back to article Five years after US promised crackdown on ticket-snaffling bots, the first prosecutions are in... and are a slap on the wrist

Three ticket resellers have agreed to settle US government charges that they unlawfully used software bots to obtain music, theater, and sporting event tickets for markup and resale. On Friday, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission announced the first enforcement actions under the Better Online Ticket …

  1. mikus

    After all but legitimizing scalping after Ebay bought Stubhub, why bother even fighting it?

    How does one fight scalping? I stopped going to concerts or caring about the artists 20+ years ago.

    1. S4qFBxkFFg

      "How does one fight scalping?"

      It's very simple; price one's products at a point where scalpers cannot make worthwhile profits.

      If necessary, start selling at a higher price than the market will bear, gradually reducing until a sale is made.

      1. juice

        That sounds like a superb way to screw the bands and the fans at the same time.

        I mean, from a simple supply-and-demand perspective, raising the price to what the market can bear is basic economics 101.

        But this will cause negative blacklash from the fans who are priced out. And arguably, it won't actually affect scalpers, since there will always be people with enough money to buy a ticket regardless.


        In that particular example, fans of U2 were willing to pay five times the ticket value. For Britney Spears back in 2018, ticket touts were asking up to ten times the ticket value - or over a thousand pounds.

        (And annoyingly, the people with money (or contacts to get free entry) aren't always "true fans" either; I've been to many gigs where some asshats have stood and talked loudly throughout the entire gig - including the headline act, since they were just there to be seen. Or where the venue was thronged with full blown hipsters who were attending a sludge-doom-metal gig, simply because the band is meant to be the next big thing...)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up


          I can not upvote you enough.

  2. Magani
    Thumb Down

    Getting soft?

    ...the reduced penalties are because the defendants are unable to pay the full assessed amounts

    If you or I claimed we couldn't pay the full amount of a fine, do you think the beak would nicely ask us what we could afford? This bunch of leeches need time in The Big House to reflect.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Getting soft?

      Additionally, these companies entire business model is based on scalping, a shady business at best, so what's the issue with just fining them into the ground instead of allowing them a massive discount plus compliance conditions to allow them to continue trading?

      I can sort of understand it when an otherwise legitimate business gets a massive, business shutdown level of fine since that affects all the largely innocent employees and customers too, but these scalper companies are almost entirely operating in the realms of dark grey if not actually completely outside the law,

      1. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Getting soft?

        Maybe I have misunderstood but I thought a lot of these tickets were not permitted to be resold.

        Certainly there have been items in the news when concerts were still permitted about people with resold tickets being turned away.

        I don't know what the answer is but it is an increasing problem for all sorts of online purchases where there is limited supply and over demand. Look at the latest game console fiasco.

        Equally the chimps that are then prepared to spend huge amounts more than the actual price are just as much a part of the problem. Why the hell would you buy a games console that is priced at £399 for £999?

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Getting soft?

      Indeed, since when do you ask the condemned how much change he can spare for the fine ?

      If they go bankrupt then so be it. If you can't pay the fine, don't do the crime.

    3. Justin Clements

      Re: Getting soft?

      Hate to be pedantic, but in many cases yes, if you get a large fine, generally they will do a deal with you, either by reduction to something you can pay or by installments. Even if it's IRS, they will only collect on what you can afford. They take the attitude that something is better than nothing.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Getting soft?

        They also take the attitude that if you EVER do it again, they won't be "nice" a second time.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    With the resignation of FTC Chair Simon, President Biden will be able to swing the FTC into a 3-2 Democrat majority. That, and the changes in the Justice Department, might mean that the next time we might see a more equitable result.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Hope?

      I doubt that the changes will do anything. They've visited to topic and it will lie ignored for another decade. It needs to be solved outside of government.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hope?

      "President Biden will be able to swing the FTC into a 3-2 Democrat majority."

      Isn't it the job of the FTC to carry out government policy? It really should not come down to a committee or board voting on whether to comply with government policy or not. Yes, I understand that being obstructive or less compliant than required can be a "legal" way of showing your politics and level of (dis)agreement with the current administration, but when you have subordinates not doing what they are supposed to do, you fire them. You don't leave them in place. There are large numbers of competent people who are not politically motivated but you rarely hear of these people being put into these heavily politicized civil service posts.

