UK to make online ticket-buying bots illegal

Touts using the tools can expect uncapped fines.

Matt Cardy via Getty Images

A new amendment slipped into the Digital Economy Bill, which is now pretty close to becoming UK law, would make the use of online tout bots that hoover up tickets to popular music, sport and other events a criminal offense punishable by unlimited fines (but not imprisonment). Websites typically limit the number of tickets an individual can buy for obvious reasons, but computerized tools that circumvent these caps allow scalpers to buy more than their fair share, if there is such a thing in this context.

This sucks for consumers, as it makes buying legitimate tickets a maddening race. Lose that sprint, and one of your only options is to buy them from a reseller like Viagogo or StubHub at a mark-up, which are sometimes obscene depending on the event/seats, not to mention the sites' additional fees. Making the use of bots a criminal offense should restore some order to the secondary ticketing racket, though how it would be policed and the law enforced requires a little more forethought.

The UK government has been looking to address problems with ticket touts and resellers for a while now, taking evidence from industry stakeholders and commissioning a report by Warwick University Economics Professor Mike Waterson. The general consensus is that, with state aid, primary ticket vendors and resellers should be responsible for building abuse-resistant systems, and work with the police when breaches of the law have occurred. The Competition and Markets Authority are already investigating resellers to make sure they are giving customers all info relevant to their purchase, such as exact seating location, where the tickets are coming from and what restrictions may apply.

Ticket touts aren't just a problem in the UK, of course. At the end of last year, then President Obama outlawed the use of ticket bots across the US, following New York State's earlier, regional ban.