Hannah Montana Fights the Tix Bots

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.

4 Responses to “Hannah Montana Fights the Tix Bots”

  1. This is just the kind of irresponsible journalism that fans the flame against licensed ticket brokers. And I quote”The same phenomenon occurred nationwide as ticket brokers swooped in to buy up all the tickets, beating even die-hard fans who had stood at the front of box office lines for hours.” By most accounts, ticket brokers had about 20% of the tickets for any venue listed for sale, a lot less than “all the tickets” – and many of those tickets were bought from individual buyers who preferred to cash in on the ludicrous amounts being paid. And do the math. A typical show, the promoters held back several thousand for fan club and other use, so usually about 8000 tickets were available. With a limit of 4, that means 2000 customers would be successful at pulling tickets. So with Ticketmaster’s powerful servers, is it any surprise that the concerts were sellouts within 20 seconds?
    People pay large amounts of money to real estate brokers, insurance brokers, mortgage brokers – so why is it that ticket brokers get so much scorn, when we are simply trying to provide a service? Could it be because of inflammatory journalistic(sic) comments like “buying up ALL the tickets”?

  2. Mr. Thom:

    I admit that “all” was a poor choice of words and I’ve edited it — I didn’t mean literally all — but whether it’s “all” or “a lot” does not change the fundamental point of this post, which concerns brokers using technology to jump ahead of the queue. Maybe you personally don’t participate in such tactics, but it looks like plenty of your colleagues do. The legislation discussed here targets only that behavior.

    (By the way, I don’t know where you got your 20% figure. The three MSM articles to which I linked reported much higher proportions. CNN quotes the editor of a trade magazine devoted to concerts estimating “Up to 80 percent of inquiries of tickets come from these brokers.” Do you care to cite a competing source?)

    The “real estate brokers, insurance brokers, [and] mortgage brokers” to whom you point do not cut in line. Furthermore, it is quite possible to secure at least insurance and mortgages without a broker — indeed, the internet has made doing so easier, not harder.

    If you disagree with the queue-jumping tactics in which many ticket brokers engage, then you should support this legislation to drive out your unethical competitors. If you think it’s okay, then I guess we just disagree about the importance of respect for first-come-first-served policies, and that might help explain the “scorn” of which you complain.

  3. I totally agree with this law. I think its the best thing MN has passed in years. I’m not from a rich family, and when I wanted to go see something at a major venue, I could never get tickets. Its like this past week, wrestling tickets went on sale. Within ten minutes all the tickets were sold out. Now if you look up “ticket brokers” and search for the even your looking for (my case wrestling) you will see tickets that were on sale for $60 originally now on sale for $160. Can’t we do something about that, is it really legal to charge THAT MUCH for ONE ticket? If its not legal…how do we report such people? It really is crazy, and makes those of us who want to see shows not able to see them. I understand the economy is bad, but seriously…ripping off people is not the way to make it better!

  4. [...] House has passed the “Hannah Montana bill”, 119-12. The proposed legislation, which I discussed last month, bans software that jumps the queue at Ticketmaster and other sites that sell event tickets. The [...]