      1. jason_derp

        Re: Hope?

        It really should not come down to a committee or board voting on whether to comply with government policy or not.

        Careful. One must not assume logic and sensibility are variables in the equation of operating an America.

  4. sanmigueelbeer

    because the defendants are unable to pay the full assessed amounts

    Defendants have very "good" accountants, in my opinion.

  5. MachDiamond Silver badge

    They got caught

    Ticketmaster hired a person from a rival firm, used credentials the new employee gave them to rummage through the competitors files. The other firm went out of business and TicketMaster was given a stern look as a punishment. It may continue in the courts, but they are still slime and should be fined out of existence.

    There are better ways. Tickets can be sold on an auction basis with minimum fees for the most sought after seats and maybe even zero starting prices for the nose bleed sections. Fans are given a week to bid. We all know the really good seats you aren't going to get unless you pay through the nose or get really lucky. With an auction format, the band and the venue are going to do even better than with tickets at a fixed price. With less desirable seats starting at zero, venues are more likely to sell out more shows. People that got really cheap or free seats are going to have more money to spend on concessions and merch. The parking lots will be full and local business will do well. The band will play to a full house, which is always nice. Fans that don't have much money will still get a chance to see a live show. Make the tickets refundable less a fee before a certain date and hold a last minute make up auction a set time before the show.

    All of this means scalpers aren't rewarded for coming up with clever ways to get tickets at face value and selling them on at a highly inflated price. The ticketing company, should the venue outsource, can be paid a set fee per show, per seat, etc. This would get rid of the "service fee", "convenience fee" and delivery fee that they charge which can add up to more than the face value on the ticket. It's insane to try and come up with a technical solution to keep out the bots and sweatshops full of people "buying" tickets. Somebody will keep coming up with a way to circumvent the roadblocks until it's too hard for an average person to buy tickets.

    1. silent_count

      Re: They got caught

      The amateur econ student in me likes the fundamentally sound idea of auctioning off tickets, but how would you go about getting a contiguous set of seats so you can take your family to a show/concert/whatever?

      There may well be a really simple solution which I'm overlooking but I'm tired and honestly can't see an answer.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: They got caught

        The auctions are for cancelled or otherwise unwanted tickets. If you want to take a family and choose a group of seats, you have to be at the initial sale. But this is assuming there is a way to stop the scaplers buying up all the tickets first or obtaining the unwanted ones in the first place.

      2. DJO Silver badge

        Re: They got caught

        There may well be a really simple solution which I'm overlooking

        Make it a criminal offence to sell a ticket for more than 25% over the original price (including all charges).

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Dishy Daylight Robbery of the Mentally Retarded .... No Needs for a Dick Turpin Mask

          Make it a criminal offence to sell a ticket for more than 25% over the original price (including all charges). .... DJO

          Such a sanction and charge for blatant black market profiteering [in olden days were the perps called spivs?] gets quite interesting if one considers the hard to deny it is not an almost exact copy clone that is 20% Value Added Tax.

          I suppose you're to think and accept that is something quite different whenever it certainly definitely isn't to every man, woman and child and slum dogs on the street.

          What a crazy world you allow yourselves to exist in and server.

    2. SGJ

      Re: They got caught

      I used to be the IT Manager of a sporting venue in the UK where demand for tickets exceeded supply. We used a lottery process for ticket sales. People could apply for tickets online up to a published deadline. After the deadline we would run an automated lottery which selected applications at random. This also gave time to review application to spot scalpers. This is a much fairer system than the first-come first-served system and I don't understand why it isn't more widely used.

    3. Adelio

      Re: They got caught

      What I woyuld like to do is ruing the venue an purchase tickets by phone, no markup as it is direct but unfortunatly it seems that a lot of venues outsourse ALL ticket sales so companies like ticketmaster get to fleece us.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

    Supply, demand. People pay a price they are willing to pay. If they are willing to pay more than base price, then the tickets were priced too low in the first place.

