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Province moves to ban ticket bots, but no plans to cap prices

Last Updated Apr 9, 2019 at 10:30 pm PDT


'Ticket Sales Act' would prohibit ticket-buying software (bots) that buy large quantities of event tickets for resale

Law would require refund guarantees by secondary ticket sellers

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you’ve ever tried to buy tickets for a concert, only to see it sold out within seconds due to bots, you may be relieved to hear what the provincial government plans to do about it.

The province has announced it is planning to ban online ticket bots through what it’s calling the “Ticket Sales Act”.

The solicitor general says the NDP government is doing this to ensure people who actually want to go to a show get first crack at tickets, as opposed to people or companies using bots and then reselling them at inflated prices.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth insists the legislation includes several safeguards for consumers competing with software that snaps up many tickets within minutes of them going on sale.

“There are provisions in the act that do just that, including civil action. The majority of ticket sellers in this province — Ticketmaster, for example — have been asking and are pleased with the changes that we are making. Those provisions of the act will allow enforcement to take place … will allow for the cancellation of tickets that are being sold fraudulently and is based on what we believe will be effective.”

Most people taking part in an online survey last year said they support a cap on prices, but Farnworth says that’s not enforceable and pushes more sales to the black market.

“We don’t want to put legislation out there that creates a false sense of hope … in reality, [it] isn’t going to work.”

It’s unclear how the legislation would protect people who want to attend charity events, only to have tickets snapped up by brokers.

“It’s not something that I think this legislation as a whole has contemplated, at this point,” Farnworth said.

The law would also require secondary sellers and secondary ticketing platform operators to provide refund guarantees. Ticket resellers would also have to disclose that they are secondary sellers.


Farnworth says it’s difficult to provide clarity as to exactly how many tickets are on sale for an event. “It’s a complicated issue. A lot of it depends upon how the venue is structured — the nature of the venue — and that can change, in terms of the kind of show that is going to be produced.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Allen — who manages multiple artists including Bryan Adams and Michael Buble — praises the move, but wonders how effective it will be.

“On paper is going to make a difference, I mean it’s a hell of a good attempt, they’ve covered a lot of ground,” he adds. “Everybody wants to stamp out bots but it’s kind of easier said than done.”

LISTEN: NEWS 1130’s Marcella Bernardo speaks with Bruce Allen, who manages several Canadian artists, calls the changes a step in the right directions, but questions what can be done to stop bot technology

Allen says it’s frustrating to see tickets almost double in price because of scalpers.

“Those people who are selling those tickets are contributing nothing to our industry and getting rich of it and it’s not fair,” he adds. “So if we can stomp that out any way possible, then we should try to do it and I think this is a really good attempt.”

Will enforcement of a bot ban work?

A local reseller doesn’t think changes go far enough.

Longtime re-seller Kingsley Bailey says that’s because some promoters limit sales to create a false sense of urgency, forcing fans to quickly snap up bad tickets.

“These shows are always selling out in five minutes. Well, of course they’re going to sell out in five minutes when there’s only 30 per cent of the tickets available to the general public, and they buy the worst seats first. It’s a Catch-22. But the way to fix it is transparency.”

Bailey says the industry needs to be more transparent when it comes to reporting exactly how many tickets are available, so banning bots won’t help.

“Technology that’s five years old — it’s passe. If the public was made aware that there’s only 30 per cent of the tickets available to the general public, they can vote with their pocketbooks. But as of right now, you’ve created a sense of urgency — whatever comes out, we’ll buy.”

Meanwhile, Steve Tissenbaum who studies mobile commerce at Ryerson University says enforcement will be difficult.

“This is online. Where are these people? What are you going to charge them with? Who’s going to charge them? It doesn’t seem realistic to me,” he said.

“These businesses have been operated all over the world. Every time government tries to understand how the bots are working and how they might destabilize them, these people come up with better software.”

Tissenbaum also has concerns about how much this crackdown will cost, if it were to be done in a meaningful way.

RELATED: Competition Act wasn’t violated, says bureau after Ticketmaster investigation

“Buying tickets to see exciting plays, concerts or festivals now isn’t like what it was in the past. Then, all you had to do was line up outside the theatre or arena to buy tickets from the box office … These days, buying tickets means sitting at home in front of a computer, furiously hitting the “add to cart” button or the “refresh” button,” said Mike Farnworth.

“With the current process, many people find themselves without tickets, even after they’ve made sure they were online at the right time. Even for those who were successful, many have seen unexpected price jumps from the face value, different seats than they thought they selected, or thought they were buying from a primary seller — but in fact, it was a secondary seller with higher prices.”