Computer “scalper bots” that scoop up concert tickets to be outlawed in Ontario

TORONTO – Computer “scalper bots” that scoop up huge blocks of tickets to concerts and major sporting events, forcing customers to the more expensive resale market, could soon be outlawed in Ontario.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the government plans to introduce legislation next spring that would make it illegal to use sophisticated computer software for bulk ticket purchases.

But he admits there’s no easy way to stop criminals in other jurisdictions from using the “scalper bots” to purchase tickets and then reselling them in Ontario at far above face value.

“The enforcement piece is an important issue, and frankly speaking there’s no silver bullet, but inaction is not the answer either,” Naqvi said Thursday.

“People on the other side can be really smart and use the technology really well, and we need to be aware of that as we develop our strategies to protect consumers, to protect our artists, and to make sure people can enjoy concerts and hockey games when they want to.”

The government needs to do something to try make sure consumers get a “fair shot” at tickets to big events like the Tragically Hip’s farewell tour, added Naqvi.

“What happened this summer with the Tragically Hip and tickets, that really bugged me,” he said in an interview.

“Here’s this iconic Canadian band with a very tragic story about (lead singer) Gord Downie’s cancer … and running into the wall where people couldn’t go see their favourite ban and bid adieu.”

Naqvi feels “very strongly” that the province needs to do something to protect consumers from being shut out of ticket sales and forced to the resale market, which often charges many times the original face value.

“We need to make sure that there is fairness and some level of transparency,” he said.

Progressive Conservative Todd Smith said the government should also ban the sale and purchase of “scalper bot” software, and require ticket buyers to use their credit card to pick up their tickets at the event.

The Tories blame the Liberals for the growing online resale market because the government changed the Ticket Speculation Act last year to make it legal to resell tickets above their original face value.

“What it’s done is allow for the Wild West and let ticket scalpers to go crazy online, and made it legal to do so,” said Smith. “Now they’re trying to clean up their own mess.”

Naqvi said he plans to engage in “targeted consultations” with consumer groups, entertainers and his colleagues in other jurisdictions like New York, who have also struggled to deal with ticket scalping and “bots.”

“I want to talk to primary sellers, talk to resellers to see if there’s a way to stop these bots from scooping up the tickets at the front end,” he said. “New York and London are bigger markets than us, and they’re struggling with the same thing.”

The government’s legislation will build on a private member’s bill by Liberal Sophie Kiwala, who represents the Hip’s hometown of Kingston, Ont., and also tried to ban the “scalper bots.”

“I want to see what kind of solutions we can put in place,” said Naqvi. “Are there technological solutions that could be implemented so we can prevent that kind of mass scooping?”

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect spelling for Liberal MPP Sophie Kiwala.