    If a venue wants to pre-allocate some tickets to special groups, then great! But when tickets are put on the open market, why can't bots buy them, and maybe make a profit; maybe make a loss.

    It's not as if we're talking critical medical equipment or medicines. Mind you, pharma is allowed to price gouge on life-or-death medications.. I guess the touts don't donate enough to the politicians.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

      So, you'd be happy with pay per mile toll roads and be prepared to pay $10 per mile on your commute so you can get to work on time? Or pay $1 per mile and get there outside rush hour and maybe get fired? Have you got a job or short enough commute where you can afford that $10 per mile? Is that economic with the higher housing costs closer to work? Or does none of the above affect you personally so you think it might be a good idea so long as it only affect other people?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

        What the hell has any of that got to do with buying tickets to see a concert?

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

          It's "Supply and Demand" applied to roads - It's what's called an "analogy".

          Albeit not a particularly good one but the point he's was making is quite clear.

          It addresses this stupid statement:

          If they are willing to pay more than base price, then the tickets were priced too low in the first place.

          If this was the case, if one very rich fan is prepared to pay £1000 for a £15 ticket then by that reasoning all the tickets should be sold for £1000 each which is plainly preposterous.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

            It was not an analogy. Concerts are a luxury, not a requirement. You do not get financially penalised for being unable to go to a concert. Roads (and like I said, medical equipment) are so completely different from attending a concert (and incidentally, there are many concerts available, it's not a monopoly) that no, it's not what's called an "analogy".

            >>> If this was the case, if one very rich fan is prepared to pay £1000 for a £15 ticket then by that reasoning all the tickets should be sold for £1000 each which is plainly preposterous.

            No. Talk about stupid statements, it's not the same at all. It would be if there were enough rich fans that every ticket could be sold at $1,000, then that's the price they should set.

            Put it this way, if a concert/event themselves sold tickets at $1,000 a pop, whilst it's pretty shitty, should it be illegal?

            Political and celebrity events go for much more. Should these be made illegal? Are they also somehow stopping my ability to drive to work, as the original responder implied?

            If someone buys an antique at a bargain, and sells it for more, is that being a tout?

            How about buying at an auction, stocks & shares, or hell, anything that doesn't rely on a monopoly or exploit a necessity?

            Both of you have completely intentionally twisted what I said, and then used it against my argument. You should work for the republicans.

            1. DJO Silver badge

              Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

              The point you are very carefully avoiding is there is a price printed on each ticket.

              That is the price - supermarkets cannot sell items significantly above the manufacturers set price because of competition but if Ticketmaster buys all the tickets there is no competition so according to you they can charge whatever they want.

              This is not a shining example of the free market but a parasitic business model of the very worst kind. The market is not setting the resale price, Ticketmaster are squeezing punters for every penny, punters who if Ticketmaster had not gamed the system would have been able to buy tickets from the venue at the printed price.

              1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

                Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

                "Ticketmaster are squeezing punters for every penny,"

                And then adding all kinds of imaginary handling, processing, shipping and purchase fees on top....

                I used to attend dozens of events a year - big and small. Call venue box office, buy ticket, pay nominal amount for shipping (or collect from office on performance night), All funds going to support venue and/or artists.

                Then Ticketmaster started to muscle their way in, first on big venues, then into smaller venues. And quite frankly, as far as I am concerned, they have pretty much destroyed the whole gig/ticket industry. I have never met one real fan who has anything but utter contempt for Tickermaster and their practices. They are slime.

                1. DJO Silver badge

                  Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

                  I used to attend dozens of events a year

                  I used to go to hundreds, 2 or 3 a week was not unusual, admittedly I was working in the music industry so I was often on the guest list, but even then it was not prohibitively expensive when I did pay - a few quid to see top line acts at the Marquee, huge bands at Earls Court or Wembley for £7.50, hundreds of college gigs really cheap, permanent hearing damage - but it was worth it.

                  Now for an impoverished student going to more than 1 or 2 gigs a month is beyond their budget.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

                I agree it sucks. I've been priced out of tickets too, and I think the touts are scum .. I just don't see how it's illegal, that's all. After all if people didn't but the tickets at inflated prices, the touts wouldn't buy them. The market for such high prices exist. I don't buy from touts. If no-one did, the problem would be solved.

