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National Trading Standards charges nine ticket touts in the UK, as Ticketmaster faces a class action over resale Stateside

By | Published on Tuesday 2 October 2018

Live Music

The people behind three UK-based ticket touting outfits are facing charges of money laundering and breaches of consumer rights law following investigations by National Trading Standards. Six people have appeared in court so far with three more facing similar charges. The companies run by the defendants are called Connoco, BZZ and Ticket Queen.

National Trading Standards is one of two UK government agencies that have been investigating the secondary ticketing market and whether players in it are compliant with consumer rights law, including the specific ticket resale regulations introduced by the 2015 Consumer Rights Act. The Competition & Markets Authority focused on the resale platforms like Seatwave, Get Me In, StubHub and Viagogo, while National Trading Standards investigated the conduct of people actually reselling tickets via these platforms.

Among the accused are Timothy Connor, who has been charged alongside his girlfriend and his parents, and who allegedly used multiple names, addresses, credit cards and bespoke software to hoover up large quantities of tickets from primary ticketing sites. Prosecutors say that, between June 2015 and December 2017, together they bought £2.3 million in tickets which they resold for £4.5 million, therefore pocketing £2.2 million for their efforts.

The two other people who have already appeared in court, Peter Hunter and David Smith, ran an even bigger operation, buying £4 million worth of tickets between June 2015 and February 2018, and selling them on for £10.8 million. The other three people facing similar charges have been named as Maria Chenery-Woods, Mark Woods and Linda Chenery.

Touting in itself is not illegal, of course, even if the resale is often in breach of the terms and conditions of the original ticket (and therefore allows the promoter to cancel said ticket). However, there are rules about how tickets are resold, in particular regarding what information is provided to a buyer before a sale takes place, and once touts become commercial operations there are other more general consumer rights laws to adhere to.

The prosecutions are related to raids conducted by National Trading Standards last year and various arrests that were subsequently made. At a court hearing in York six of the defendants indicated that they planned to plead not guilty to the charges they face.

Specifics of the three companies’ operations are not yet known but should come out if and when the actions get to court. It’s not known which resale platforms the defendants used to resell their tickets, although it’s thought that the always controversial Viagogo was likely involved. It will also be interesting to find out how the defendants sourced their tickets, and whether they relied on teams of people or bespoke software buying up large numbers of tickets from primary sites, or if they also had access to tickets through industry connections.

Elsewhere in the increasingly busy ticket touting courts, a class action has been filed Stateside in relation to Live Nation’s involvement in the secondary ticketing market via its Ticketmaster division. This follows all the hoo and the haa caused by a report in the Canadian media last month about a Ticketmaster employee who – while promoting a ticket inventory platform the company provides to touts – was very blasé indeed about his clients routinely breaking the rules on to access larger quantities of tickets.

Ticketmaster, of course, recently announced that it is bailing on the secondary ticketing business in Europe, shutting down its resale platforms Seatwave and Get Me In and joining the anti-tout brigade at all future discussions on resale. But its extensive resale operations continue in the US, where Ticketmaster President Jared Smith continues to defend his company’s involvement in both primary and secondary ticketing.

In interviews and a blog post following the Toronto Star and CBC report, Smith insisted that his company’s ticket inventory management platform, TradeDesk, had been misrepresented in many reports to suggest collusion between Ticketmaster and the touts. He stated in his blog post: “Let me be absolutely clear and definitive that Ticketmaster does not have, and has never had, any program or product that helps professional resellers gain an advantage to buy tickets ahead of fans”.

That hasn’t stopped American ticket-buyer Allen Lee from launching the class action lawsuit, which accuses Ticketmaster of colluding with touts because it can then charge two commissions, one on the original ticket sale and another on the resale.

Lee’s lawsuit states: “Companies should treat consumers fairly. But a company fails at this when it accepts kickbacks for secretly facilitating a shortage of its product and then a sale by a third party at a higher price. Ticketmaster does this in order to receive a second cut on tickets that is even more than the original cut Ticketmaster receives”.

Expanding on Lee’s arguments, one of the lawyers working on the case told reporters: “We believe that Ticketmaster’s highly controlled black market scheme to receive kickbacks from illicit secondary ticket sales violating its own terms of use constitutes unjust enrichment, and we intend to fight for the rights of anyone who has overpaid for tickets originally sold by Ticketmaster through a secondary ticket resale site involved in its scheme”.

Live Nation and Ticketmaster are yet to comment on the litigation.

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