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Pennsylvania Lawmakers May Thwart Price Gouging Ticket Bots

Pennsylvania lawmakers are exploring an update to existing state law to combat so-called grinch bots — a consumer protection concern for concerts and sporting events plus online sales of rare items.

Taylor Swift performs at the 2019 Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Taylor Swift
(TNS) — Buying tickets for Taylor Swift's Eras Tour proved a fiasco for the pop star's legion of fans, largely blamed on computer software leveraged by scalpers to circumvent purchasing limits, snatch up tickets at face value and resell them online at an enormous markup.

Tickets originally priced from $49 to $499 fetched thousands on the resale market, reportedly as much as $28,000 or more, leading Ticketmaster to cancel sales last November and attempt a re-do. But the secondary market remained inflated throughout the tour with only scalpers benefitting from the up-charges.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are exploring an update to existing state law to combat these so-called "grinch bots — a consumer protection concern not just for concerts and sporting events but also online sales of rare items and hot gifts around the Christmas holiday like PlayStations and the like.

"Ticket price gouging and scalping are not new but with bots, consumers literally have no fighting chance to buy these products because they're only online. And, bots can operate so fast that humans cannot compete. This is not a natural case of supply and demand that we see in the marketplace," Rep. Steven Malagari, D-Montgomery, said Wednesday during a hearing hosted by the Pennsylvania House Consumer Protection, Technology & Utilities Committee.

It's already illegal through state and federal laws to use computer software, or bots, to buy tickets by circumventing access controls and security measures used by primary ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and Live Nation. Pennsylvania's law enacted in 2010 carries a $5,000 fine. The federal BOTS Act of 2016, which lacked relevant enforcement until 2021, carries a $16,000 fine.

The fine amounts seem more to be the cost of doing business for scalpers. However, two industry attorneys told committee members that a proposed revision to the commonwealth's law might prove mighty in disrupting the malicious resale market.

House Bill 1378, introduced by Malagari, would make it illegal to use bots in an attempt to acquire tickets for resale and also make it illegal for anyone who knowingly sells, or should have reasonably known, tickets acquired using bots.

Those resale distinctions would be new to state law and wouldn't disrupt legitimate resale between friends and family or among fan club members, for example.

Perhaps more impactful is the provision that would empower venue operators, primary ticket sellers and rights holders including the artists themselves to file lawsuits for civil damages. Added to potential damages against scalpers would be a cost of $1,000 for each ticket sold in violation of the proposed law.

Industry attorneys Howard Waltzman and Chris Castle each testified at Wednesday's hearing in support of House Bill 1378. They both credited lawmakers with authorizing civil lawsuits as a potential disincentive even as many bad actors are working beyond the country's borders.

"They're going to be with us for a long time unless someone does something about them pretty aggressively," Castle said.

"I guess the lesson today," said committee chair Rep. Robert Matzie, D-Beaver, "is that the current Pennsylvania law is too limited, too hard to prove actual knowledge, so we need something to put more teeth into it and look to prohibition."

© 2023 The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.