                1. DJO Silver badge

                  Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

                  It's artificial demand - If the touts didn't buy up swathes of tickets there would be more available for punters to buy at the listed price.

                  Touts and companies like Ticketmaster are reducing the supply in order to hike up the price.

                  As somebody mentioned above the Glastonbury model works well enough, the tickets are sold to a named person, if somebody else tries to use the ticket they are refused entry. Unwanted tickets can be returned for a refund and are then resold by the promoters.

                  A similar but simpler system would not be hard to implement for one-off gigs, with smart phones it would be trivial to issue an electronic ticket to a certain SIM and linked email address (to prevent touts supplying PAYG SIMs with dodgy tickets).

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Why is this illegal? It's just capitalism!

      No, it's a parasitical business that only benefits the resellers.

      The concert venue gets no extra revenue.

      The artists receives no additional sums.

      The punters pay over the odds.

      There is absolutely no benefit to society from Ticketmaster and similar firms.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    *When as peas in a pod ...... and they be similarly like-minded, is one strange possible answer ?

    Why would any civilised national administration send anybody to such a crooked foreign land as allows such corruption and graft and manslaughter and thieves to prosper and escape common justice/secluded secure exclusive accommodation in a punitive detention centre?*

    One cannot but think of such a place being as Big Brother to a failed state. It is certainly not worthy as a land of the free, milk and honey and home of the brave ...... although, as is always the case in crazy worlds, some who may think themselves many may, for reasons that they may not be able to share, disagree, and in so doing prove their world view crazy indeed.

    'Tis not a big next step to take to have one contemplating on the state of madness and one's own sanity in the midst of the mayhem and chaos that abounds and surrounds everyone. :-) However, nevertheless and notwithstanding all of that, great marvellous opportunities one never ever before imagined possible await to entertain and enrich you outrageously there. Best always to be properly prepared for those almighty rewards for they can easily be simply overwhelming and far too much to survive.

    Consider yourselves suitably prewarned and adequately advised, for from here on in, into strange entangling fields of surreal communication, ignorance is not blissful whenever it can easily be so perfectly deadly.

    1. Cliff Thorburn

      Likewise and likeminded thinking amFM, and applauding newly formed alliances, and reminding such of promises once made -

      Quote -

      Lets hope that President Biden will fulfil President Obama’s promise to resolve a certain homegrown issue Mr Johnson, and ensure restitution for human rights abuse spanning nearly a decade now.

      One simply cannot sit silently forever.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Whenever Time is of the Essence, Defeat Awaits All Hesitating to Lose

        If such doesn't happen in a very timely fashion, CT, none of them will have their sorrows to seek as events overwhelm and overthrow them, and even cast them to the proverbial lions, to be torn to shreds for their crimes against humanity, for everything appears to be running amok and rushing headlong along to any number of epoch defining end games, with the following one worth a'watching itself registering and unfolding in AI and IT and MainStreamMedia circles ......

        Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has also stated that the Fed would continue to buy $120 billion in bonds each month until the economy made “substantial further progress” toward the Fed’s goals of maximum employment.

        Maximum employment in an age like today, or if not exactly right now, then very shortly in a future time like tomorrow, in which more and more machines are used to create and deliver everything needed more cheaply and better than humans with only the most basic of educations and skillsets, should they even have any of those at all, results in many thousands of millions of humans being permanently unemployed and unemployable and ripe for immediate effective solution.

        Kicking that can down the road unresolved, very quickly has a howling ravenous mob baying for the blood and guts of the leaders of worlds in which the leaders have trapped them and would further subject them to major state force majeure events which further disadvantage and oppress them.

        One can then fully realistically expect more than just an almighty few of them personally experiencing the swift ignominious and unsavoury fate of a Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu, Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. It is only natural and therefore unavoidable on the current headings of policies today planned for tomorrow. ........

        And a little something impossibly difficult for a Dishy Rishi to ignore and now deny all knowledge of, for he is bound to know and/or have been told about the impending catastrophe.

