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No more payouts for ticket touts?

19 April 2017

Ticket touts are exploiting sports and entertainment fans by artificially inflating ticket prices. Will the recent amendments to the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) be effective at preventing this unfair practice?

What is ticket touting?

Ticket touting is the act of buying tickets for events such as concerts, theatre or sports, and reselling them at a much higher price, commonly through resale websites. Ticket touts often use digital purchasing technology to circumvent restrictions on the number of tickets that can be bought in order to "harvest" hundreds of tickets.

These tickets are then sold via the secondary market which is also used by fans who can no longer attend an event. As a result of touting, face value tickets sell out much faster and desperate fans are forced to pay well over the odds – an £85 ticket to last year's Adele concert in the O2 was allegedly selling for £24,840!

The secondary ticket sales industry is worth £1.2 billion in the UK alone. Whilst the secondary ticket market does not just consist of ticket touts, and arguably has many benefits, touts are profiting whilst making certain sporting and recreational events inaccessible to many. So what is actually being done to prevent this practice?

Current preventative measures

Various artists, such as Coldplay, Adele and Ed Sheeran, are becoming more vocal about ticket touts and some have taken action to stop the use of digital purchasing technology, albeit with little success. There are, however, reports of certain managers and artists colluding with secondary ticket outlets to prevent fans from being able to buy tickets at face value.

The theatre production Hamilton introduced a "ticketless" system, requiring a bank card and photographic ID for entry in order to combat touts, however this too has its flaws.

Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 it is illegal to resell football tickets without authorisation from the match organiser; however, there are no specific offences in England and Wales aimed at ticket touting for other recreational events.

Government Proposals

The House of Lords recently proposed amendments to the DEB to include measures preventing tickets being "harvested" by touts. The new DEB would give the Secretary of State the authority to create an offence for breaching the limits on ticket purchases for recreational, sporting or cultural events. The offence could carry an unlimited fine with the aim of negating the benefits of bulk resale for ticket touts as they would risk losing any profit made.

Other early proposals included a prison sentence and allowing the initial ticket issuer to bring court action to remove any advertised tickets which do not include sufficient information. However, these proposals did not make it into the Bill which is now to be considered by the Commons.

A key issue with the amended DEB is that many touts are based overseas and therefore may not be deterred by the creation of the offence in England and Wales.

Moreover, it is difficult to differentiate between ticket touts and sellers who genuinely can no longer attend an event. Currently, ticket sellers must provide the seat number and face value of the ticket under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Further proposals to strengthen the Act would force sellers to also publish their name and company details. These proposals are an important step towards targeting touts as these details will allow authorities to determine which sellers are selling tickets in bulk.

Fanfair Alliance, an organisation against ticket touting, has stated that the existing legislation aimed at increasing transparency on secondary ticketing websites, such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990, has rarely been enforced by the government or other agencies. In order for the DEB to be effective, it would have to be strictly enforced with cooperation from both resale websites and the government to monitor whether ticket limits have been circumvented using digital purchasing technology.

Until these proposals are put into practice, it remains to be seen whether ticket touts will be stopped. Until then, better start saving for the next concert!