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Google told to stop selling keywords to unofficial ticket sellers in France

By | Published on Friday 6 November 2020


A court in Paris has told Google that it cannot allow companies that are selling or reselling tickets to shows in France without a promoter’s permission to buy their way to the top of a list on the web giant’s search engine.

Those opposed to secondary ticketing have long criticised search engines, and especially Google, for their role in helping touts and resale platforms unofficially sell tickets to shows.

Platforms like Viagogo and StubHub have traditionally spent a lot of money with Google buying so called ‘keywords’. This often means that when people search for an artist’s name and the word “tickets” on the search engine, a Viagogo or StubHub page where touts are selling those tickets will come at the top of the search list.

Because many consumers don’t realise that the top listing on Google is often there because a company paid for it to be there, they are likely to assume that whichever website comes top of the list is the official seller of tickets for any one show. But, of course, if it’s a Viagogo or StubHub page that comes top, that’s definitely not the case.

Google itself has sought to overcome this confusion to an extent by mandating that secondary ticketing sites buying keywords must make it clear to customers that they are marketplaces for resellers, and not official primary ticketing agents.

Those rules have had some impact on some resale sites in terms of them better communicating their marketplace status. And at times Google has refused to sell keywords to Viagogo because it is not properly complying with the rules. However, many secondary ticketing critics would argue Google’s rules don’t go far enough and/or are not effectively enforced.

Anyway, back to France, which is notable for being a country that introduced pretty strict regulations of secondary ticketing all the way back in 2012. Under French law, it is illegal to sell tickets without the permission of an event’s promoter.

However, the question posed by French live industry trade group PRODISS in its recent legal battle with Google was as follows: does that law mean that the search engine is legally obliged to refuse to sell keywords to websites that are selling or reselling tickets to French events without the permission of the promoters?

Which is to say, did the web giant need to enforce the laws of France as well as the laws of Google when doing business with secondary ticketing companies?

In a judgement confirmed this week, a court in Paris answered that question with simple “oui”. Google is not allowed to sell keywords to advertisers selling or reselling tickets to French shows without a promoter’s permission. And that’s the rule whether the advertiser is based in France or not. Google now has a month to execute the ruling.

The French court also ruled that Google was liable for reputational damage in relation to people and companies operating in the live music business, as consumers may have been given the false impression that promoters and artists were benefiting from the price hikes that are common on the secondary ticketing market.

Commenting on the outcome of the PRODISS-led case, the pan-European campaign against for-profit ticket touting, FEAT, said the ruling “is significant as it is an acknowledgement of the role that advertising platforms play in illegal sales: far from being viewed as passive, they must accept responsibility for their role in facilitating illegal activity”.