APM lawyer: Google “surprised” at extent of touting
Gabriel Rossy, lawyer for Spanish Association of Music Promoters (APM), has praised Google’s recent crackdown on unscrupulous ticket resellers – and revealed the tech giant previously had “no idea” of the extent to which its search engine was being used to tout tickets.
Speaking to IQ, Rossy – APM’s long-time attorney, who has previously represented the association in a dispute over tariffs with collection society SGAE – explains how Google execs were unaware of the dominance of secondary ticketing sites on its search listings before APM and others first brought the issue to the company’s attention.
“We realised, by asking victims who did not get into concerts, ‘Were you aware you were buying a resold ticket?’, and them replying, ‘No, I just went to Google’, how crucial the position of Google was in that fight,” he explains.
“You had these websites misleading customers about their reliability, calling themselves ‘official’ ticket sellers, but they needed the cooperation of Google to get where they are. When people end up on a resale website, 90% of the seller’s misleading work is already done, so Google played a big part.”
Responding to pressure from promoters’ associations and politicians in Spain, Britain and more, Google announced in December it will, as of this month, include ticket resellers in its ‘other restricted businesses’ AdWords category, requiring them to be certified with Google before they can advertise through its AdWords service, which is key to topping search results. To be certified, secondary ticketers must, among other things, make clear they are not the primary seller of the ticket and list the face value of the tickets being resold.
The campaign in Spain was spearheaded by APM and Neo Sala’s Doctor Music, with FanFair Alliance also pressuring Google in the UK and promoters such as Michael Chugg and Michael Gudinski leading the fight in Australia.
“You were unaware of this, but now you know – so it’s up to you to do something about it”
Rossy says his interpretation of the Spanish criminal code led him to believe that Google was unwittingly breaking the law itself by serving as a “mediator” between fraudulent ticket resellers and consumers.
“But they were not aware, so we decided to go to Google and inform them officially,” he explains. Rossy and APM set up their first meeting with Google in May, and discovered execs were “honestly surprised” how their search engine was being used to facilitate ticket resale: “they had no idea”.
Another letter (“a long one”) followed in November, outlining “four different types of crime I believe most resale websites were committing and they [Google] were cooperating with”.
“We told them, if you go to any big event or concert and stand at the gate and ask people where they got their tickets from, you’d realise just how important Google is to misleading people,” he says. “I offered them all the information we had, from hundreds of victims [of ticket fraud or voided resold tickets] and said, ‘I’m sure most of them would be happy to come here and discuss it with you.'”
“They were completely honest – that was my impression – and obviously Google doesn’t want to test the limits of the law,” Rossy continues, “so I was sure they would want to be on the right side of this.
“And that’s why I pushed them with the letter in November: I said, ‘I believe you were unaware of this, but now you know – so it’s up to you to do something about it.”
“When people end up on a resale website through Google, 90% of the seller’s work is already done”
Rossy doesn’t take sole credit for the sweeping changes announced in December, saying FanFair are also “doing a great thing” in the UK and that Google may have been planning an overhaul of its AdWords policy anyway. “I don’t know to what extent we changed things,” he says. “But I’m sure we gave them a push.”
While he echoes the sentiments of FanFair and the MMF in welcoming the new restrictions, Rossy says, “like anything”, there is still room for improvement – taking particular issue with the term “secondary ticketing”, which he believes is misleading for consumers.
“I don’t like the language of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’, which isn’t understood by most ordinary fans,” he explains. “I would prefer Google to require ticket sellers to use the terms ‘official’ and ‘resale’ instead: I like calling a spade a spade!”
He would also like to see a requirement that secondary sites include a disclaimer that buying resold tickets is never 100% secure – as well as forbidding them from selling tickets to shows where resale is expressly forbidden.
Despite this, Rossy emphasises that the new AdWords policy is “very positive” step forward for consumers – and that Google’s flexibility on the issue shows its willingness to work with the industry in the future.
“These potential improvements do not overshadow the fact that these measures prove Google is on the side of both the music industry and consumers,” he concludes. “And I am sure they will be receptive to any future suggestions.”
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