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Convicted touts sentenced to 6.5 years in prison

A pair of internet ticket touts have been sentenced to a combined six-and-a-half years in prison, in the first case of its kind in the UK against fraudulent resellers.

Peter Hunter and David Smith, who operated as the company BZZ Limited, received four years and 30 months in jail respectively, following an investigation by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, and trail at Leeds Crown Court.

Earlier this month, jurors found Hunter and Smith guilty of fraudulent trading – for the resale of tickets that were invalid, at risk of being refused or that they did not own, and reducing the number of tickets available to consumers at face value – as well as of possessing an article for use in fraud – for using ticket bots and credit or debit cards under different names.

The pair committed offences between May 2010 and December 2017, making a net profit of £3.5 million in the last two years of fraud alone, buying and reselling tickets to concerts by artists including Ed Sheeran, McBusted, Taylor Swift and Coldplay, as well as to shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

According to the National Trading Standards, Hunter and Smith used almost 100 different names, 88 postal addresses and more than 290 emails to evade detection, as well as using specialist software including bots, Insomniac Browser, Omni Checker and Roboform and taking steps to circumvent captchas or IP address detection.

“This is an important milestone in the fight to tackle online ticket touts who fraudulently buy and resell tickets to thousands of victims to line their own pockets,” comments Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards.

“It’s a fantastic result for music lovers across the UK, and should also send shockwaves through the likes of Viagogo and StubHub”

“Today’s sentences send a strong message to similar online ticket touts: these are criminal offences that can lead to prison sentences. I hope this leads to a step-change in the secondary ticketing market, making it easier and safer for consumers buying tickets in the future.”

Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-tout group FanFair Alliance, says that the sentences “a major blow to online ticket touts who break the law and rip off the public.

“It’s a fantastic result for National Trading Standards and for music lovers across the UK, and should also send shockwaves through the likes of Viagogo and StubHub whose businesses are dependent upon large-scale resellers.

“By facilitating the activities of online touts, there must be concerns that the platforms themselves are profiting from the sale of tickets unlawfully acquired by their biggest suppliers.

“This should be investigated as a matter of urgency, and lead to action against those platforms if they have benefitted from the proceeds of criminality.”

Viagogo last week announced it had ‘completed’ its US$4 billion all-cash acquisition of StubHub, although the merger still needs approving by regulatory bodies, including the UK’s CMA, before they can operate as one entity.

Photo: Markus Hillgärtner/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

 


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Advertising Standards secures changes to Viagogo pricing

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has revealed today that it has secured “significant changes” to controversial secondary ticketer Viagogo’s website, replacing what they deemed “misleading” pricing information with “transparent” figures.

The news follows the ASA’s decision back in May to list the ticketing website as a “non-compliant online advertiser,” for failing to state all fees associated with tickets upfront. The authority had received 23 complaints, some from the campaign group FanFair Alliance and promoters Festival Republic and Kilimajaro Live, taking issue with the website’s pricing strategy and its use of the word “official” in advertisements.

Under the new pricing arrangements, Viagogo will state “one single price … at the start of the consumer journey”, including VAT and booking fees

The ASA confirmed in a statement today that it has worked with the website “to bring about these material changes.” Under the new pricing arrangements, Viagogo will state “one single price […] at the start of the consumer journey” – which will include VAT and booking fees. With these amendments, the ASA has withdrawn its sanctions against Viagogo, including its referral of the secondary ticketer to National Trading Standards.

The decision does not, however, have any effect on the court proceedings brought against Viagogo by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Last week, the British competition authority marked the end of its year-long investigation into the Geneva-based company by announcing it would be launching proceedings against Viagogo for its continued failure to “overhaul the way [it does] business.”

 


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2017: The year in review

Missed our regular news updates this year (or recently emerged, Brendan Frasier in Blast from the Past-style, from a nuclear fallout shelter)? Team IQ are logging off for Christmas – so here, in no particular order, are some of the key stories that shaped the year in live music…

#UsToo
In a story that’s set to continue into the new year and beyond, the final few months of 2017 have seen #MeToo – the campaign to stamp out sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, spurred by the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein – cross over into the music business, with a growing number of female musicians and execs reporting similar behaviour in our industry.

IQ asked in October if live music has a “Harvey Weinstein problem”, and a number of prominent international female industry figures told us they, too, have been subject to, or witnessed, inappropriate behaviour or sexual assault while working in the live business.

Since then, organised movements campaigning against sexual misconduct in music have sprung up in Sweden (#närmusikentystnar, ‘when the music stops’), Australia (#meNOmore) and the UK (Stop 2018), while the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) has launched a dedicated, confidential helpline for victims of sexual harassment in the electronic music business.

