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Congress Passes BOTS Act To Ban Ticket-Buying Software (arstechnica.com) 221

Congress passed a bill yesterday that will make it illegal for people to use software bots to buy concert tickets. Ars Technica reports: The Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act makes it illegal to bypass any computer security system designed to limit ticket sales to concerts, Broadway musicals, and other public events with a capacity of more than 200 persons. Violations will be treated as "unfair or deceptive acts" and can be prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission or the states. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week, and the House of Representatives voted yesterday to pass it as well. It now proceeds to President Barack Obama for his signature. Computer programs that automatically buy tickets have been a frustration for the concert industry and fans for a few years now. The issue had wide exposure after a 2013 New York Times story on the issue. Earlier this year, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completed an investigation into bots. The New York AG's ticket sales report (PDF) found that the tens of thousands of tickets snatched up by bots were marked up by an average of 49 percent.
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Congress Passes BOTS Act To Ban Ticket-Buying Software

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:07PM (#53448845)

    other than that it is done by broker bots instead of scalper bots?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:14PM (#53448883)
      Good point. High Frequency Trading should be treated the same way. It won't be. But it should be.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Good point. High Frequency Trading should be treated the same way. It won't be. But it should be.

        HFC enhances market liquidity. Most forms of HFC reduce arbitrage across different markets. Sure, we could go back in time and use the Pony Express to deliver mail but what about progress?

        • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:22PM (#53448953) Journal

          I think we should look ahead to the day when anyone trying to game a stock market is taken outside, stripped naked, and their testicles are plugged into a car battery, but that's just me.

          • I think we should look ahead to the day when anyone trying to game a stock market is taken outside, stripped naked, and their testicles are plugged into a car battery, but that's just me.

            That would be everyone. The days of farmers buying futures to protect their crops are in the past.

          • While the method of attaching your delicate skin to the battery might be painful, the 12 volts of the battery might not actually result in any feeling whatsoever.
            • Perhaps you should ask Santa [youtube.com].

          • Actually, I think the system should be set up so that when people all act in their best interests, you get the desired outcome.

            The real trick is determining the desired outcome. People have a lot of trouble expressing exactly what the stock market is, or what they want it to be. This actually applies to most things in our world; people are always talking about "improving education", but good luck getting a measurable set of goals from most people using that phrase.

          • The stock market IS a game.

        • Processing in bursts with time stamps is not 'going back in time'. All we want is to remove the speed of light arms race and level the playing field.
        • Faster ways to screw people isn't exactly progress.
        • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @07:55PM (#53449757)

          The only "liquidity" that HFT "enhances" is in the bank account of the person controlling the software. It really is parasitic. It feeds off the system without adding anything to it. If I put in an order for a stock at $3 per share and some computer sitting between my broker and the exchange notices that the price is now $2.99 per share, and they buy the shares at $2.99 in order to sell to me at $3, that doesn't do anything except give money to the person who paid however much was required to have only a 3-meter cable between their computer and the trading computer. The people benefiting from the system have a wide range of words that they use to try to explain why it's actually a good thing that they're getting paid for not doing anything, but the reality is that the money belongs in the hands of the seller.

        • Oh, dear, let's go to this now.

          Computer buying of performance tickets enhances liquidity in that market. Instant sales, the venue and exhibitor are guaranteed sales, the artist(s) are ensured of their fee, all is well. The market then is extended as buyers pile in and buy at markup, and only the original seller(s) suffer in not sharing in the markup.

          Or do they? Perhaps there is a raging business in brokered resales, and the venue/exhibitor/performers are the ones most cheated, if none of them share in the

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The BOTS on Wall Street are owned by people with considerably more money so they are safe from any legal consequence.

    • by darkain ( 749283 )

      "bypass any computer security system designed to limit" What system does the NYSE employ to disallow bots? AFAIK, absolutely none.

