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Sofar Sounds to pay $460,000 to unpaid workers

Sofar Sounds will distribute more than US$460,000 among people who worked its concerts for free between 2016 and 2019, after agreeing a settlement with New York state’s Department of Labor.

The department opened an investigation into Sofar – which promotes ‘secret gigs’ in living rooms and other intimate, non-traditional concert venues – last September, amid concerns it violated local laws by using volunteers to staff its events.

New York labour standards dictate that a person may generally only do unpaid work only for non-profit organisations, with exemptions for certain “short-term recreational or amusement event[s]”. Virgin-backed Sofar is a for-profit company, and raised a further $25 million last May.

Sofar Sounds raises $25m…but are artists being short-changed?

A Department of Labor spokesperson tells Variety that Sofar now uses only paid employees, or ‘ambassadors’ for its shows. “The settlement came in the wake of a Department of Labor investigation which revealed that 654 Sofar Sounds ‘ambassadors’ were never compensated for work performed at SoFar events between 2016 and 2019,” they say.

“When the Department of Labor opened its investigation, Sofar cooperated fully and immediately changed its business model. Sofar now staffs all its events with paid employees. The company also agreed to immediately compensate ambassadors who provided any unpaid work.”

“Sofar now staffs all its events with paid employees”

Founded in London in 2009, Sofar Sounds is active in some 450 cities worldwide, including London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Seoul. It has hosted over 20,000 shows over the past decade, including early performances by Billie Eilish, Bastille, Leon Bridges and Hozier.

“Today’s agreement with the New York State Department of Labor stipulates no admission of guilt or wrongdoing and confirms our operating model is fully compliant with New York state law,” reads a statement from Sofar Sounds. “We thank them for working collaboratively with us in New York, Sofar’s biggest US market.

“We are excited about resolving these issues and moving forward in 2020, with a continued focus on connecting local and independent musicians with passionate music fans.”

 


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Live Nation shares up 10% post DOJ settlement

Live Nation’s share price rose by US$6.79 to $70.60 yesterday (Thursday 19 December) following news that it had reached a settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) over antitrust allegations.

The DOJ had opened investigations into Live Nation last Friday over concerns that the company had violated the terms of a decree governing its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster.

Both Live Nation and Ticketmaster refuted all allegations of anti-competitive practice.

As part of the settlement, the DOJ is extending and modifying the decree that permits the merger, and which was set to expire next year, until 2025. The justice department calls the agreement the “most significant enforcement action of an antitrust decree in 20 years”.

Following the news, Live Nation’s stock, which had dropped to around $64 per share following news of the DOJ investigation, rebounded to the levels it had been trading at before, jumping almost 10% to just over $70. Shares remained up at $69.83 at the time of writing.

“We believe this is the best outcome for our business, clients and shareholders as we turn our focus to 2020 initiatives”

“We have reached an agreement in principle with the Department of Justice to extend and clarify the consent decree,” comments a Live Nation spokesperson. “We believe this is the best outcome for our business, clients and shareholders as we turn our focus to 2020 initiatives.”

Under the terms of the modified agreement, Live Nation is prohibited from pressuring venues to use Ticketmaster and from withholding shows from a venue if it chooses to go with another ticketer. An independent party will monitor Live Nation’s compliance with the decree, and a $1 million fine will be levied for any violation of the agreement.

“When Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010, the Department of Justice and the federal court imposed conditions on the company in order to preserve and promote ticketing competition,” says assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

“Today’s enforcement action including the addition of language on retaliation and conditioning will ensure that American consumers get the benefit of the bargain that the United States and Live Nation agreed to in 2010. Merging parties will be held to their promises and the Department will not tolerate transgressions that hurt the American consumer.”

The full DOJ statement can be read here.

 


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Coroner: ‘inadequacies’ caused Radiohead drum tech death

An investigation has found that “inherent deficiencies” in design and construction led to the stage collapse that claimed the life of Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson in 2012.

