When You Buy A Paperless Ticket To An Event, Do You Actually Own It?

Consumers might be laboring under a misapprehension when it comes to reselling tickets to games, concerts and other live fare. One might think that purchasing a ticket would equal the right to do whatever you want with it, barring the practice of scalping. Maybe not.

A New York Times op-ed piece looks at our widely-held assumption that as long as you don’t violate any scalping laws, that ticket is yours to do with what you will. However, new ways to sell tickets have started to restrict rights when it comes to disposing of a ticket after you purchase it.

Paperless ticketing — where you buy entry with a credit card and then show that card an a photo ID at the venue — makes it difficult to give away a ticket or sell it if you can’t use it. Transfer restraints placed on those tickets are only seen elsewhere in the airline industry.

Ticketmaster uses these restrictions on resale and even giving away paperless tickets to protect against scalping and bulk-buys by bots, as well as counterfeiting. But are they really acting in the interest of consumers, or trying to control a market that has seen an influx of secondary-ticket sellers? That is a rhetorical question, of course.

So the question becomes, is it okay for Ticketmaster and others to put such restrictions on the paperless-ticket market? Probably not, says the NYT.

This week, the American Antitrust Institute is releasing a report on the paperless-ticket market by James D. Hurwitz, an institute fellow and former policy analyst at the Federal Trade Commission. The conclusion: restrictive paperless-ticket practices depart from bedrock market principles by unjustifiably limiting consumer choice and suppressing free competition. They also might violate federal and state antitrust and consumer-protection laws. And they may warrant legislation to protect the market and consumers.

Some states have already introduced legislation to enable consumers to conduct paperless-ticket transactions with each other as they see fit, including a law passed in New York in 2010 and others in the legislative process in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida and New Jersey.

Who Owns My Ticket? [New York Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. SkokieGuy says:

    It also makes it damn hard to buy tickets for someone as a gift.

  2. Marlin says:

    I can see both sides of this.

    Ticketmaster would control 100% of the resale market. BUT it would also stop groups from buying large numbers of tickets to resale at super high rates.

    Evil vs Evil. The biggest loser… the consumer.

    • Darrone says:

      I hate the restrictions on reselling. If i buy a ticket, I own that ticket and should be able to resell. There are better ways to get rid of resellers.

      • StarKillerX says:

        OKay, but would you have an issue with no longer being able to buy tickets at face value once resellers can buy them all, tack 50-100% to the price and resell them?

        This is a no win situation for the consumer, and actually for ticket master, since either way the consumer will loose and either way the consumer will blame ticket master.

        • Darrone says:

          There are ways to get rid of and control bots, without harming ticket reselling. Essentially, what you need to put your energy toward is a system that prevents bots from buying tickets, not a system that prevents them from selling them. Vary the type and manner of captcha systems. What if at random, captcha had a new goal, ie math, drawing shapes, writing words, etc. There are ways to get rid of the bots. If resellers had to staff actual humans to try and get tickets, it would kill a vast majority of them.

      • rugman11 says:

        I can see it being necessary in some cases. Where I went to school, the university sold students football tickets for $5/each, about 2% of what they could have sold them for. There weren’t enough tickets for every student, though, and they were having a lot of students reselling tickets to other students or to non-students, so they started using an electronic system where the tickets were attached to your student ID and you had to swipe it to get in. Students could still transfer their tickets to another student, but they had to do it through the university system and doing so too often could prevent you from getting tickets for the next season.

        • Conformist138 says:

          That sounds like a special circumstance- you got a student discount, so they needed to be sure only the qualified student used it. My university did the same thing with football tickets given to students (but not to regularly-priced tickets, which were also available). I see this the same as requiring someone show military ID when getting a military discount.

          But the game changes drastically when the purchasers aren’t a special group (students, seniors, military personnel, etc) and the tickets don’t have any discount on them. At that point, controlling the resale is just a matter of greed on the part of Ticketmaster. It’s not enough to stop the bulk-buying scalpers, they want to stop ALL resale of their ‘products’.

  3. dragonfire81 says:

    If you’ve paid for something, it should be yours to do with as you please. Period.

    • Snowblind says:

      Right, so if they can’t bill you until you show up to collect it, then they own it.

      If they DO charge you, even a “hold”, then you should own it.

    • balderdashed says:

      That argument makes a lot of sense — until you think about it. If I own a theater and/or the rights to a performance to take place there, shouldn’t I also be able to do as I please with my property? That would include offering for sale certain rights, but not others. If I offer to sell you the right to attend a performance, subject to the restriction that you may not resell this right (or to any other restriction that is not illegal) you can take the deal, or not. You can do whatever you want with the ticket related to this transaction — use it to attend the event, or bake it into a brownie. But it represents only those rights that I agreed to sell and you agreed to buy, unless there is a law that says otherwise.

      That said: I agree that Ticketmaster is a particularly despicable company. The only ones I consider more despicable are the scalpers — and Ticketmaster’s restriction on transfers seems, at least marginally, the lesser of evils.