In the agency world, meanwhile, reps from all major multinational agencies told IQ last month they are intensifying their efforts to ensure the safety of their employees and clients – and CAA has confirmed to IQ it has cancelled its annual Friday pre-Golden Globes party in order to establish a legal defence fund for sexual harassment cases.

Annus terror-bilis
The Manchester Arena attack, the shootings at Route 91 Harvest and BPM Festival, the Reina nightclub bombing and other attacks on innocent fans of live entertainment this year will forever live in infamy – and remain a stark reminder that, despite increased security and the willingness of fans to keep coming to shows, they remain attractive targets for terrorism.

What should also be remembered, however, is the way the industry responded to the evil of these attacks: From the One Love Manchester and We are Manchester charity concerts to the candlelit vigils and fundraising for victims of the Route 91 Harvest attack, those working in live music, just as after the Bataclan attack, stepped up to plate to lend a hand to the victims and all those affected.

Those working in live music stepped up to plate to help to victims of terror

Festival FUBARs…
Who could forget Fyre Festival? Cancelled flights, limp cheese sandwiches and disaster relief tents? A festival that went so badly wrong it’s become a byword for badly organised events – the Giant Cheeseboard, for example, was only this week called “London’s answer to Fyre Festival” – and its promoter arrested by the FBI?

Yes, Fyre Festival this year became the gold standard for festival disasters, but it wasn’t alone. The inaugural Hope & Glory festival – described in the NME as “Fyre Festival with none of the lols” – was called off on its second day amid reports of bottlenecking, queues for facilities and sets being cancelled or running over, while Y Not Festival was cancelled after the site turned into a mudbath as a result of heavy rain.

Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival 2017, meanwhile, was axed with less than two months to go, after its parent companies were placed into administration with debts of almost $10m.

… and tours de force
Despite these headline-grabbing disasters, however, the 2017 summer festival season was a largely successful one compared to last year, when severe weather, including lightning strikes, forced the cancellation of open-air events in Europe and North America.

The organisers of festivals as diverse as Trsnmt (UK), Haven (Denmark), Download (UK), Istanbul Jazz Festival (Turkey), Hurricane/Southside (Germany), Baloise Session and OpenAir St Gallen (both Switzerland), Lollapalooza Paris (France) and BST Hyde Park (UK) all reported healthy attendances in 2017 – and IQ’s recent European Festival Report 2017 revealed that despite increased competition, a majority of the continent’s festival operators feel optimistic about the future of their events.

A majority of Europe’s festival operators feel optimistic about the future of their events

Nation-building
By IQ’s reckoning, Live Nation/Ticketmaster made three more acquisitions than in 2016, when eight companies came under the Live Nation Entertainment umbrella, further bolstering its credentials as the world’s largest live entertainment company.

They were: Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion (venue) in December; United Concerts (promoter) in October; Strobe Labs (data platform) in August; Openair Frauenfeld (festival) in July; Isle of Wight Festival in March; Bluestone Entertainment (promoter) and Ticketpro (ticket agency) in February; and Metropolis Music (promoter) Cuffe & Taylor (promoter), Bottlerock Napa Valley (festival) and CT Touring (promoter) in January.

Rain-grey town, known for its sound…
An IQ/Songkick study revealed in September that the British capital is by far Europe’s live music capital by number of events – and the third-biggest concert market in the world, behind only New York and Los Angeles.

There were 19,940 total live music events in London in 2016 – more than San Francisco (13,672), Paris (11,248) and Chicago (11,224) – and the city is on course to hold its no1 spot in 2017.

Looking ahead to 2018, a raft of new festivals looks set to further cement London’s status as the live music capital of Europe, with AEG and Live Nation/Festival Republic both planning new events and local councils opening up more green space to meet the growing demand for live entertainment.

Live Nation/Ticketmaster made three more acquisitions than in 2016

Google to touts: Don’t be evil
Google last month dealt what could be a fatal blow to the likes of Viagogo and Seatwave, announcing that from January 2018 secondary ticketing sites would be subject to stringent restrictions on their use of Google AdWords.

Under the new measures – which come on the back of UK politicians accusing sites such as Viagogo, StubHub, Seatwave and Get Me In! of violating Google’s Adwords policies on misrepresentation, and increased scrutiny of ticket touting in Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, Ireland and more – Google will force ticket resellers to list the face value of tickets, make clear they are resale sites and stop implying they are an ‘official’ seller or lose access to AdWords.

Google’s crackdown comes as national authorities, especially in the UK, continue to make life harder for touts, with National Trading Standards last week making four arrests as part of an investigation into the “practices of businesses that buy and sell tickets in bulk”.

