Bots, begone! U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell takes steps to ban online scalping

By:  Brendan Kiley
Source: The Seattle Times

Ticket bots have been a scourge for sports and music fans in Washington state for the past several months by scraping the internet for tickets to popular events, then jacking up their prices by thousands of dollars.

This week, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., helped shepherd legislation through the Senate Commerce Committee to ban the use of bots that, her office said, scalp tickets “at an average markup of 49 percent.”

The committee passed the bot bill unanimously, sending it to the full Senate for a vote.

Bots have also been a scourge to artists. When pop star Adele played KeyArena in Seattle this July, some tickets were listed on secondary-market sites such as StubHub for more than $5,000. (Adele has partnered with the London-based website Songkick, which tries to manage tickets through artists’ websites and fan sites to minimize scalping.)

Bots are a problem for local arts organizations as well. Gary Tucker, of Pacific Northwest Ballet, says its “Nutcracker” is a regular target. “It sucks when we find out someone paid $500 for a ticket that should normally be $100,” he said.

A similar anti-bot bill already passed the House, said Bryan Watt, a spokesman for Cantwell. The senator, he said, hopes the bills will be “ironed out quickly” and sent to the president’s desk this year. Washington state, along with 13 other states, he added, have passed their own anti-bot legislation.

“The senator is both a music fan and a Seahawks fan,” Watt said, “so she’s concerned about making sure consumers have fair access to the process and don’t get gouged.”

Even if the law passes, enforcement can be tricky: Computer servers operating out of other countries aren’t necessarily within the reach of U.S. or state jurisdiction. But, Watt said, the bill allows the Federal Trade Commission and the state attorneys general to “pursue civil penalties against those who use bots to get around security measures on the websites of ticket sellers like Ticketmaster.”

As for the high fees Ticketmaster charges its own consumers (which have been grounds for a recently settled class-action lawsuit)?

That’s another bill for another day.