      • daemonaquila says:

        Nope, you shouldn’t be able to do whatever you want. The entire concept of selling “right to use” (individual licensure) versus selling actual property (as in a ticket simply being material proof of a fungible right to admission) is obscene. Ethics count, and ethics require that if you sell something, you’ve sold it. It’s someone else’s to do with as they please. You don’t get to decide how they use it, when they use it (except if it IS a ticket for a specific event), or what they can do with it. Anything else is pure greed… and we’re going to see more of that BS as time goes on. Expect to see “licenses to use” in any intellectual property category, attempts to prevent resale of electronics, etc. very soon. The ethical folks are going to break the laws 20 ways from Sunday as they fight back, and the sheeple will play along and merely whine about how this could be allowed to happened. The only way to keep a sane society is to fight like mad the moment corporate nonsense raises its ugly head.

    • James says:

      Not unique to ticket sellers. See what software companies have been doing for a while now.

      Even had a court case, don’t remember all of it but it was Autodesk vs someone. Basically means that you don’t own your software. It is a licence. EA is making gamers pay for online content if they buy their games used.

      Putting on the tinfoil hat, anything connected could go down this same path. Movies (even on blueray, nevermind streaming), software, music, and even electronic books. Face it the entertainment industry wants to be out of the ownership culture and start the subscription culture.

      This is just one more symptom. I can understand that there are people who will buy something, copy it and then try to return or resell it. I also think they are a very small minority that are an excuse for the entertainment industry to punish all users.

      Simply put, this is the type of behavior that encourages those who pirate games, movies, and music.

  4. incident man stole my avatar says:

    Simple solution… boycott shows that do business with “ticketmassa”.. go support indie bands and the small clubs they play

    • nicless says:

      Yes, but please don’t support any of the indie bands I like. Because if they become popular they’ll play bigger venues and then I’ll have to use Ticketmaster.

    • Jawaka says:

      Great idea. So we should only support small indy bands. At least until those small bands get some exposure and play in larger venues who sell their tickets through Ticketmaster. Then we should just forget that we ever liked those bands and start the cycle all over again?

      Its not the bands fault that Ticketmaster sucks.

    • LMA says:

      And guess what? Those small clubs sell their tickets exclusively through Ticketfly. There’s no escape.

  5. galm666 says:

    I just avoid Ticketmaster as much as possible. American life involves being done over by middlemen, if I can skip one of them by avoiding Ticketmaster, so much the better. Why am I paying Ticketmaster to do what pretty much amounts to nothing?

  6. donjumpsuit says:

    I say price all tickets at $1000 3 months before the event. Those who really want to secure thier seat will pay this price, and as the event nears progressively lower the price in a planned manner towards a full sell out.

  7. daynight says:

    I hear you that there are those who buy blocks of tickets to resell. How often does this happen in real life? Does it account for a fraction of 1% of sales? Is it more like 10%? I can’t imagine that it is all that prevalent, or TicketMaster would simply raise their prices so that they are making the markup prices instead of someone else. I hope someone out there has some actual stats on this.

  8. mgchan says:

    It does make it hard to buy tickets as a gift, though in the past when I’ve encountered this it was usually with pre-sale or exclusive sale tickets (I may be wrong about that, but it’s my experience).

    But you aren’t buying the actual chair, you’re buying the right to go to an event. You can’t resell plane tickets to people at the gate, either.

    As for paying TicketMaster for being a middleman, if it was really “nothing” to run a web site and distribute tickets, events wouldn’t pay TicketMaster themselves to handle this stuff for them. I’d like to avoid it, too, but then again I’d like to avoid paying for everything.

  9. Outrun1986 says:

    Need a system like Japan, you want tickets, you ballot for them. In order to ballot you must be a member of the artist’s fanclub and some fanclub’s require membership for more than a year in order to get tickets. There is a yearly fee to be in the fanclub. There is also a small non refundable fee for the ballot. Though even over there, they still have a second hand market, because non fans can obviously join the fan club and then ballot solely for resale. But this is quite a bit more work than what it takes in the USA to get tickets for resale. Though it isn’t as bad as here where you have large groups buying up entire shows at once, leaving nothing for the people who actually want to see the show.

    This system generally goes only for high profile acts, and depending on who you are going to see the system may be very different, this is just the one system I happen to be the most familiar with.

    The tickets do have a name on them, but its easy to fake being that person, or the person who’s name is on the ticket can transfer it to someone else, making the identification system pretty much moot. Also sometimes they just don’t check since they want to get as many people in the door as possible for the concert, but that depends on the concert you are going to see.

    • Lisse24 says:

      Um, no. I don’t ‘like’ companies on facebook to get coupons or enter a drawing and I don’t want to join someone’s fanclub just to buy a ticket to a concert/game/show/whatever.

    • nishioka says:

      > Need a system like Japan, you want tickets, you ballot for them.

      Never had to ballot for tickets while I was there. Everything I went to, you either went to the venue, or went online, or went to the kiosk at the nearest 7-Eleven/Lawson. Although I could see the need for it if you’re in to crap like AKB48.

      We already have artists here who open presales to fan club members only anyway. Bottom line is if somebody wants the ticket to resell they’ll find a way. Start printing names on the tickets and they’ll start selling their spots in line so you can fill in the form yourself.