The end of the road for ‘industrial-scale’ secondary ticketing, or merely another hurdle to be overcome? Time will tell…

Agency turntable
The booking agency world continued to consolidate in 2017 with a number of acquisitions, mergers and partnerships. Notable was Paradigm which 
entered into a strategic partnership with the UK’s X-Ray Touring in April and acquired Chicago- and California-based agency Monterey International in August.

Among other moves, July saw Helsinki-based Fullsteam Agency announce that it had acquired Rähinä Live, while September saw K2 Agency swoop for Factory Music. Meanwhile, the ongoing merry-go-round of agents swapping desks between companies continued – and if rumours are to be believed, 2018 will see this trend continue apace.

The booking agency world continued to consolidate in 2017 with a number of acquisitions, mergers and partnerships

In memoriam
In addition to the beloved performers we lost in 2017 (RIP Tom Petty, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Greg Allman and many others), several equally revered live music business figures also passed away this year.

Peter Rieger, the founder of Cologne-based promoter Peter Rieger Konzertagentur (PRK), died on 29 January at the age of 63 – “far too young,” said friend and colleague John Giddings. “This has been a sad and dismal week,” added manager and former agent Ed Bicknell. “I’ve lost three dear pals: John Wetton of King Crimson, Asia and UK, Deke Leonard of Man, and now Peter. […] He was a total professional, a pleasure to deal with and funny – definitely funny. Which is what every promoter needs: a sense of humour.”

Another live industry veteran who passed far too young was tour manager, artist liaison and ILMC’s longtime producer, Alia Dann Swift, who died aged 57 in May. “She was the best,” said CAA’s Emma Banks. “A beautiful human being, a great friend, a smart and an inspiring woman.”

“Alia was renowned for her warmth, her tireless support of those around her, a perennial sense of humour and a no-nonsense approach,” added ILMC head Greg Parmley. “She was a widely loved and respected figure in the touring world who will be deeply and entirely missed.”

The live music world was once again rocked in August by the shock death of well-liked Primary Talent co-founder Dave Chumbley after a short illness.

“Dedicated to his artists to a fault, Dave was responsible for many hugely successful careers in the global music industry,” said manager Terry Blamey, with whom Chumbley worked for years representing Kylie Minogue. “He was a talented, wonderful man taken from us way to soon. Lynn and I loved him like a brother, dear friend, and we will miss him dreadfully.”

Other tragic losses to the business in 2017 included ShowSec founder Mick Upton, tour travel agent Mary Cleary, Israeli promoter Shmuel Zemach, Reading Festival founder Harold Pendleton, Washington, DC, promoter Jack Boyle and Live Nation Belgium booker Marianne Dekimpe.

 


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UK Trading Standards arrests four in anti-tout raids

British consumer protection body National Trading Standards has made four arrests as part of its investigation into the business activities of large-scale secondary ticket sellers.

The existence of the investigation, which began in April 2017 and focuses on “businesses that buy and sell tickets in bulk”, was revealed last month when news broke that competition watchdog CMA had raided the London offices of StubHub and Viagogo. It is believed to be codenamed ‘Operation Electra’.

The arrests are linked to alleged breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations act of 2008, the UK version of the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which seeks to protect consumers from “unfair, misleading or aggressive selling practices”.

While National Trading Standards has not named the four individuals, or the companies they represent, Viagogo in particular has been criticised for masquerading as an ‘official site’ for concert tickets, which could potentially breach the 2008 legislation. It was also recently criticised by French authorities for allegedly misleading consumers on the number of tickets available by suggesting they are about to sell out.

“Yesterday (Tuesday 12 December), officers from National Trading Standards conducted raids at a number of properties across the UK,” a National Trading Standards spokesperson says in a statement. “These raids are part of an ongoing investigation looking into unfair practices in the secondary ticketing market and particularly the practices of businesses that buy and sell tickets in bulk.

“These raids are part of an ongoing investigation looking into unfair practices in the secondary ticketing market”

“A total of four properties were raided and four people were arrested under suspicion of breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. In addition to the arrests, a range of equipment, including computers, mobile phones and storage devices, have been seized as evidence.

“The raids, led by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, were supported by local police, specialist police officers and the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team.

“National Trading Standards has also been working closely with the Competition and Markets Authority, which announced on 28 November that it will take action against secondary ticketing websites suspected of breaking consumer protection law.”

National Trading Standards declined to comment further.

“FanFair Alliance welcomes what sounds like a comprehensive raid by National Trading Standards,” reads a statement from the anti-touting campaign group. “With new legislation due for enforcement in 2018, and the Competition and Markets Authority promising action against secondary ticketing sites that break consumer protection laws, this should mark the beginning of a long-awaited clean-up of this market.”

 


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