May 8, 2024 3 min read

Viagogo ruling in New Zealand demonstrates the need for tighter touting regulation, say campaigners

Last week it was confirmed that the high court in New Zealand has ruled against Viagogo following an eight year investigation by the country’s Commerce Commission. Anti-touting campaigners in Europe have welcomed the ruling, but say it demonstrates why better regulation of ticket resale is required

Viagogo ruling in New Zealand demonstrates the need for tighter touting regulation, say campaigners

Anti-ticket touting campaigners in Europe have welcomed a recent court ruling in New Zealand against often controversial secondary ticketing platform Viagogo, but say that the long-drawn out legal battle shows why stronger regulation of ticket resale is required.

With the New Zealand Commerce Commission’s legal challenge against Viagogo taking eight years to go through the motions, and still subject to appeal, pan-European anti-touting campaign FEAT urges the European Union to ensure that its new Digital Services Act is used to force secondary ticketing platforms to be much more transparent about their operations. While the UK FanFair campaign says an outright ban of for-profit touting is required. 

Having begun its investigation in 2016, the Commerce Commission first filed legal proceedings against Viagogo all the way back in 2018, accusing it of breaching New Zealand’s consumer protection laws. 

The various issues raised by the regulator echoed complaints made about the secondary ticketing platform - by artists, politicians and consumer rights groups - in multiple other countries. In particular, Viagogo's misleading communications about the status of its ticket sellers, the total price of tickets, and its refunds policy. 

Viagogo did agree to make some changes to its platform in New Zealand in order to stop the Commission seeking a preliminary injunction against it, but the core legal action continued, reaching the county's high court last year

In its recent ruling, the court concluded that Viagogo did indeed have misleading information on its website. It also needs to update its terms and conditions to allow New Zealand customers to pursue legal complaints through the New Zealand courts. Viagogo's terms previously said legal disputes must be pursued through the Swiss courts, its corporate HQ being in Switzerland. That, the high court ruled, is an “unfair contract term” under the country’s Fair Trading Act.

Welcoming the ruling, the Commission's General Manager for Fair Trading, Vanessa Horne, told reporters, “The Commission is aware of a large number of reports from consumers who had purchased event tickets from Viagogo, booked flights and travel to attend the event, only to be turned away at the entrance when they found out for the first time that their tickets weren't authentic. This resulted in significant distress and financial impacts for consumers”.

“We took this case on behalf of every one of those Kiwi consumers and pursued this large global entity over more than eight years”, she added, “and we now have a ruling that will require Viagogo to be upfront with Kiwi consumers about what they're buying and ensure a fairer resolution system for settling disputes against Viagogo in the future”. 

The regulation of ticket resale varies greatly around the world. In some places for-profit ticket touting is completely prohibited, in other countries touts and platforms like Viagogo are obliged to follow certain rules, especially relating to communications and transparency. Where such rules have been introduced, and then enforced by a regulator, Viagogo has usually ultimately complied. But, critics would say, belatedly and begrudgingly. 

In the EU, anti-touting campaigners hope that the new Digital Services Act will force Viagogo to be more transparent in all member states. Asked about the ruling in New Zealand, FEAT Director Sam Shemtob tells CMU, “Whilst this is positive news for consumers in New Zealand, a large amount of time and money has been spent, with Viagogo still planning to appeal the high court’s decision”. 

“Only recently, the Swiss consumer protection authority FRC settled a similar eight-year legal battle to force Viagogo to compensate consumers”, he adds. “These cases demonstrate the company’s disregard for its legal obligations to consumers, only listening when challenged at the highest levels. With the Digital Services Act promising better regulation for online marketplaces, the European Commission and member state Digital Services Coordinators must make it clear that Viagogo cannot continue to ignore the rules”. 

In the UK, the FanFair campaign has long lobbied for better regulation - and the better enforcement of regulation - against platforms like Viagogo. Although more recently it has started campaigning for an outright ban of for-profit touting, something the UK Labour Party now supports

FanFair Campaign Manager Adam Webb tells CMU, “The situation in New Zealand feels unerringly familiar from our experiences in the UK. Wherever they operate, Viagogo’s owners appear to be hardwired in their approach to legal compliance - always going that extra yard to string out proceedings, lodge pointless appeals, avoid their obligations and harbour the identity of the touts who dominate their platform”. 

“This is why FanFair is now campaigning to outlaw the resale of tickets for profit”, he adds, “and why we so positively welcomed the Labour Party’s commitment made in March of this year”.

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