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Despite bans, ticket-buying bots still snag the best seats

Rebecca Beitsch, Stateline.org on

Published in Entertainment News

Kavanagh's legislation has been through a few iterations. Last year's bill tried to bar the use of any software that impersonates a human and conceals its real identity, but the tech industry quickly opposed it because such software often is used for benevolent purposes such as customer service.

This year's bill would ban bots directly and make their use a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. (A bill in New Jersey, meanwhile, would impose a $10,000 fine and up to 18 months in prison for those convicted of using bots to buy tickets online.) Even with stiff penalties, enforcement can be a challenge.

State laws have little impact on bots deployed outside their borders, and a 2016 federal law -- the BOTS Act -- doesn't combat overseas operations.

But consumer advocates say companies that sell tickets aren't doing enough to report problems to enforcement agencies, particularly because their internal data would be the first to flag purchases that didn't fit the typical purchasing algorithm.

"Really, the companies that spot and know a bot is being used are the primary ticketers. That's typically going to be Ticketmaster," said John Breyault with the National Consumers League, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. "If bots continue to purchase large amounts of tickets, why isn't Ticketmaster taking advantage of the law to bring more prosecutions?"

Breyault said some ticket-selling companies also own the online markets where they can be resold, taking a cut of each sale. Ticketmaster is affiliated with TicketsNow. State laws could strengthen the federal law, he said, if they provided stiffer penalties or required ticket sellers to report suspected bot usage.

In a statement, spokesman Brett Morrow said Ticketmaster opposes bots and works hard to make ticket-buying a smooth process for consumers.

The company, he said, "has invested millions to circumvent and block (bots), but we know that bots can't be solved through technology alone."

Where the law allows for a private right of action, the company has sued. Ticketmaster filed suit in California against ticket brokers it claims used bots to grab tickets to "Hamilton" and the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao boxing match, in Las Vegas, in 2015. The $10 million suit is working its way through court.

And in New York, the attorney general's office last year reached settlements worth $4.2 million with six ticket brokers, five of which used bots. One of the companies, Renaissance Ventures, also known as Prestige Entertainment, in 2014 bought more than a thousand tickets to a U2 concert in one minute. The attorney general's office did not respond to requests for additional information.

Kavanagh said he envisions local police departments' computer crime units as the best avenue for enforcing his bill, should it become law.

"We still need state laws too," he said, "because the feds don't have the time or inclination to do enforcement."

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