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Government confirms bots ban and better enforcement in response to secondary ticketing review

By | Published on Monday 13 March 2017

Ticket touts

The government has announced that it accepts in full recommendations made by Professor Michael Waterson last year with regard to tackling the various issues around the secondary ticketing market, ie the resale of tickets at hiked up prices on online ticket touting platforms like Seatwave, Get Me In, Stubhub and Viagogo.

As previously reported, Waterson was asked to review the UK secondary ticketing market in the wake on the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which introduced some light regulation of the ticket resale sector. His resulting report said that some clarity was required regarding those new CRA regulations and the obligations of the resale sites in ensuring sellers complied with the law. He also said that a statutory body, probably National Trading Standards, needed to take on responsibility for enforcing the rules.

Waterson’s report was published less than a month before the EU referendum which, of course, resulted in a new government being formed in the UK, which in turn delayed ministers providing a formal response to the professor’s findings. Meanwhile, those in the music community who oppose rampant ticket touting formed the FanFair Alliance and stepped up their efforts to secure better regulation of the secondary market.

A lot of attention since then has been put on the use of so called bots by ticket touts, ie the software which enables them to buy up large quantities of tickets from the primary market as soon as they go on sale. When it was initially proposed that the in-development Digital Economy Bill be used to introduce a specific bots ban, the government initially was resistant, arguing that the use of such software was possibly already illegal under the Computer Misuse Act.

However, after a culture select committee session on secondary ticketing, in which reps of the secondary market did not perform well, a specific bots ban within the DEB was re-proposed, and the government is now formally supporting that. Touts who break the new law and continue to use such software to hoover up large numbers of tickets from primary sellers will face unlimited fines.

The government is also supporting other recommendations made by Waterson, in particular pledging investment to enable National Trading Standards to play a more proactive role in ensuring the CRA regulations are enforced.

Ministers will also put pressure on Viagogo, eBay’s StubHub and Live Nation’s Seatwave and Get Me In to do more to distinguish those reselling tickets on a commercial level from those who occasionally sell on a ticket here and there. Waterson pointed out that the former are already subject to extra consumer rights regulation, but the lack of transparency in the secondary ticketing market as to who is actually doing the selling makes it hard to enforce those extra rules on the industrial-level touts.

Confirming the government’s position on the bots, culture minister Matt Hancock said this weekend: “It’s unacceptable that touts are misusing technology to bypass security measures and buy up vast numbers of tickets before real fans get the chance, only to sell them on at rip-off prices. It’s a growing problem that affects too many people”. Meanwhile, on wider issues in the secondary market, he added: “Ticket sellers need to do more, by improving transparency and ensuring that they are acting in the best interests of consumers and help the market work for everyone”.

Waterson also called for reform of the primary ticketing market, even though that wasn’t technically part of his review’s remit. The Society Of Ticket Agents And Retailers said yesterday that its membership of primary ticketing agents had already responded to those comments in Waterson’s report, and therefore they welcomed the government’s commitment to force the secondary ticketing sector to do likewise.

STAR boss Jonathan Brown said: “Over the last ten months, STAR has been very focused on progressing the recommendations made to the primary ticket market in Professor Waterson’s excellent 2016 review of the secondary ticket market. STAR therefore very much welcomes the government’s commitment to improving the secondary ticket market for consumers by accepting and acting on the recommendations made by Professor Waterson”.

On the bots front, he added: “STAR has long advocated for legislation to specifically address the harvesting of tickets by automated software – ‘ticket bots’. We are therefore pleased that the government will be dealing with this issue through the Digital Economy Bill. However, we also know we need far greater understanding and technical defences against bots across the primary market to prevent against such attacks”.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned FanFair Alliance has welcomed the government’s new commitments, while thanking Sharon Hodgson MP – a long-time campaigner for more regulation of secondary ticketing – and Nigel Adams MP, who has been particularly prolific in this domain in the last year, for their help in making it happen.

The campaigning group said: “[The] government’s announcement will be music to the ears of UK audiences. It is also vindication for campaigners and performers, who have called for reform of this shadowy market for well over a decade. For too long now, the practices of the secondary ticketing platforms have enabled online touts to thrive and generate huge profits at the expense of fans”.

It went on: “A crackdown on the misuse of bot technology to bulk-buy tickets will be hugely important in helping clean up this market, but of equal significance is government’s blanket acceptance of recommendations in the Waterson Review which, if implemented, should lead to greater transparency. That aspect is absolutely vital. Only with proper enforcement of the law will this market work in favour of consumers”.