    • The important question here is - why are artists not selling tickets at an auction to maximize revenue. If you answer this, then you will know how ticket sales for popular shows are different from stock markets.
      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        That was my thought, they could sell half at auction and sets of cheap tickets could go into a raffle for people who want a chance at cheap tickets. Also, I fail to see how ticket-master can't spot individuals buying large quantities of tickets, surely it should be obvious when 1 buyer tries to buy dozens of tickets that they are for resale. I don't think they care.

        • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

          I fail to see how ticket-master can't spot individuals buying large quantities of tickets

          Why on earth would they want to do that? They have zero incentive whether scalpers buy 100% of the tickets or normal fans do. They get their fee either way and fan outrage has no effect on them since the tickets are still being sold. They even have an incentive to sell to the scalpers to turn around and sell the tickets on their resale marketplace double dipping on tickets for increased profits.

      • No, you do it with a reverse auction.

        Offer the tickets at an extremely high price initially, and then lower the price with sales feedback until you get closer to the market clearing price.

        The thing is, brokers know that the market clearing price is higher than the face value.

        If you offered all the seats at $5000 per ticket when they went on sale, brokers wouldn't be able to snap them up on the first day of sale. There's no markup for them.

        As you lower the price, you will find people who are willing to pay

    • Because they haven't lobbied Congress with cash... Yet.
  • I wonder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:09PM (#53448859) Homepage Journal

    Is this the type of an issue you are thinking about when you cast your vote? Who out there is thinking: "I really need the government to exist so that it could set up laws to prevent people from buying concert tickets with bots"?

    • Is this the type of an issue you are thinking about when you cast your vote? Who out there is thinking: "I really need the government to exist so that it could set up laws to prevent people from buying concert tickets with bots"?

      I wish I had been thinking of this issue... the issue that the federal government is meddling with stupid shit that is not within its charter.

      Think about it: We have relations with other countries to manage. We have a group of whackjobs using religion as an excuse to rape and pillage large chunks of the middle east. We have world changing climate issues. We have the spectres of biological and nuclear warfare to manage.

      And they want to pass a law dealing with whether or not I can go see a concert for a guara

  • by FictionPimp ( 712802 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:09PM (#53448861) Homepage

    Free market dictates that ticket companies that can't protect themselves from bots should go out of business and be replaced by ones that can. This is major government overreach. TRUMP!

    • by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:50PM (#53449143)

      Ticket retailers are both a monopoly and an oligopoly. Essentially all retailer has a monopoly over a given venue. The venue may be allowed a small amount of ticket blocks which are used for their own purposes (direct sales, gifts, charity, marketing, etc..) but the vast direct-sales come through a single distributor.

      Those ticket distributors are largely an oligopoly, since venues only want to deal with reputable outlets with large market shares in order to maximize sales.

      All of them (Venue, Talent, Distributor) have a very shaky interest in eliminating scalping at all. Tickets are sold, the stadium is filled, most people are happy. Scalping only hurts one group of people: Consumers. In the long long term, people will be so jaded with going to 'ticketed' shows that the attendances will drop below capacity. That also hurts the smaller acts far more disproportionately than the rich ones (which have a more captivated audience to saturate the scalping tax). The arts dies and we all point fingers at one another instead of 'fixing the problem', whatever that looks like (I've given my 2 cents in a different post).

      • Ticket retailers are both a monopoly and an oligopoly. Essentially all retailer has a monopoly over a given venue. The venue may be allowed a small amount of ticket blocks which are used for their own purposes (direct sales, gifts, charity, marketing, etc..) but the vast direct-sales come through a single distributor.

        Those ticket distributors are largely an oligopoly, since venues only want to deal with reputable outlets with large market shares in order to maximize sales.

        All of them (Venue, Talent, Distributor) have a very shaky interest in eliminating scalping at all. Tickets are sold, the stadium is filled, most people are happy. Scalping only hurts one group of people: Consumers. In the long long term, people will be so jaded with going to 'ticketed' shows that the attendances will drop below capacity. That also hurts the smaller acts far more disproportionately than the rich ones (which have a more captivated audience to saturate the scalping tax). The arts dies and we all point fingers at one another instead of 'fixing the problem', whatever that looks like (I've given my 2 cents in a different post).

