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Australian court rules that Viagogo misled consumers

By | Published on Thursday 18 April 2019

Viagogo

The federal court in Australia has ruled that always controversial secondary ticketing website Viagogo made false or misleading representations and “engaged in conduct liable to mislead the public”. But the ticket resale platform has already countered that it has made changes to its website, so that the things that it always claimed were not misleading but which everyone else agreed were misleading are no longer there to be misleading. A claim which some would argue is, well, a little bit misleading.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission began legal proceedings against Viagogo back in 2017, accusing the company of breaching consumer rights law by employing various tactics to confuse its customers. The ACCC’s gripe list mirrored that of campaigners and regulators elsewhere in the world who have also criticised Viagogo.

It included the resale site’s frequent use of the word ‘official’, when it is – in fact – not an official seller of any tickets at all. Also, Viagogo’s practice of suggesting that tickets are running out for a show, when statements about the scarcity of tickets only ever relate to the number of touted tickets being sold on its own platform. And the secondary ticketing firm’s substantial but cleverly hidden fees. The court agreed with the ACCC that all of these practices constituted misleading conduct.

When it comes to the use of the word ‘official’ in its Google ads – Viagogo’s defence has always been that links in those ads take consumers through to each artist’s ‘official’ page on the resale site. But the judge said: “In my view an ordinary consumer would understand the words ‘buy now – Viagogo official site’ to convey that if the consumer followed the link, he or she would be taken to a website where tickets for the relevant event could be obtained from the official or authorised vendor”.

The court is still to determine any penalties or orders against Viagogo in relation to the ACCC’s list of complaints, but the government regulator nevertheless welcomed the ruling in its favour. ACCC Chair Rod Sims also added: “We urge consumers to only buy tickets from authorised sellers, or they risk their tickets being dishonoured at the gates or doors”.

Meanwhile Viagogo said it was “disappointed” by the ruling, not least because the ACCC’s gripe list “does not reflect our current ticketing platform and the many changes we have made”. The company added that “we strongly believe our website is compliant and we will continue to work closely and constructively with the ACCC”.

Viagogo has made a number of changes to its website over the last year after regulators in multiple countries began legal action against the company. Though those changes haven’t necessarily dealt with all the gripes. In the UK, where the Competition & Markets Authority secured a court order to force compliance with the law, Viagogo subsequently claimed that it was now compliant, but the CMA disagreed. Meanwhile, campaigners argued that some of the changes actually made Viagogo even more confusing for consumers.

Elsewhere in secondary ticketing news, the European Parliament has voted to introduce new ticketing touting regulations that will apply across the European Union. Contained in an update of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the new rules will outlaw the use of software – or bots – by touts to hoover up tickets from primary sellers, and also require those who tout on an industrial level to declare that they are professional resellers. While some EU countries, like the UK, have already introduced some ticket touting regulations, this directive update will mean the touts are at least lightly regulated across Europe.

Sam Shemtob and Katie O’Leary of FEAT, the pan-European organisation set up to campaign for more regulation of the touts, welcomed this latest development, and noted that it “represents the first step in harmonising regulation across Europe. This approach is critical as secondary ticketing companies tend to exploit regulatory gaps between countries”.

And finally from the ticket tout file for today, anti-touting regulations in Ontario, Canada have been cut back, with the government there confirming that a rule which capped how much a tout could mark up a ticket is to be scrapped. The mark-up cap element of the Canadian province’s Ticket Sales Act was put on hold last year but will now be completely deleted from the rule book. However, the bots ban also instigated by that Act will remain.



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