New California law targets massive online ticket-scalping scheme

A new California law makes it illegal to use software to trick online ticket-sellers into selling huge numbers of tickets to scalpers, who then resell them at a higher price.

Robin Harper/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP/File
Beyoncé performs during her 'Mrs. Carter Show World Tour 2013' in July at the Verizon Center in Washington. The three shows sold out in 60 seconds. Some say scalpers' ticket-buying 'bots' were partly to blame.

Dean Levin still hasn’t gotten over the fact that he missed The Rolling Stone’s “50 and Counting” Tour here in May.

“I called Ticketmaster as soon as I heard,” says the unemployed actor, standing in line at Starbucks here. “Sold out.”

He blames ticket-buying software designed to trick computers into believing that orders are coming from different buyers when they are actually coming from businesses that resell the tickets at other websites for more money.

A furor was set off in Washington in July when three concerts by Beyoncé sold out in 60 seconds.

Now, California is targeting the practice of using software to get around the security of ticket-selling websites. California’s AB 329 was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday and supporters say that the state’s population and cultural influence could give anti-scalping forces a significant boost.

“When you have a huge population state like California say, ‘We don’t want our customers cheated out of good seats,’ that sends the biggest message possible to the rest of the country that this will be stopped,” says Michael Marion, president of Fans First, a national anti-scalping organization. Noting that many states – including Texas, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Tennessee – have been struggling with such legislation in recent years and others, he says, “This will be a significant turning point in this drive.”

A proposed law in the Texas Legislature died in committee earlier this year, but supporters are already gearing up for another try in 2015.

Some of the largest ticket-selling companies in America are delighted with the California law.

“As the leader in the fight against 'bots,' we applaud Governor Brown for signing into law an anti-bot bill. This is an important step in combating nefarious scalping practices that are responsible for too many tickets ending up in the hands of scalpers,” said TicketMaster spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson in a statement.

But some observers say they are not sure the law, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, will have a noticeable effect.

“There are so many reasons why the average ticket buyer can’t get the seats they want that it’s part of a much larger picture,” says Dean Budnick, author of  “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.” “It’s very easy to vilify professional scalpers and say they are using some untoward means to bypass security, but the fact of the matter is that the ticket inventories available to the general public are actually quite small.”

He says the number of seats sold are frequently limited because of set-asides and presale offers linked to fan clubs or those seeking credit card deals offered by companies such as American Express and Citibank. He also says that demand for tickets now goes beyond local markets, with people across the country buying tickets and then reselling them online.

“It used to be that buying tickets was just a local thing where you went down to the arena and stood in line,” says Mr. Budnick. “Then Ticketmaster came along and you went and stood in line there. Then you waited in a telephone queue. But now, because of the Internet, anyone anywhere can buy a ticket to any event and then turn around and sell it online, There is so much more competition for tickets than anyone realizes.”

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