Ticketing giant Ticketmaster is taking aim at what it says is a new obstacle for fans hoping to attend concerts by hot acts like Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen and Hannah Montana: computer software that enables brokers and scalpers to swarm the company's Web site and snap up tickets faster than consumers can.
IAC/InterActiveCorp's Ticketmaster earlier this year filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against RMG Technologies Inc., a small Pittsburgh-based company that runs TicketBrokerTools.com. According to papers filed with the lawsuit, RMG rents to scalpers software that can inundate Ticketmaster's computers with thousands of requests for seats, "in effect allowing them to cut in line," according to Joe Freeman, a Ticketmaster vice president.
Last month, Ticketmaster filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would prohibit RMG from selling such software; Judge Audrey B. Collins is expected to rule on the motion this month.
In a court filing of his own, RMG's lawyer, Jay M. Coggan, dismissed Ticketmaster's allegations. "This may be the only time in the history of litigation that any seller sued its customers for paying them too much money," he wrote.
The Internet era has brought speed and convenience to all sorts of consumer transactions. For concertgoers, however, it has also led to ever-faster sellouts for hot events. Ticketmaster deploys technology that is supposed to stop brokers from gaining access to large numbers of seats via online sales. But it says brokers' software circumvents the company's protections.
That has placed large numbers of seats in the hands of brokers who use eBay Inc.'s StubHub, Craigslist and other online venues to resell the tickets at a big mark up.
One situation roiling consumers involves the 54-concert "Best of Both Worlds" tour in which singer-actress Miley Cyrus is performing sets as herself and as her fictional alter ego, Hannah Montana. Parents and children have found finding tickets for the shows difficult and expensive. The issue is drawing the attention of government officials. On Thursday — in a rare Internet-age example of authorities enforcing antiscalping laws — the attorneys general of Missouri and Arkansas filed lawsuits against people accused of illegally reselling Hannah Montana tickets.
According to StubHub, tickets for "Best of Both Worlds" are currently selling for an average $237, making them pricier than seats for the Police ($209), Justin Timberlake ($182) and Beyonce ($212). The highest face value for a ticket on the Hannah Montana tour: $63.
At the time Ticketmaster sued RMG, it also sued a group of brokers who allegedly used the company's software to buy and resell larger quantities of tickets than would normally be allowed. As part of a settlement with Ticketmaster, one of these brokers, Chris Kovach, submitted to the court a sworn declaration in which he outlined the way RMG's software works.
As detailed by Mr. Kovach, the software allows users, among other things, to search for tickets at specific price levels for particular events and to generate requests for tickets much more quickly than a human at a typical home computer could.
For instance, companies like Ticketmaster require customers searching for tickets online to replicate a set of the squiggly letters and numbers, known as a "Captcha." Theoretically, only human customers can correctly identify the characters despite the odd fonts, screening out automated purchasing programs. But RMG's software, according to Mr. Kovach, can also "figure out the randomly generated characters and retype them automatically." Mr. Kovach said RMG employees also gave him advice on fooling Ticketmaster's computers into thinking his requests were coming from different Internet addresses. Neither Mr. Kovach nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Ticketmaster alleges that the software is a violation of its terms of service, harms the ability of legitimate customers to get tickets, and thus ultimately damages Ticketmaster's reputation and ability to do business. In requesting an injunction to stop RMG from doing business, Ticketmaster says that the millions of requests generated by such "bot" software represents as much as 80 percent of all ticket requests for some shows. (A "bot" is computer program that performs automated, repetitive tasks on the Internet.)
RMG employees couldn't be reached. In a court filing, RMG president Cipriano Garibay denied that his company's software is a "bot," instead likening it to a specialized version of a Web browser like Internet Explorer.
RMG's lawyer, Mr. Coggan, declined to address the specifics of Mr. Kovach's allegations, other than to say they were not entirely accurate. "What my client does is no different from my generation, before the Internet, where one person would go sit in line and hold places for 10 people," Mr. Coggan said.
Executives with the ticketing giant say they have no way of knowing how many companies are making similar software. But the increasing difficulty that the average consumer faces in trying to get their hands on concert tickets is becoming a hot-button issue.
Ticketmaster is a beneficiary of the spiraling costs in the aftermarket, thanks to its own secondary marketplace, TicketExchange, where seats for the tour's Nov. 29 stop at Memphis's FedEx Forum range from $243 to $363. The service's Web site says it allows fans to buy tickets "without having to bid against other buyers, without having to coordinate delivery from anonymous sellers, and without the gamble that the tickets are legitimate."
People involved in the tour say that tensions are running particularly high over the Hannah Montana tour because many of the parents who are trying to secure tickets for their children are buying their first concert tickets in years, and thus are unaware of how difficult the Internet has made getting tickets to hot concert tours. On top of that, many parents are wary of disappointing children to whom they have promised tickets.
The City Council of Kansas City held hearings last week on the issue, after councilman Bill Skaggs and others received "dozens" of complaints from frustrated constituents. Representatives of Ticketmaster and AEG were asked to explain local fans' difficulties getting seats.
Mr. Skaggs says their responses were "not particularly" satisfying. "We're not through with them yet," he says. "I'm not sure what the fix is, unless you go back to selling tickets at the box office and it's first come first served."