US senators want to enforce better anti-bot laws following Taylor Swift ticket controversy

"Fighting bots is an important step in reducing consumer costs in the online ticketing industry"

Two US senators are demanding answers from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding anti-bot laws, following the recent controversy around Taylor Swift tickets.

Earlier this month, Ticketmaster announced the cancellation of the general ticket sale for Swift’s 2023 North American tour due to “extraordinarily high demand” and “insufficient remaining ticket inventory”. It came after many customers experienced technical issues while attempting to access Ticketmaster’s pre-sale for ‘The Eras Tour’, including lengthy wait times and website outages.

It later emerged that online bots were also a factor in why many fans couldn’t access the website.

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Ticketmaster subsequently issued an apology to those who had a “terrible experience” in navigating its website, writing: “We strive to make ticket buying as easy as possible for fans.”

Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn have now sent a letter, seen by Billboard, to the FTC’s chair Lina Khan to address the saga, asking for the organisation to provide “information about the steps” it’s taking to “combat the use and operation of bots in the online ticket marketplace”.

The letter reads: “Recently, several high profile incidents arose where consumers encountered serious difficulties purchasing tickets through online ticket vendors, including Ticketmaster and AXS. While bots may not be the only reason for these problems, which Congress is evaluating, fighting bots is an important step in reducing consumer costs in the online ticketing industry.”

They added: “[G]iven the numerous high-profile incidents in the online ticket marketplace, it would be helpful to understand how the FTC intends to act to address such conduct going forward.”

Taylor Swift performing live on-stage
Taylor Swift performs live in 2022. CREDIT: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

In the letter, Blumenthal and Blackburn refer to 2016’s Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, which was established to crack down on the use of illegal bots that can acquire hundreds of thousands of tickets before fans can buy them.

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The law prohibits “the circumvention” of security and access measures used by online ticket sellers, and bans the selling of any tickets “obtained through a circumvention violation”.

The BOTS Act also enables the FTC and state attorneys general to “enforce violations as unfair and deceptive practices”.

The two senators have asked the FTC if there are any obstacles preventing them from exercising its authority under the BOTS Act, and have also asked if there are any solutions Congress need to consider in conjunction with the Act.

They also highlighted bot-related problems surrounding ticket sales for Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Blake Shelton.

The letter from Blumenthal and Blackburn comes after it was announced recently that Congress will be holding a hearing on Ticketmaster over the Swift ticket controversy.

The hearing was confirmed by Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is chair of the panel.

“The high fees, site disruptions and cancellations that customers experienced shows how Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve,” Klobuchar said.

“We will hold a hearing on how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industry harms customers and artists alike.”

Swift herself responded to fans following the saga. “Well. It goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans,” she began in a message via Instagram.

“We’ve been doing this for decades together and over the years, I’ve brought so many elements of my career in house. I’ve done this SPECIFICALLY to improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do. It’s really difficult to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”

Read her full statement here.

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