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Schumer targets ‘bots’ that corner market on concert tickets

Sen. Charles E. Schumer stood just yards from the scene of the crime, the First Niagara Center lobby where dozens – and later thousands – of disgruntled Paul McCartney fans expressed their disgust over being squeezed out of the market for tickets to the iconic singer’s Oct. 22 concert there.

Three weeks after the McCartney concert sold out in some four minutes, Schumer came to a grassy area just west of HarborCenter on Monday to unveil a new Senate bill designed to target the perpetrators of such crimes.

The legislation sponsored by the New York Democrat would crack down on “bots” – sophisticated robotic computer programs – that enable secondary ticket sellers to corner the market on tickets to such high-demand events as the McCartney concert next month and the Rolling Stones appearance at Ralph Wilson Stadium in July.

Promoters and other ticket sellers have contended that some secondary ticket sellers use bots to scoop up anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of the tickets for popular concerts. Those online scalpers quickly buy thousands of tickets, reselling them later at hyperinflated prices and freezing out individual ticket buyers.

“In a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds, all these tickets are snatched up,” the senator said of such events as the McCartney concert.

How do these experts buy so many tickets so quickly? Armed with plenty of phone lines, they flood the system with auto-dial robotic programs that hammer away at official sites until they’ve secured as many tickets as they can. Schumer’s legislation would prohibit “the unfair and deceptive act” of using bots and other software to circumvent safeguards designed to give concertgoers fair access to tickets. The two-pronged legislation would target both the bot users buying the tickets and the person later selling a ticket knowingly bought this way. Each violator could be fined $1,000 per ticket, or $1 million for 1,000 tickets.

At least 14 states, including New York, have laws prohibiting the use of bots by such cyberscalpers.

“You need national legislation, because a lot of these bots and online sellers are out of state,” Schumer said.

For example, someone in California could buy a ticket to a concert in New York and sell it to someone in New Jersey. So, in this case, an attorney general in one state would have to subpoena records and deal with attorneys in two other states.

The law being proposed by Schumer would make this a federal crime that could be investigated by the FBI’s Cybercrime Division.

“We have the technology to find them and go after them,” he said. “We just don’t have the law.”

Tod A. Kniazuk, executive director of the Arts Services Initiative of Western New York, talked about the cost to the local cultural community of such ticket gouging. “This isn’t an overly affluent community,” he said just before the Schumer news conference. “Already the face value of ticket prices are at the upper limit of what ordinary citizens can pay.”

So if prices rise to two, five or 10 times their face value, Kniazuk said, “it actually hurts our local cultural economy.”