Arthur Cockfield is a professor at Queen's University Faculty of Law where he teaches tax, legal ethics and contract law courses
Like many Tragically Hip fans, I was eagerly anticipating their final tour, mainly to pay tribute to lead singer Gord Downie, who recently announced he has terminal brain cancer. As long-time fans, my wife and I were permitted to purchase online tickets through Ticketmaster five days before they went on sale to the general public. The night before, over a glass of red wine we decided to buy extra tickets and bestow them, like a lord and lady, on our ticketless friends who would remain forever grateful.
On the morning of the ticket sale, we had preregistered our credit card and other information at the Ticketmaster site, and logged on to buy the tickets. Things did not turn out as planned. Even though we deployed three home computers, we were unable to buy a single ticket. It quickly became clear that the tickets had sold out.
To our dismay, it turned out that online scalper bots, online companies that buy up tickets for resale, had robbed us of our chance for tickets. Using powerful computers and specialized software, the bots scooped up virtually all of the available tickets, leaving fans like myself fuming – especially when we realized that those tickets were being offered at markups of several hundred per cent – $1,000 and up – by StubHub and other ticket resellers soon after the sale began.
And it is not only the fans that got burned. Artists such as the Tragically Hip themselves suffer under the cruelty of the scalper bots. While the Hip knew that their final tour would sell out, they decided to keep the ticket prices at a relatively low price so they would be more affordable to fans. Indeed, bands like the Hip sometimes discount the online ticket price even further as they know many fans will pay a premium for the scalped tickets.
All of this is a particularly sensitive issue within Kingston, Ont. where the band grew up and most of them continue to reside: the band's final concert is scheduled to take place here later this summer. Kingstonians love the Tragically Hip in part because its members are actively involved with local community and charitable groups.
It does not have to be this way. The scalper bots only exist because the Ontario legislature amended the Ticket Speculation Act in 2015 under the view that online scalped tickets benefit consumers. The hope was that consumers would not have to turn to the black market where they sometimes purchase useless fake tickets.
While that may be the case, there is absolutely no advantage to consumers or artists when scalper bots are permitted to use technology to make purchases ahead of consumers. In this case, the online scalpers, as a result of technology and not out of any real economic rationale, are able to dominate a market without adding any value. This seems odd because Ontario law is filled with prohibitions against such predatory business practices within our unfair-trade-practices and consumer-protection laws.
The Ontario legislature should immediately amend the Ticket Speculation Act and stop the blight of the online scalper bots. For instance, the law could be amended to restrict scalper bots from purchasing tickets until two hours after the tickets went on sale. May I also suggest a title to the amending law: The Gord Downie Appreciation Act.