The Digital Economy Act 2017 is a wide-ranging package of measures intended to address problems in the communications sector and digital marketplace, ranging from copyright infringement to Internet access provider service levels.
The Act became law on 27th April 2017, just before Parliament dissolved to prepare for the General Election, and was published in full detail on 8th May.
Although some of its provisions have attracted controversy due to their potential for infringement of individual privacy, the measures specifically designed to protect consumers in the secondary ticketing market have been universally welcomed.
Measures to ban the use of automated bots
The Act as passed incorporates amendments tabled in March when the House of Lords voted to send the then Digital Economy Bill back to the Commons with the addition of stronger protections for ticket buyers – specifically a ban on the use of ‘automated bots’ for bulk ticket purchases and the obligation for resale platforms to provide the unique ticket reference and booking number to potential buyers thereby confirming the validity of any tickets being offered for resale.
Applauding the move, anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance said in a statement:
"On top of Government measures to criminalise the bulk-buying of tickets, this relatively minor amendment to the Consumer Rights Act, for a ‘unique ticket number’ to be displayed when a ticket is listed for resale, should greatly increase transparency in the so-called secondary ticketing market. If enforced, it will give users some assurances that the ticket they are buying actually exists, as well as disrupting the practices of hardcore touts that thrive on sites like Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In and Seatwave.”
What happens next?
The implementation of the Digital Economy Act 2017 will fall to the next government returned after the general election. The Act gives them the power to create a new criminal offence of using bots to bypass limits on maximum ticket purchases set by event organisers, and touts who continue to use bots to bulk buy tickets could face unlimited fines under such new legislation.
However there are also calls for them to go further and take measures to ensure that the existing provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 are more fully and consistently implemented than they have been – as recommended by the Waterson Report, which was presented to parliament in May 2016.
The Waterson Report upheld the concerns that have been raised for years by prominent figures in the entertainment industry over “industrial scale touting” enabled by technology. Some of these artists have even taken their own measures to prevent ‘robo-touts’ from gouging their fans – for example Ed Sheeran who saw attempts to protect his Divide tour fail when tickets still became available on a secondary ticket reseller sites within minutes, at hugely inflated prices.
However the report also made the point that other market failings, such as people purchasing tickets on secondary sites that turned out to be fakes or simply prohibited from resale, could be avoided by better enforcement of existing Consumer Rights legislation. This has led to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) getting involved.
Ongoing investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority
As a consequence of the Waterson Report, the CMA launched a formal enforcement investigation in December 2016 into suspected breaches of existing consumer protection law by the “big four” ticket reseller platforms that dominate the online secondary tickets market. Specifically, concerns that people are not getting the full range of information required by consumer protection law when buying tickets put up for resale, such as…
Who the seller is
Where a seat is located in the venue
Any connections the seller may have with the platform or event organisers
Whether there are any restrictions on the use of resold tickets
In their latest update in March 2017 the indications are that the suspected breaches have been confirmed and compliance with consumer protection laws by these secondary ticket agents will be enforced.
So, it looks like a combination of implementation of the Digital Economy Act by the next government and enforcement of existing Consumer Rights Act provisions by the CMA, will bring the days of wholesale abuse by industrial scale robo-touts to an end.
But other than relying on these future legal protections coming into effect, what practical measures can event organisers and venues take to protect themselves from touts right now? (Including smaller scale operators who don’t use the soon to be outlawed bots, but rely on more traditional methods to bulk buy tickets for touting?)
TicketSource system defences against ticket touting on any scale
As a primary ticket agent, we at TicketSource are simply not involved in any of the secondary market reselling practices outlined above, rather we provide systems and services to enable venues and event organisers to sell their own tickets.
However, we have become very aware that – even when the use of ‘bots’ is finally outlawed – event organisers and their customers are still vulnerable to the activities of the touts.
There is nothing in any of the measures outlined above to stop profiteering by touts who manually buy up large quantities of tickets and list them on the reseller sites with the information required by the CRA.
That’s where the choice of online ticketing system can make a difference.
To help event organisers and venues minimise their vulnerability to touts of any scale, TicketSource has introduced the facility to identify and restrict attempts to buy tickets in larger quantities than the maximum limit set.
Using multiple identifying factors, our system can automatically prevent any single ticket purchaser from buying a greater number of tickets than the set limit – even if they try to buy several batches of tickets over multiple sessions.
We know there’s a fine line between customer service and policing, but we feel that voluntary measures like this stand to benefit all legitimate participants in the market. For event organisers it means peace of mind, and for audience members it offers a fair chance to buy tickets for the most popular events at face value, and not be at the mercy of ticket touts and profiteers of any scale.
For more information, see our knowledgebase articles on restricting ticket sales.