The Minnesota Legislature is considering a proposed bill aimed at an important and very large constituency: fans of tween-pop sensation Hannah Montana who couldn’t get tickets to her, like, totally sold-out show here a few months ago (and their frustrated parents). The same phenomenon occurred nationwide as ticket brokers swooped in to buy up
all a lot of the tickets, beating even die-hard fans who had stood at the front of box office lines for hours. Ticket scalping is now legal in Minnesota. But this fight is about scalpers’ use of technology.
According to the local paper, the problem, as so often the case, is bots. Apparently, some resellers use automated software, including a bot made by RMG Technologies, to flood Ticketmaster and similar sites with orders, and also jump in front of other purchasers in the queue. According to the Wall Street Journal:
[T]he software allows users, among other things, to search for tickets at specific price levels for particular events and to generate requests for tickets much more quickly than a human at a typical home computer could. For instance, companies like Ticketmaster require customers searching for tickets online to replicate a set of the squiggly letters and numbers, known as a “Captcha.” Theoretically, only human customers can correctly identify the characters despite the odd fonts, screening out automated purchasing programs. But RMG’s software, according to [a ticket broker who settled a lawsuit with Ticketmaster], can also “figure out the randomly generated characters and retype them automatically.” [The broker] said RMG employees also gave him advice on fooling Ticketmaster’s computers into thinking his requests were coming from different Internet addresses.
The new bill aims to make the use of such software illegal. While normally I am a little wary about laws that forbid a particular technological application, this one seems like it might be narrow enough and also aimed at counterbalancing an innovation that gives some people an unfair advantage over others. Am I missing something?
Not surprisingly, Ticketmaster and major local sports teams support the measure. (Ticketmaster already filed an eleven-count federal civil suit in Los Angeles against RMG last year. The arguments include claims that RMG’s bot violates copyright law, the DMCA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and Ticketmaster’s terms of service.) It will be interesting to see if such legislation begins to sweep the country. OMG MN Leg — UR2 CSA!!!
UPDATE: The Minnesota bill has now become law.