        That's not how it works. You stopped describing the process halfway through and then waved your hands and said "the arts dies". QED.
        Scalpers are drawn by profit motive. That profit motive exists because, clearly, there is untapped demand. A scalper is a speculative investor looking to realize the remaining value in that untapped demand. Scalpers don't just go out there and buy up every ticket for every show, any more than business investors tell their portfolio manager: "Go buy 100 shares of every company i

        • by unrtst ( 777550 )

          I don't get why this is a regulation/legal problem at all.

          TicketMaster, for example, allows for resale on their site at a higher price. If this were only about protecting the consumer, they could simple say, "no resale". Instead, they get in on the scalping action while being able to distance themselves from it.

          They could easily do fixed pricing, limit bulk purchases, and could require positive ID at the door of the purchaser. If the purchaser can't make it (ex. season passes, or something happens), they ge

          • big events need a ticket lottery so it's more fair does not lead to a buy rush that can over load sites and you make it easier on people who can be on line at the sale open time. Some events can sell out fast and you need to make it fair and you do not have someone with 6 cable HSI accounts and lot of systems buying them all up. Yes some on DSLreports.com was talking about there setup like that.

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            In practice bots push up ticket prices for many people. "Genuine" resale because you can't make it for some reason is fine, it's the people who leverage their bots, which most people don't have access to, to force people who actually want to see the show to pay more.

            Maybe they should move to a lottery system for popular shows. Everyone who wants a ticket registers, noting the dates when they can attend. Winners are picked at random and offered to opportunity to pay for a ticket. If they decline another winn

  • Let them have them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:17PM (#53448911)

    The only reason this problem exists is because people will pay more than the face value for tickets. If everyone just said no these jerks would get stuck with all those tickets and not be able to recoup their costs and they'd go away on their own. No government intervention required. In fact, I'd love to see empty venues for a few shows while these assholes take a bath.

    • The only reason this problem exists is because people will pay more than the face value for tickets.

      True, but thats not going to happen and it just tells us the original tickets are priced below market value. The seller should have some right to decide what their consumers pay, but they don't have control as they should. You could argue the sellers should jack up the prices so much that there was no market margin left for scalpers as well, but they don't want to price certain demographics out of their market for sustainability reasons.

      The most egregious case I know of is the Tragically Hip final concer

  • I want to buy tickets to events, and then I have to tack on another $20~$40 in fees on top of an already > $100 ticket. Then I don't buy it because it's beyond what I think my budget should be. Maddening.
  • Do a dutch auction (Score:3, Insightful)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:19PM (#53448933) Homepage Journal

    Very-high-demand events should sell tickets by dutch auction.

    At least this way, the promoters and others running the event - who are likely to plow some of their profits back into the business - keep most of "true" value of the ticket, not the scalpers.

    • Farting under the covers is rude,
      • Farting under the covers is rude,

        So you make it a point to throw off all of your covers before farting?

        Interesting...

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      But "do the simplest thing that works" solutions like that don't generate as much political capital as passing new laws.

    • That works for performers whose sole revenue stream is their stage performance, but for performers who depend on revenue streams outside of the stage performance (e.g. selling albums), selling via auction would likely harm their long-term profits since they'd effectively be limiting their addressable market.

      Right now, most musicians sell tickets for less than their actual worth (hence why scalpers are flourishing) as a way of rewarding their fans for their dedication. After all, up until relatively recently

  • by Pete Smoot ( 4289807 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:22PM (#53448955)

    Does Congress not have more important things to do than meddle in people buying and reselling products?

    Tickets are scarce. Yesterday they were allocated to people with the most money. Today they're allocated to people with enough free time to hit F5 on the web site the day they go on sale.

