Congress has taken up the challenge posed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) to outlaw so-called “ticket bots”—computer programs that buy up the best seats to Broadway shows, concerts and other events within moments of their going on sale, so they can be resold at a huge markup.
New York State criminalized use of the programs three months ago, but the effort would have limited effectiveness if the operators of the “bots” simply moved their bases of operations to another state.
At an August press conference at Sardi's theatrical restaurant in Times Square, Miranda and Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin announced their support for Schumer‘s sponsorship of legislation that would impose a $16,000 fine on those who use automated ticket purchasing software to purchase tickets online.
This week both houses of Congress took action on the bill, which was introduced in July by Sen. Jerry Moran, (R-KS). On September 12 the U.S. House of Representatives approved a version of the bill, now known as the Better Online Ticket Sales Act. On September 13, according to The New York Times, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the legislation.
One of the speakers before the committee was Hamilton lead producer Jeffrey Seller, who has watched as the bots have snapped up tickets to his megahit in New York and Chicago—only to see them turn up on resale sites for many times the face value.
“It’s an arms race,” the Times reported Seller saying. “When the bot actor is making millions and millions a year by turning over tickets, it is worth his time to continue to employ engineers to create better software.” Ticket sellers “keep employing new systems,” he added, “and then the bots up their game as well. That’s why we need the legislation, because the arms race is unending.”
It remains for the bill to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the President.
Schumer was quoted as saying, “If the starting price for a ticket to Hamilton is $189, but the bots have been selling them from anywhere from $600 to $2,000 a ticket — just think how much money the people make.”
New York State‘s legislation was prompted by an investigation by NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that targeted the abuses by the operators of the bots.
“It’s plain and simple,” Schumer said, “we need to sweep the stage of bots so that actual fans can enjoy Hamilton, other hit Broadway shows and major concerts.... Hackers and other bad actors are taking advantage of fans and we need to put a stop to it. These bots have gotten completely out of control and their dominance in the market is driving up prices for music and sports fans as well as tourists and theater-goers. This new legislation, now supported by Lin-Manuel Miranda, will crack down on online hackers and scalpers that use ‘bots’ to purchase thousands of tickets in a matter of milli-seconds, and then sell them at outrageously-inflated prices.”
(Updated September 15, 2016)