Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo

Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo

Editorial: Ban bots from snapping up tickets for scalping

By The Editorial Board

Whether its concerts, theater or sporting events, no one likes waiting for the online “ticket window” to open, only to find huge blocks of seats have been sold in mere minutes, limiting seating availability to the nosebleed sections or selling out the show all together.

Those hoping to score tickets then are forced to ticket reselling sites, which routinely charge 50 percent more than the ticket’s face value.

Sometimes the mark-up defies reason and budget. When pop singer Adele played Seattle’s KeyArena this summer, tickets were quickly snapped up and prices shot up to $5,000 for some seats on resale sites.

Hello from the other side, indeed.

Usually, you’ve been beaten out not by a fellow Adele fan but by a bot.

Short for robot, bots are software that can buy up scores of seats all at once at online sites such as Ticketmaster, only to turn around and sell them on legitimate resale sites, such as Stubhub and Craigslist at inflated prices. Ticket sites attempt to discourage the bots with tools like Captcha, which ask you to enter a word or string of letters or numbers that you’re shown in a distorted format, but the bots have gotten better at getting around such defenses.

Actually, that should be happening less in Washington, after the Legislature last year passed a law that made use of ticket bots illegal.

Use of bots was outlawed during the 2015 legislative session, following a proposal from the state Attorney General’s office. The law bars the use of the bot software. But without a national standard, it’s tougher to crack down on out-of-state use of the software.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, approved a bill — the Better Online Ticket Sales Act — sending it on to the Senate, that would bar bots from circumventing security measures, authorize the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to enforce the ban and authorize penalties against ticket brokers who use bots.

A Cantwell press release, which noted the $5,000 Adele tickets, also described the broad reach of such activity, harming not just pop concerts but sporting events and cultural events such as the Pacific Northwest Ballet and musicals at the 5th Avenue and Paramount theaters.

A study by the Attorney General’s office in New York, which passed its own ban in 2010, found that tickets scarfed up by bots were later resold at an average mark-up of 49 percent on top of the ticket’s face value. In a single day, two bots bought up more than 15,000 tickets for a 2015 tour by U2.

“People shouldn’t have to beat a robot to buy a ticket,” Cantwell said in the release.

Consumers could exert their own pressure on the scalpers by simply refusing to purchase tickets at those greatly inflated prices, though that can mean missing out on a big game or a favorite performer.

Ticket resale sites can serve a legitimate purpose, allowing people to sell tickets they have purchased but later learn they can’t use. And a small profit for their trouble is reasonable.

But losing out on a good seat to a robot that doesn’t know U2 from WD-40 — and only to line the pockets of a ticket scalper — strikes a sour note.

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