    People buy and mark up products all the time (that's what wholesalers, distributors, and retailers do all day). Why should we consider tickets any different? If you don't like markup going to resellers instead of artists, tell the artists to have more shows or set the initial price higher. It's a problem the artists and venues could solve all by themselves if they wanted to.

  • This reminds me of the time the federal government decided to Ban sliced bread,
    because they fancied maybe there could be some savings or economic benefit.

    The government has no business regulating ticket sales differently than any other kind of product sales.

    Obviously the tickets are underpriced in the first place, if people are willing to do this, they're correcting a market distortion.

    The bots could be stopped in their tracks a few different ways without needing to pass laws about them.

  • A possible solution? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhunkySchtuff ( 208108 ) <kai@@@automatica...com...au> on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:27PM (#53448991) Homepage

    A possible solution is to not ban sales to bots per-se, but instead verify that the identity of the person redeeming the ticket at the door is the same as the person who purchased the ticket (via verifying CC details, or even something as basic as their name).

    If tickets have conditions on them that prevent their usage by anyone other than the person who originally bought them, then there can be no market for resold tickets. Let the scalpers buy as many tickets as they want, but eliminate the market for them to be resold.

    Ticket Australia now state as part of their conditions of sale "This ticket may not, without the prior written consent of Ticketek or the Seller, be resold at a premium or used for advertising, promotion or other commercial purposes (including competitions and trade promotions) or to enhance the demand for other goods or services. If a ticket is sold or used in breach of this condition, the bearer of the ticket will be refused admission."

    If you knowingly purchase a scalped ticket, you're taking a huge risk that you won't get in to the event.

    • by erice ( 13380 )

      A possible solution is to not ban sales to bots per-se, but instead verify that the identity of the person redeeming the ticket at the door is the same as the person who purchased the ticket (via verifying CC details, or even something as basic as their name).

      This runs into trouble with tickets purchased for other people, including gifts. It is also a problem if the purchaser is unable to attend. The ticket can not be given away and if the purchaser was buying for a group, the remaining group members will be unable to get in.

      • by unrtst ( 777550 )

        Gifts: recipient must show ID, and you must supply their name. Limit max tickets per group, but that one person could then get 4 tickets (for example).

        Purchaser can't go? Get refund and put tickets back on sale. Tough luck if they wanted to gift them instead.

  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:27PM (#53448995) Homepage Journal

    If the tickets are being sold for $60, but people are willing to pay $150, then why aren't they offered first for $150? I see the big problem being the middlemen sucking money out without adding value. Let the entertainers get that money.

    If I were in charge of tickets for something like a pro sports team, the system I would use would be to put the tickets on sale at some ridiculous price, and announce that the price would drop 1% every four hours, or something like that. Then if you want the perfect seats and don't care that they're $1000, you can get your pick on the first day. Wait a few weeks, and they're $500. Wait until the day of the game, and anything left is $20. There's no need to set different prices on the better seats--they will sell earlier at a higher price.

    A system like that would make scalping at a profit nearly impossible.

    • One explanation I heard from a musician friend against an auctioning system, was that they wanted a wider fan base (aka "the public") to see the performance rather than bunch of elitists who can afford top $$$. For that they can play at a private event (which they do, but tickets are not sold to the public).
      • Your musician friend is a hypocrite. For many public concerts, they already use tickets as currency with corporate sponsors, politicians, and other powerful and influential people.

        In any case, another solution would simply be to have a lottery for the tickets. They would probably be cheaper as a result. Ask him why he isn't doing that.

      • by unrtst ( 777550 )

        Sure, that's a perfectly valid reason not to auction tickets. There is a very simple solution to that as listed in other comments - require the purchaser to be present and don't allow resale.

        The problem is that the venues want to have it both ways. They want fixed (and low) pricing at the start, so they get all the seats filled up, but they also want the resales to pull in the extra scalping money (since they resell through the same sites these days). Either auction from the start (or this reverse auction t

    • That's the perfect market efficiency method of matching supply with demand - adjust the price until the two match.