        :-) Crikey, if a betting man, who's not to say there be good odds available on it being an El Reger doing the honours making sure the Chancellor has no viable defence of collective ignorance to the expanding situation.:-)

  8. TDog

    I don't understand USA civil law

    But if I had bought one of these tickets with a credit card then could I not request a refund - just as if they had sold me a dodgy vehicle that they had no right to? After all the maximum 'value' that could be put on the legal price would be substantially lower than the value at which they sold it - so if a judge had to calculate the benefit I had received it should be priced at the legal value, not the sold value. Thus the buggers owe me money.

  9. DS999 Silver badge

    There's a simple solution

    Go back to selling tickets in person. Selling tickets online is more convenient, obviously, but there's no possible way to prevent bots from scarfing up the tickets. When I was a teenager and wanted to go to a concert where I lived, my friends and I would stand in line for a couple hours when tickets were made available a month or two in advance. People who wanted the best seats were camped out for days. That guarantees that real fans get most of the tickets. Real fans don't have a problem standing in line, especially if they can get tickets at face value instead of letting some scumbug middleman profit off them.

    Require showing an ID that matches the name on the ticket for entry, then scalpers can't even wait in line to buy tickets and resell them. If someone has tickets and then they can't go, they can get a refund at the price they paid and those tickets can be offered to a waiting list of people who were in line but missed out or offered for sale on the day of the event.

    1. TaabuTheCat

      Re: There's a simple solution

      Exactly. When I lived on Long Island I was just a few miles away from the Westbury Music Fair. Being able to go to the box office over lunch and buy tickets in person for an upcoming show at face value with no "service fees", "convenience fees", "delivery fees", etc. was awesome. You paid what it said on the ticket and not a dime more.

      The exclusives that Ticketmaster signed with venues in the 80's ended any pretense that a ticket was just a ticket. Instead it became a vehicle for anyone who could get their fingers into the pie to extract their vig, with kickbacks for the venues and unlimited power by Ticketmaster to charge whatever the hell they wanted to for some supposed "convenience". As mentioned above by others, I too simply won't go to any event where Ticketmaster fees are involved. Fucking parasites.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: There's a simple solution

      An even simpler solution: stop going to overpriced shows.

    3. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: There's a simple solution

      So how do I get a ticket to a show in say London?

      Travel 150 miles and queue up?

      What about something like Glasonbury? Reading and Leeds?

      If the venues and resellers were serious about this (lets face it Ticketmaster are the scum of the earth), they could follow the Glasonbury model.

      Named tickets, with proof of ID when buying and upon arrival. No photographic ID, no entry. End of.

      Only way to sell, is back to the original sales outlet at cost price.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: There's a simple solution

        Tickets weren't just for sale at the venue, they'd be offered at record shops all around the region. Obviously the lack of "record shops" in 2021 means that exact solution is no longer feasible, but they could strike a deal with some ubiquitous chain of convenience stores or whatever. If they are able to print/sell lottery tickets they could print/sell concert tickets just as easily.

    4. hoola Silver badge

      Re: There's a simple solution

      Of course as tings stand at the moment Ticketmaster must be making bugger all. Moving forward , due to COVID attending any sort of concert is likely to end up being like travelling by air. Now if the onus is on the venues to do the checks (which in reality it should be) then it is dead easy to sort out the identity of the ticket holder.

      If vaccination is going to be become an important part of attempting to return to normal then I would like assurances that the fellow ticket holders are who they say they and have the appropriate documentation. All these third parties reselling tickets, often at inflated prices does not fill one with confidence that the holders of said tickets will be be incentivised to do what they are supposed to at the venue. The same will apply to sports tickets as well.

  10. ecofeco Silver badge

    Best quote I saw on this

    A slap... on the wrist band.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ticket sales have been dodgy for decades

    Pre-sales is where the shonks are at.

    Promoters who hold all the best seats in reserve, before general sale.

    That’s why common folk get sat in the nose-bleeds even when first in the queue.

  12. DanceMan

    Ticketmaster and Live Nation

    Merged. Live Nation is not only a concert promoter, it owns venues, owns festivals, owns an artist management company. You can have a show in which the artist, promoter, venue and ticket seller are all owned by one entity.

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