Why the US, UK and Google are imposing tough new restrictions on ticket resale companies, and what’s happening in SA
If you went to a high-profile concert, a theatrical pow-wow or a big sporting event in the last 10 years – especially overseas – you definitely spotted the old-school ticket touts. Clad in bulky coats, they marched up and down outside venues on the night in question, offering to buy your extra tickets or sell you last-minuters.
These guys today take the form of tech-savvy traders who use software (‘bots’) to grab online tickets as soon as they launch. The traders buy large numbers of tickets under false names, to the extent that the official seller indicates the show is a “sell-out”, which – you guessed it! – increases demand for tickets
Genuine fans, unable to get tickets, turn to Google, where (thanks to Google Ads) they’re directed to secondary ticket sites to buy above-face-value tickets – even if primary inventory remains available from authorised sellers.
Now, using the “common fan” theory, if resellers scoop up all the tickets for an event, the average person won’t be able to find and/or afford tickets.
Unfair? Definitely. Unethical? Sure. Illegal? Not really. Well, not until recently.
Google recently imposed tough new restrictions on ticket resale companies to prevent music and theatre fans paying above face value on secondary platforms.
For starters, platforms can’t claim to be “official” sources of tickets in Google results, if they are selling tickets second-hand. They also have to disclose – in a prominent position on their respective sites – if their ticket prices are higher than face value.
Google explains that these measures aim to “protect customers from scams [by fraudsters who set up websites selling non-existent tickets and pay for a slot on Google before disappearing with fans’ money] and prevent potential confusion”.
Ticket tout ‘bots’ have been outlawed as “unfair and deceptive practice” in the US, where using software to buy bulk tickets from primary sites can result in jail time.
But, while bots are definitely part of the problem, experienced touts have other ways to access large quantities of tickets to in-demand events. They can employ individuals to buy them online, for instance.
A new Florida law attempts to address this issue, too, by making it illegal to hoard tickets for an event that has ticket purchase limits; that is, one that restricts the number of tickets a single individual can buy.
Under the Digital Economy Act, the UK Government has passed legislation to ban the use of ‘bots’ for buying bulk tickets, making this a criminal offence. The reselling of tickets won’t be completely illegal, but selling them at unreasonable prices will be.
What’s more, anyone selling tickets must show the row and seat number, the face value of the ticket, relevant age restrictions, and the name of the original vendor.
And what about individuals who’ve bought more tickets than they need, and want to off-load a few? Fans can still on-sell tickets they don’t want, but law-makers hope that they’ll be doing so in a functioning secondary market that is fair – not skewed.
What about here in South Africa? Well, ticket touting is not specifically prohibited by either our legislation or our common law, but it is usually prohibited in the Ts & Cs of primary ticket sellers like Computicket.
Where common law can come to the aid of a consumer against a ticket tout is via the law of contract’s Misrepresentation and Fraud rules. Additionally, some provisions of the Consumer Protection Act come into play:
- Section 29 prohibits “misleading, fraudulent or deceptive marketing”, which can include not informing consumers that they are purchasing tickets from a secondary seller or that the tickets are at a higher price.
- Section 41 deals with examples of what would constitute false, misleading or deceptive representation, stipulating that the supplier must state its status, affiliation, connection, sponsorship, or approval.
Ticket buyers, be aware of where you’re getting your tickets from. Conduct your own “due diligence” on the platform that appears in your internet search:
- Consider whether the first, second or third website result that comes up is actually a paid Google advert. It’s easy to detect this: look for the word “Ad” to the left of the URL.
- Determine who the primary ticket seller is. If it’s not the website you’ve been directed to, proceed with caution.
- Know the face value of the ticket you wish to buy. If the website is selling the ticket/s at a premium of more than 10%, don’t purchase the ticket (as it could be being sold in an illegal fashion).
- Carefully read the wording on the website you’ve been directed to. Terms like “official reseller” should set off alarm bells.
- If you’re the unfortunate victim of a scam, know that you’re probably not alone. There could be many victims like you. Consider forming a group and suing the platform in a class action claim, where the costs of the claim are shared among all the victims.
- Think before you put your credit or debit card details into a website’s payment system, and ensure that the website is a secure one; i.e. it should start with https.
- If you’re planning on selling your unwanted ticket/s, check the terms and conditions that apply to the particular ticket vendor – you may find that these Ts and Cs restrict such resale, or only under certain conditions.
Good luck, and (of course) enjoy the show.