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Viagogo ordered to comply with consumer protection rules - Expert Comment

christian_twigg-flesner_small.jpgProfessor Christian Twigg-Flesner, Chair in International Commercial Law, Warwick Law School, comments on the enforcement action taken by the CMA against Viagogo:

"The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has completed its long-running enforcement action against so-called secondary ticketing websites, with a court order obliging Viagogo, one such website, to comply with consumer protection rules on secondary ticketing.

"The practice of secondary ticketing is a well-known and often frustrating experience for consumers. Tickets for rock and pop concerts and sporting events often sell out quickly, only to appear for sale at significantly higher prices on secondary ticketing websites. These websites present themselves as websites where people who have bought tickets which are no longer required can resell them. However, various investigations (such as a Channel 4 Dispatches programme broadcast back in 2012) revealed that tickets are often bought from primary sellers by persons connected with secondary ticketing websites for the sole purpose of reselling them, and some tickets were offered directly via secondary ticketing websites without having been available on the primary market first. A further practice was speculative selling of tickets which hadn’t yet been acquired (and never might). Many tickets now contain clear terms prohibiting any resales, with concertgoers who had bought tickets via secondary ticketing platforms being refused entry (e.g., to Ed Sheeran’s concerts earlier this year).

"The secondary ticket market has received considerable attention from government. The (then) Office of Fair Trading first raised concerns as long ago as 2005. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee reported in 2008. The CMA secured undertakings from several secondary ticketing websites that they would comply with consumer law in 2015. An independent report into consumer protection issues, the Watterson report, was published in 2016. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee has an ongoing enquiry into “live music”, including secondary ticketing issues.

"Secondary ticketing also became the issue which almost stopped the Consumer Rights Act 2015 from being enacted. During its passage through Parliament, the House of Lords introduced provisions dealing with secondary ticketing which were rejected by the government at the time. A compromise was reached, resulting in the introduction of legal rules requiring secondary ticketing websites to provide clear information about all aspects of the tickets listed on their sites. Regulations made under the Digital Economy Act 2017 make it a criminal offence to use “bots” to harvest tickets on primary selling websites. These measures are designed to facilitate secondary ticketing through transparency rules that would, theoretically, assist consumers in deciding whether to buy tickets via secondary ticketing websites and reduce some of the worst practices. Parliament has thus far not introduced tighter regulation or even the outright prohibition of secondary ticketing, as it has so far regarded the ability of a person to resell a ticket as a legitimate economic activity.

"However, compliance by the main secondary ticketing websites with these rules had been lacking, prompting the CMA’s further enforcement action. Following a lengthy investigation, some websites were shut down altogether by their operators in August 2018, but Viagogo was identified as refusing to comply, leading to court action.

"The court order obtained this week is a binding undertaking by Viagogo to comply with consumer protection rules. Viagogo is obliged to ensure that customers are informed about the tickets (face value, location, nature of the seller, popularity of tickets), any restrictions on buying tickets which might lead to admission being refused, and preventing speculative selling of tickets which the seller does not actually have to resell.

"This is an important development, reflecting once more the strength of UK consumer protection law when enforced properly. It is unlikely to be the final chapter in the secondary ticketing saga, however, The DCMS Committee may make further recommendations once it concludes its current enquiry."

29 November 2018

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