The conclusions of the inquest, which took place in Johnson’s hometown of Doncaster in the UK, come after those of a previous investigation in Toronto, where the fatal incident took place.

Johnson was killed when a stage roof collapsed before a Radiohead show at Downsview Park in Canada.

“Inadequate technical advice coupled with wholly inadequate construction techniques led to the collapse of the roof system which led to Scott Johnson’s death,” stated coroner Nicola Mundy at the UK inquest.

“It’s quite clear from what I have heard that the design and construction itself had inherent deficiencies within them”

“It’s quite clear from what I have heard that the design and construction itself had inherent deficiencies within them.”

Speaking at the inquest, Ken Johnson, the father of the drum technician, stated that the coroner’s comments were “exactly what we needed someone to say” and should enable an acknowledgement of the “negligence” that led to the fatal accident.

A previous Toronto-held inquest returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’ in April, a conclusion that Radiohead deemed “frustratingly insufficient” given that the collapse was “shown to be preventable”.

The Canadian inquest also resulted in a set of non-binding recommendations for improving safety at live events.

A court case brought against Live Nation, Optex Staging and stage engineer Domenic Cugliari was stayed in 2017.

 


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LA Opera, IFPI investigate ‘Opera King’ sexual misconduct

The Los Angeles Opera and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) have launched separate investigations into opera superstar Plácido Domingo, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.

Multi Grammy award-winning singer and conductor Domingo has served as general director of the LA Opera since 2003 and as IFPI chairman since 2011.

On Tuesday (13 August), the Associated Press reported that nine women in the opera industry had come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Domingo, spanning over three decades. Seven of the nine claim they felt their careers would have been jeopardised if they rejected Domingo’s advances.

A further six individuals told the AP that “suggestive overtures” by the singer had made them feel uncomfortable. Only one of the subjects, retired opera singer Patricia Wulf, allowed her name to be used in the report.

In response to the reports, the LA Opera is hiring a third party counsel to investigate “the concerning allegations”, as the IFPI launches its own “formal inquiry” into the accusations.

The Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera have cancelled upcoming performances by Domingo.

The singer had been invited to appear at the opening gala for the Philadelphia Orchestra on September 18, and was also set to make his 50th anniversary appearance with the San Francisco Opera on October 6.

“I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual”

New York’s Metropolitan Opera is awaiting the results of investigations “before making any final decisions” regarding Domingo, who is to perform in three operatic productions of Macbeth next month.

The opera star will appear at the Salzburg Festival in Austria as planned on 31 August. Festival president Helga Rabl-Stadler said it would be “factually wrong and morally irresponsible to make irreversible judgements at this point.”

Domingo calls the allegations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.”

“Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable – no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual,” continues Domingo in a statement issued to the AP.

“People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone. However, I recognise that the rules and standards by which we are – and should be – measured against today are very different than they were in the past.”

The opera singer has upcoming European dates in Hungary, Switzerland, Russia, Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland.

 


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Cisac expels controversial Spanish member

The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (Cisac) has voted to expel Spanish society SGAE for a one-year period, following the society’s failure to convince the body of its “commitment to reform”.

The decision to expel SGAE, known as the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores, was made at Cisac’s annual assembly in Tokyo. The expulsion follows Cisac’s resolution to undertake a sanctions process against SGAE in December, “in view of the society’s breaches of Cisac rules”.

The expulsion is set to last for one year but “can be adjusted or lifted at any time”, provided that the Cisac board of directors concludes that SGAE has made sufficient progress towards implementing its requirements. Cisac recommended a series of changes to its rogue Spanish member following an in-depth investigation which concluded in May last year.

“Today’s vote to proceed with the sanction of a one-year expulsion follows an in-depth analysis of recent reforms set in motion by SGAE’s new President, Ms Pilar Jurado,” reads a Cisac statement.