      The performers who give converts frequently prefer to deliberately mismatch supply and demand. By underpricing the tickets, demand exceeds supply and you end up with lines and shortages. This sort of mismatch (insufficient supply) is a problem with essentials like food (or the long lines for toilet paper that the Soviet Union was famous for). But since concerts are almost always entertainm
    • If the tickets are being sold for $60, but people are willing to pay $150, then why aren't they offered first for $150?

      Large numbers of the tickets go to "important people", either for tons of money or as bribes.

      The remaining tickets are sold to the peasants at nominally low prices to maintain the fiction that these concerts are "for the people".

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      It's still possible for middlemen to game the system. If the demand for tickets (and the price people are willing to pay) rises as the concert date approaches, people will figure out a way to profit from that. Ban bots? People will figure out a way to have boiler rooms in India (cheap labor) buy tickets.

      The only way to get the profit from the time value of the ticket returned to the event producer and/or performer would be a system like airline tickets. Instead of being a bearer instrument (redeemable by a

    • Because the scam is that they make at least $20 per ticket no matter what they go for. Each ticket pays for the drone on the phone's pay for a whole day. Why bother guessing what the final ticket price will be?
    • If the tickets are being sold for $60, but people are willing to pay $150, then why aren't they offered first for $150? I see the big problem being the middlemen sucking money out without adding value. Let the entertainers get that money.

      I agree that the entertainers should get a cut of the excess value. At the same time, there are other non-monetary factors that entertainers also want out of their performances. First, they want to keep their fan base engaged in the long term, which is easier if ordinary fans believe they can score tickets. Having tickets that are auctioned off to the highest bidder is bad for their image. They would rather have a third party gouge the customers than be perceived as money-grubbers -- what's an extra few mil

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @05:30PM (#53449013)

    Make it illegal to re-sell tickets to an event for higher than face value.

  • If it is sold online, software is buying it. The bot is just another layer between the eventual end user and the seller - one of many. Why not simply ban all reselling of tickets while forcing the original source to repurchase (and resell at original cost if they so desire) any tickets that go unused in exchange for this protection?

    As I read this, if I pay a thousand Amazon Turk users a buck a piece to buy the tickets, I'm good again. Whether the layer is a robot or a hubot doesn't really matter in the end.

  • There are plenty of ways to limit ticket sales to the actual consumer of the ticket. Airlines do it all the time. The fact that ticket agencies haven't bothered to take steps against scalpers and bots tells me they aren't really interested in solving the problem.

    If the companies selling the tickets don't care, why should government?

  • by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @06:11PM (#53449275)
    Why surprises me is why popular events haven't moved to an auction system for tickets -

    U2 is coming to town, tickets on sale by auction - They bid up to what the market will bear and (presumably) sell at a slower pace...
  • This is an attempt by the government to defy the principle of supply and demand. It will fail because people will find a way. You have people complaining that tickets are too expensive and others complaining that tickets sell out too fast. You can't fix both problems in a free market.

    • This is an attempt by the government to defy the principle of supply and demand. It will fail because people will find a way. You have people complaining that tickets are too expensive and others complaining that tickets sell out too fast. You can't fix both problems in a free market.

      Well it's good then that we don't live in a libertarian fantasy land, and that there is still at least a nod to social equality.

  • Oh so I guess this means they've taken care of more pressing business, like say filling a Supreme Court vacancy?

  • ...how I'm going to break the news to my 'bot that he will have to miss the next Ariana Grande concert.

  • What about banning the ticket master fees!

    A fee to use your own paper and ink or you can pay the same fee to have them mail it to you.

  • There's that big government problem again.

    I get the impression that most of the "big government" growth has been initiated by big corporations and business interests. I suppose their lobbyists have to do something to justify their salaries.

  • The act of buying tickets for scalpers will be handled by offshore boiler rooms (using either bots or dirt-cheap humans), and "gifted" to the scalpers. Lotsa luck trying to track down straw purchases from Bangalore.

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