-competitive practices

The Spanish competition regulator has fined national collection society SGAE €2.95 million for anti-competitive conduct, just days after the society’s expulsion from international authors’ rights association Cisac.

The national commission of markets and competition (Comisión nacional de los mercados y la competencia – CNMC) imposed the fine following the conclusion of a two-year investigation into actions undertaken by SGAE, known as the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores in Spanish.

The fine is the second that SGAE has received in the space of a few weeks. On 7 May, the Supreme Court approved of a €3.1m fine against the collection society, in a move lauded by Spanish promoters’ association the Asociación de Promotores Musicales (APM). The sanction was first proposed by the CNMC in 2014, in relation to SGAE’s “abusive” 10% concert tariffs.

The recent investigation into SGAE conduct finds evidence of “single and continued infringement” of free competition and European Union law.

The CNMC states that SGAE imposes contractual conditions to limit the freedom of its members. The society prevents members from attributing the management of only a part of their intellectual property rights by grouping rights into designated categories which cannot be managed separately. Members are also unable to revoke or partially withdraw the management of rights.

Through this practice, reports the watchdog, the society “has created obstacles to the free management of rights and the development of management entities other than the SGAE, making competition difficult.”

“[SGAE] has created obstacles to the free management of rights and the development of management entities other than the SGAE, making competition difficult.”

The watchdog also reports that the society has abused it position in relation to public broadcast rights, by bundling musical and audiovisual rights together and providing no itemised price breakdown for clients.

The joint sale, or bundling, occurs in the hospitality and catering sectors. As a result of the bundling, users wishing to offer musical content are obliged to acquire the audiovisual rights at the same time. CNMC states this impedes alternative offers from other management entities, given that SGAE is the only operator offering public reproduction and broadcast rights for musical content.

The investigation also finds that the lack of itemised price breakdown prevents users from determining the actual costs incurred by their use and therefore from comparing SGAE charges to offers from possible competitors.

Complaints from audiovisual authors’ rights group Dama (Derechos de Autor de Medios Audiovisuales, Entidad de Gestión) and collection society Unison sparked the investigation.

“At Unison we celebrate the decision of the Spanish regulator, which helps to guarantee free competition in the market of music rights management,” says Unison chief executive Jordi Puy.

The companies involved have two months to appeal the resolution through the national court.

The fine comes at a time of turbulence for the Spanish society. Cisac expelled SGAE as a member on Thursday 30 May for failing to implement reform. SGAE has been embroiled in controversy surrounding a scandal known as ‘the wheel’ (la rueda) since 2017.

 


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Computicket fined R20m for abuse of market power

After a nearly decade-long investigation, South Africa’s leading ticket agency, Computicket, has been fined 20 million rand (US$1.5m), for allegedly abusing its dominant market position to keep competitors out of the market.

In a 61-page decision handed down by the South African Competition Tribunal this morning (21 January), Computicket – owned by local supermarket giant Shoprite – is found to have misused long-term (three-plus-year) exclusive contracts with promoters to “exclude new entrants from the outsourced ticket distribution market”, substantially lessening competition in the $83bn South African live music market.

The Competition Tribunal’s judgment brings to an end an investigation launched in 2010 by the Competition Commission of South Africa, which sought to uncover alleged abuses in the period following Computicket’s 2005 takeover by Shoprite. The origins of the case date to February 2008 when a rival company, Strictly Tickets, filed a complaint alleging anti-competitive behaviour.

“The company’s exclusivity contracts increased dramatically (in terms of quantity and duration) following its takeover by Shoprite in 2005,” according to the Competition Commission. “In addition, from at least December 2006 to September 2009, Computicket’s personnel aggressively enforced the exclusive agreements among its clients including theatres, music promoters and event organisers. This happened particularly when new entrants emerged in the market.”

In its judgment, the Competition Tribunal notes that Computicket “enjoyed a near monopoly position at the time it introduced the three-year version of the exclusive contracts in 2005″, after which “there was limited market entry during the period 2005 and 2010, a period which […] coincided with […] the introduction of the longer-term exclusivity contracts and Computicket’s aggressive enforcement of its rights under these contracts.”

“From at least December 2006 to September 2009, Computicket’s personnel aggressively enforced the exclusive agreements among its clients”

“No other theory for why entry [of new companies into the market] was so limited and ineffectual has been offered to rebut this conclusion,” it adds.

In December 2017, Germany’s largest ticket seller, CTS Eventim, was similarly found to be abusing its market dominance by requiring partner promoters to sell tickets only via its own eventim.net platform.

South Africa’s Competition Act 1998 prohibits dominant companies from engaging in “exclusionary acts” unless they can show “technological, efficiency or other pro-competitive gains which outweigh the anti-competitive effect of its act”, such as requiring their suppliers or customers not to deal with competitors.

In a statement, Shoprite says it plans to appeal the ruling. “Computicket (Pty) Ltd will appeal the Competition Tribunal’s finding that it utilised its dominance between 2005–2010 relating to exclusive agreements with inventory providers for live entertainment events,” it reads.

“The ticketing provider has studied the tribunal’s decision and, [under the] Competition Act, it has 15 business days to file its notice of appeal against the tribunal’s decision, which it intends to do.”

According to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2018, Computicket, “with a strong mass-market position and a powerful network of online and physical outlets”, “still holds pole position” in the South African market, having launched in 1971 as the world’s first computerised ticketing system.

 


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Via-no-no: Ticketer fined in Italy, investigated in Spain

Viagogo has been slapped with another fine – this time to the tune of €1 million – by the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) for alleged unfair commercial practices.

The Italian version of the ever-controversial secondary ticketing platform, Viagogo.it, is accused of hosting ticket listings that fail to display the face value of each ticket, the seat/row number and the total ticket price (after fees and charges) – all in violation of articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Italian consumer code.

The AGCM investigation dates to April 2017, when Swiss-based Viagogo and three other resale sites were fined a collective €700,000 for similarly failing to provide complete ticket information to consumers. At the time, the company was given sixty days to comply with consumer law – and claimed it would do so, according to AGCM – but a year later, many consumers and associations are still complaining of opaque ticket pricing and unclear information on seating location, leading to the €1m fine.

Although a blow for Viagogo, it should be noted that CTS Eventim’s TicketOne recently successfully appealed a €1m fine of its own, for allegedly passing tickets directly to secondary sites, and will be reimbursed by AGCM.

Viagogo is accused of violating the Italian consumer code

Almost concurrently with the AGCM action, Viagogo has also come under fire in Spain, with the Valencian public prosecutor’s office announcing it has opened an investigation into whether price gouging on Viagogo.es for U2’s two shows in Madrid in September constitutes “abusive conduct” under Spanish law.

According to 20 Minutos, the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía) of Valencia has received several complaints from consumers after U2 tickets sold out “in a few minutes” and were listed on Viagogo for up to €1,500 shortly after.

Concerns over ticket prices for U2’s 2018 Experience + Innocence European tour have similarly spurred authorities in the Netherlands into action, with Dutch culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven announcing last month she is to consult the local live music business on potential regulation of the secondary ticket market.

 


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