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May 2 — Federal lawmakers have reintroduced a bill to stop ticket brokers from using illegal software called “bots” to snatch up large amounts of event tickets and sell them at marked-up prices.
The Better On-line Ticket Sales Act of 2016 (BOTS Act)—H.R. 5104—introduced by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Paul D. Tonko (D-N.Y.), would prohibit the use of ticket bots to circumvent security measures found on ticket sellers' websites to purchase concert and sporting tickets in large quantities. It would also prohibit the sale of tickets knowingly obtained through the software.
Ticket bots are a long-standing problem that block consumers from buying tickets at face value and allow ticket resellers to substantially raise prices even before tickets are released, according to an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (D) (21 ECLR 137, 2/3/16).
The bill coincides with Schneiderman's proposed state legislation April 28 to increase penalties for violation of ticket laws and make ticket bot use a criminal offense (see related story). One day earlier, the attorney general ordered six unlicensed ticket brokers to pay $2.7 million in fines for their use of bots to sell hundreds of thousands of tickets.
There appears to be a consensus that the use of ticket-buying bots is detrimental to consumers, John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA May 2. He expressed support for the legislation as a “very strong, pro-consumer bill.”
Michael McCann, a law professor and founding director of the University of New Hampshire's Sports and Entertainment Law Institute, told Bloomberg BNA May 2 that H.R. 5104 would help consumers who seek to buy tickets online but have been forced to pay higher prices due to price manipulation by bots. “The Act seems like sensible legislation at a time when fans and their families are already often required to pay steep ticket prices to attend games,” he said.
H.R. 5104 provides that the use of ticket bots would be treated as an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 57(a).
The bill excludes language from a previous version of the bill that would have allowed civil damages and criminal sanctions in the form of fines or imprisonment. That legislation, introduced in February 2015 (20 ECLR 486, 4/1/15), didn't see committee action.
Concerns were raised that this provision could be misapplied, a Blackburn spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA May 2. “We are certain that the FTC and civil courts will be a deterrent for this kind of activity,” she said.
“Scalpers have been taking advantage of computer hacking software (BOTS) to circumvent restrictions put in place by online ticketing agents for years,” Blackburn said in a statement. “It is time to end these anti-consumer tactics and level the online ticket playing field for fans of live entertainment.”
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Full text of H.R. 5104 at http://src.bna.com/eBH.
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