“Further important technical work and changes are needed and expected by CISAC to ensure SGAE’s compliance with the Confederation’s professional rules”

“While a number of welcome changes have been proposed, they have not yet been approved by the SGAE General Assembly. Further important technical work and changes are needed and expected by CISAC to ensure SGAE’s compliance with the Confederation’s professional rules for member societies.”

SGAE appointed Spanish soprano singer Pilar Jurado as president in February following a vote of no confidence against former chief José Ángel Hevia, who held the position for just three months.

Jurado states that “Cisac is giving SGAE the opportunity to decide its own future”, and called on members to support her proposed reforms in the General Assembly in order for the society “to leave this situation behind us”.

Earlier this week, minister of culture José Guirao demanded SGAE produce a detailed outline of the steps it would take to comply with regulations. Failure to do so would result in intervention from the court.

SGAE has been at the centre of a scandal known as the wheel, or ‘la rueda’, for a number of years. The scam, which saw SGAE members and TV execs create “low-quality music” to broadcast on late-night TV, allegedly brought in several millions in performance royalties over the years.

 


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TM promises review as TradeDesk lawsuits mount

Ticketmaster is facing multiple class-action lawsuits and a grilling by US senators as the fall-out from last week’s Toronto Star report continues.

The world’s largest ticket seller was accused by the Star, which conducted a joint investigation with CBC News, of enabling professional resellers to bulk-buy primary inventory and then sell it on the secondary market using its TradeDesk platform, with the covert approval of Ticketmaster employees. The company described the allegations as “categorically untrue”, denying it has “any program[me] in place to enable resellers to acquire large volumes of tickets at the expense of consumers”.

According to the Star, Canada’s Merchant Law Group – which announced in January it is suing Ticketmaster/Live Nation over alleged ‘drip fees’ levied on tickets – is now expanding the suit to include the TradeDesk allegations, while south of the border Hagens Berman is also inviting affected consumers to join a class action seeking damages over what it calls “Ticketmaster’s TradeDesk scalping scheme”.

US senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal – chairman and ranking member of the US Senate commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, insurance and data security, respectively – are also seeking answers from Ticketmaster, writing to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino for clarification on the “serious” allegations made in the piece.

“Allegations of the harms to consumers made in this piece are serious and deserve immediate attention”

“CBC News reported that Ticketmaster […] recruits and employs professional ticket scalpers to circumvent the ticket purchasing limits on its own primary ticket sales platform in an effort to expand its ticket resale division,” the senators write. “According to the article, Ticketmaster utilizes [sic] a professional reseller program called TradeDesk, which provides a web-based inventory for scalpers to effectively purchase large quantities of tickets from Ticketmaster’s primary ticket sales website and resell these tickets for higher prices on its own resale platform.”

“Citing examples of TradeDesk users moving up to several million tickets per year, the allegations of the harms to consumers made in this piece are serious and deserve immediate attention,” they add.

Moran and Blumenthal have given Rapino a deadline of 5pm on 5 October to respond.

In a statement issued yesterday, Ticketmaster North America president Jared Smith again denied claims the company “has a secret programme to collude with scalpers at the expense of fans”, saying reports to the contrary are based on a “limited understanding of a Ticketmaster product called TradeDesk”.

“Let me be absolutely clear and definitive that Ticketmaster does not have, and has never had, any programme or product that helps professional resellers gain an advantage to buy tickets ahead of fans. Period,” says Smith (pictured). “We would never make anything like that, which would go against the very core of who we are and what we do. And that’s simply not what TradeDesk is.”

“Ticketmaster has never had any programme or product that helps professional resellers gain an advantage to buy tickets ahead of fans”

He continues: “TradeDesk is Ticketmaster’s version of an inventory management tool for professional ticket resellers (brokers). It is neither secret nor unique to Ticketmaster. Like StubHub’s product called Ticket Utils or Vivid Seat’s Skybox, TradeDesk is used by brokers to manage tickets they already have. All of these tools organise a broker’s ticket inventory so the tickets can be priced and listed for sale on various ticket marketplaces, not just on Ticketmaster as was suggested. These tickets could have come from Ticketmaster, from other ticketing systems or could have been purchased directly from a team, a venue or another reseller. TradeDesk is overwhelmingly used to manage season tickets for sporting events.