  10. Bob Lu says:

    In many situations nowadays when you buy a ticket what you get is not really a ticket, but a “revocable license”. I am wondering how does this affect the limitations on ticket transfering between consumers?

  11. dush says:

    I wish any show that is sold exclusively through ticketmaster, no one would purchase a ticket for.

    • webweazel says:

      There was a recent event here, a large multi-brewery micro-beer tasting event. We were really juiced up to go, as was quite a few of our friends. We had about 6 people going with us. Event: 4 hours. Price: $35 each. Okay, we live near the venue, we’ll go down and buy tickets at the box office ahead of time. Nope. They ONLY sell ahead of time through Ticketbastard for an additional $9 fee. EACH. We could buy tickets at the door the day of the event for an extra $5. Last year was sold out. There was no possible way we were going to give Ticketbastard $18 of our hard-earned money for nothing on two tickets, and after figuring that there is a huge hassle in arranging designated drivers, dropping off and picking up, etc. risking the chance of the event being sold out the day of it, we just scrapped the whole idea and won’t go. The others agreed when we broke down the numbers for them. There’s 8 people total who didn’t give Ticketbastard one thin dime.

      (Add to the fact that I had mentioned that any wonderful delicious beers we try there are not available for purchase within a 200 mile radius kind of negated the purpose of going anyway.)

  12. nybiker says:

    Well, I learned something new today: there is an organization called American Antitrust Institute. http://www.antitrustinstitute.org/

    On the face of it, I agree that if I am buying a ticket (paperless or otherwise), I should be able to do what I want with it. And as Darrone said, keep the bots from buying in the first place so we can resell or give to whomever we choose.

  13. Straspey says:

    As I recall, there is a disclaimer printed on the back of most tickets which spells out the agreement between the venue and the ticket-buyer.

    Part of that agreement specifies that your ticket is, in essence, a license, “…which may be revoked at any time, at the discretion of the management…” and I believe it also mentions that the ticket-buyer will receive a full refund, in that event.

    I’m not sure about on-line tickets, but I would imagine there is a bit of “small print” where that proviso can be found on most – if not all – sites where one can purchase an e-ticket.

    While you may buy a ticket for the event – what you are actually buying is a very limited and restricted license – or permit, if you will – to attend that event, on that specific day, at that specific time, while sitting in that specific seat.

    Your rights (if any) after that are questionable, at best.

  14. axolotl says:

    Here’s an idea: don’t sell tickets on the internet. You want tickets? Go stand in line when they go on sale. Or Ticketmaster could open kiosks all over the place so you have to buy the ticket in person. And limit the number per person obviously.

    • j2.718ff says:

      While that sounds like a good idea at first, what about events that are far away? Or, what if I live out in the country, and the nearest kiosk is 1+ hours away? I’m willing to travel to the event (maybe even making a vacation out of it), but I’d rather not have to travel just to buy a ticket for the event.

  15. AldisCabango says:

    if someone is stupid enought to pay 100, 200 or even 300 times or more than face value I should be able to sell my ticket if I want.

  16. AEN says:

    The only issue here is that Ticketmaster wants to control the resale market. Simple as that.

  17. careycat says:

    You only bought a license to use the ticket for entry once, not the ticket itself. That’s what the movie and music industry believe: you have a bought a license for the movie / song, not the disc itself….

  18. voogru says:

    The only way to stop scalping is to charge market rates for the tickets in the first place.

    If a gasoline station charges ten cents for a gallon of gasoline, don’t be surprised when someone buys all of the gasoline to sell it at the market price.

    Trying to counter this with laws and other gimmicks won’t really work.

    And to the people out there “WELL WHAT IF WE WANT A TICKET AT A REASONABLE PRICE?!?!?!”.

    The market decides what’s reasonable, not you.

    Besides, I’d much rather pay $500 for a ticket and have that money go to the original party, rather than a third party scalper.

  19. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    My state doesn’t have anti scalping laws. I don’t really see the need for them. I think Ticketmaster has the right idea of using auction systems like they have tested a few times.

  20. Alan_Schezar says:

    Can’t you just get around this by buying with pre-paid debit cards or Ticketmaster gift cards, then when you resell the tickets you also give them the used card?

  21. JollyJumjuck says:

    It doesn’t stop shady companies from buying tickets in bulk the moment Ticketmaster puts them on sale, and then turn around and sell them at inflated prices when Ticketmaster is “sold out.”

    Scumbag corporations: have all the rights of persons. Have none of the ethical responsibilities of persons.

    • bror says:

      Why wouldn’t these changes stop shabby companies to buy tickets in bulk? How can you resell a ticket if you need to show the credit card used for the transaction and ID to get in?

  22. Rantaholic says:

    The best consumer law would be allowing the resale of tickets for any price up to and including the full orginal purchase price…and nothing more.

  23. ecvogel says:

    I know a ticket broker, he buys alot of season passes and the company that has the venue (major league sport plays there as well as concerts) sends me gifts, calls and talks to him and who knows maybe a dinner. So these venue owners have no issues with them.

    I think it is unfair, but they will find a way and it will not stop till people stop paying more than face.