President Obama Signs Legislation Outlawing Online Ticket Bots
We’ve all been there: you’re camped out in front of your computer at 9:55am on Ticketmaster, hitting “refresh” in your browser over and over until a concert goes on sale at 10am. Finally, success! That magical “on sale now!” button is there. You select what you want to buy, the countdown timer engages, and… by the time you get through to the next page, less than one minute later, no more tickets are available. What the fuck?
Tickets bots — programs that are able to scoop up thousands of tickets within seconds so scalpers can sell them later at a high mark-up — are the culprit, and the problem is apparently so widespread that the U.S. government has put legislation into effect making such programs illegal.
In a briefing issued on Whitehouse.gov on December 14th, the BOTS Act of 2016 (Better Online Ticket Sales) was listed among 20 other pieces of legislation signed into law by President Obama:
S. 3183, the “Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016” or the “BOTS Act of 2016,” which prohibits the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events.
Tech site Engadget explains in a bit more detail:
Under the new law, it is illegal for anyone to use a bot or other software to obtain more tickets than a specified limit allows or circumvent the posted rules for making a fair purchase. It also makes it illegal to resell any tickets than were bought with the help of a ticket bot. Both the person who employed the software and anyone who has knowledge of how the tickets were obtained can be held liable for the offense.
The BOTS Act also gives state governments the power to bring a civil suit to US district court on behalf of its residents. During those proceedings, states can seek to obtain damages, restitution or other compensation for the affected residents in the case. The law gives the Federal Trade Commission the power to intervene in those civil cases as well.
What isn’t clear is how the government plans to track down and prosecute the new law’s offenders; my sense of the situation is that the scalpers who use bots also employ IP-blocking technology and proxy servers that make their locations and identities very difficult to trace. Perhaps the threat of federal prison time will be enough to deter some scalpers from continuing to use bots, but I’m not so sure the BOTS act is anything much more than symbolic. I hope, of course, to be proven wrong.