“TradeDesk is not a scheme to help Ticketmaster sell tickets twice. In fact, less than 4% of the concert tickets we sell each year are listed and sold again on Ticketmaster. What does make TradeDesk unique, however, is that it offers an integration with Ticketmaster for validating tickets that are uploaded to it. As a result, our integrated marketplace is fundamentally different than all the others – safer, more transparent and where each resale ticket is clearly identified and required to be 100% verified before ever being listed for sale.

“We are aware that many people don’t believe we should be working with ticket brokers at all. But as long as there is a massive disconnect between supply and demand in live event tickets, there is going to be a secondary market. Choosing not to participate would simply push resale back to those who care less than we do about artists and fans. The reality is, engaging brokers with a safer version of tools they could get from many other ticketing companies reduces fraud across the overall ticket market.”

Smith adds that Ticketmaster is “now in the process of reviewing all of our Ticketmaster accounts and expanding our review process to ensure all customers are in compliance with our terms of service”, which set out a limit on the number of tickets that can be purchased by any person, as well as prohibiting the creation of multiple accounts to get round the restrictions.

 


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CBC News details Ticketmaster investigation

A joint undercover investigation by CBC News and the Toronto Star has alleged that Ticketmaster is enabling professional resellers to list and sell inventory via its purpose-built TradeDesk platform.

In July, two journalists posing as scalpers attended Ticket Summit 2018 – a convention for ticket resellers – at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. There, employees from Ticketmaster’s resale division were filmed recruiting resellers and promoting TradeDesk, which allows the bulk uploading and listing of large quantities of tickets.

The CBC story comes just weeks after Ticketmaster announced that it was closing down its European resale operations including Get Me In! and Seatwave.

CBC reports that some brokers using Ticketmaster’s software had “literally a couple hundred of accounts,” to “work around” ticket limits on shows, while activity on TradeDesk was not subject to the same policing or checks by the company’s “buyer abuse” division.

During a conference session titled “We appreciate your partnership”, CBC reports that Ticketmaster Resale director, Casey Klein, described TradeDesk as “the most powerful ticket sales tool. Ever.”

“We’re not trying to build a better mousetrap”

A similar message was supposedly delivered in March during an online video demonstration. CBC reports a Ticketmaster employee as having said: “We’ve spent millions of dollars on this tool. The last thing we’d want to do is get brokers caught up to where they can’t sell inventory with us… We’re not trying to build a better mousetrap.”

CBC News has also published an article investigating sales for a Bruno Mars show in Toronto this weekend, which argues that Ticketmaster is incentivised to resell tickets because it collects fees on both the primary and secondary transactions.

UPDATE 21 Sept: After issuing an initial statement to the CBC News, Ticketmaster has since categorically denied the claims. The full statement is below:

“It is categorically untrue that Ticketmaster has any program in place to enable resellers to acquire large volumes of tickets at the expense of consumers. Ticketmaster’s Seller Code of Conduct specifically prohibits resellers from purchasing tickets that exceed the posted ticket limit for an event. In addition, our policy also prohibits the creation of fictitious user accounts for the purpose of circumventing ticket limit detection in order to amass tickets intended for resale.

“A recent CBC story found that an employee of Ticketmaster’s resale division acknowledged being aware of some resellers having as many as 200 TradeDesk accounts for this purpose (TradeDesk is Ticketmaster’s professional reseller product that allows resellers to validate and distribute tickets to multiple marketplaces). We do not condone the statements made by the employee as the conduct described clearly violates our terms of service.

“The company had already begun an internal review of our professional reseller accounts and employee practices to ensure that our policies are being upheld by all stakeholders. Moving forward we will be putting additional measures in place to proactively monitor for this type of inappropriate activity.”

 


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