Take Two for September 4, 2013

New California bill aims to ban ticket-buying bots

Ticketmaster CAPTCHA

/AP

This image provided by Ticketmaster shows the newly designed program for ticket purchases. Ticketmaster, often the subject of fan anger when tickets to popular concerts get sold out in seconds, is removing an annoyance that can slow down the buying process: the jumble of letters that people need to decipher known as “CAPTCHA.” The puzzles provided by Google Inc. are meant to deter automated systems known as “bots” from buying up mass numbers of tickets the instant they go on sale in order to resell them for a profit.

For you sports fans out there hoping to catch a game, or for people hoping to see a concert or watch a play, you know you've got to buy a ticket.

But you've probably had the experience of trying to get a ticket as soon as they go on sale, only to find that they're instantly sold out.

The cause isn't just other fans like you racing to get seats, but ticket-buying bots. Those are computer programs that buy up whole blocks of tickets and then scalpers resell them at a mark-up.

On Tuesday, California's Assembly Judiciary Committee approved AB 329, a new bill combatting ticket-buying bots in an 8-0 vote. The bill aims to strengthen existing laws against scalping, and will impose fines on organizations caught using computer programs to purchase multiple tickets. The bill is currently on its way to the Governor's desk. 

"There's a fanclub presale, a credit card presale, then the artists, the promoter, the venue, they all get a big chunk of tickets," said Christopher Grimm, spokesperson for Fan Freedom, a consumer rights group for ticket buyers. "We're starting off with a smaller supply than anyone actually thinks."

After the various presales and comp tickets issued to talent, just a small percentage of total tickets are left for fans. 

The bots work by bypassing the "CAPTCHA" login and bombarding the box office with hundreds of ticket requests. In a matter of seconds these bots can buy up all the available seats to be sold for a markup by scalpers later. 

Grimm says part of the problem is that ticketing companies never disclose how many tickets are being snatched up by bots. 

"We don't know the number, because ticket sellers like Ticketmaster have never actually reported how many tickets are bought with bots, but they blame bots a lot for these instant sellouts," said Grimm. "The bill...is a good first step. It gets everyone in agreement that bots are bad for consumers and that something needs to be done to prevent folks from using them in California."


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