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Massachusetts legislators restart ticket resale law discussions

By Alfred Branch Jr.

A few years after the first attempt was stalled due to scandal, Massachusetts legislators are preparing to restart talks to legalize ticket resale in the state.

Currently, while ticket resale technically is not permitted in the state for amounts higher than $2 above face value plus minor expenses, the secondary market in Massachusetts is one of the most robust in the country, particularly among its professional sports teams in the Boston area, the Red Sox, Celtics, Stanley Cup Champion Bruins and the Patriots.

Yet ticket brokers, essentially, operate in a gray area because the antiquated law is not enforced, in part because some of the language is vague, and it does not take into account the online resale segment. The Red Sox, in fact, have a lucrative secondary ticketing deal with Boston-based Ace Ticket.

Four years ago, legislators tried to address the issue by updating the law and ensuring an open resale market, but the effort became mired in the lobbying scandal of former Massachusetts Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi and his friend and former accountant Richard Vitale. A group of the state's ticket broker paid Vitale to lobby on their behalf, but Vitale was deemed to not be a licensed lobbyist, and he and DiMasi violated various state ethics laws.

With the issue too hot to touch due to the scandal, legislators waited before proposing a new bill, which now not only includes language to protect consumers and ensure the ticket resale market is fair and open, it also includes protections from the use of restrictive paperless tickets. That language has taken on increased significance mainly because of Ticketmaster's use of the technology, which can thwart the transfer or resale of tickets, and New York became the first state to prohibit the use of restrictive paperless tickets.

"To me, it's not a matter of who lobbied what last time. It's the substance of the issue. I think this is a pro-consumer piece of legislation," State Rep. Michael Moran, the author of the new bill, recently told CommonWealth magazine. It is currently one of the bills before the legislature's Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure for discussion.

The proposed law, House Bill 01893, in part states the following:

Except as otherwise provided in this Act, it shall be unlawful for any ticket issuer to prohibit or restrict the resale or offering for resale of an event ticket by a lawful possessor thereof.

Activities prohibited to ticket issuers by this Act include, but are not limited to – purporting to impose license or contractual terms on the initial sale of event tickets (including but not limited to terms printed on the back of a physical ticket) that prohibit resale of the ticket, or that restrict the price or other terms and conditions under which a ticket may be resold;

requiring the purchaser of a ticket, whether for a single event or for a series or season of events, to agree not to resell the ticket, or to resell the ticket only through a specific channel approved by the ticket issuer;

bringing legal action, based on an unlawful prohibition or restriction on resale of an event ticket, against – a purchaser who resells or offers to resell an event ticket without permission of the ticket issuer, or in violation of a restriction purportedly imposed by the ticket issuer; persons who facilitate or provide services for the resale of event tickets without such permission or in alleged violation of such a restriction; or the operator of a physical or electronic marketplace in which a ticket is offered for resale without such permission or in alleged violation of such a restriction;

imposing any penalty on a ticket purchaser who resells or offers to resell an event ticket without permission or in violation of a restriction purportedly imposed by the ticket issuer, or treating such a purchaser in any material way less favorably than a similarly situated purchaser who does not resell or offer to resell an event ticket, or who complies with resale restrictions purportedly imposed by the ticket issuer;

employing technological means for the purpose or with the foreseeable effect of prohibiting or restricting the resale of event tickets, including but not limited to issuing event tickets in an electronic form that is not readily transferrable to a subsequent purchaser, or conditioning entry into the venue on presentation of a token (such as the original purchaser’s credit card or state-issued identification card) that cannot be readily transferred to a subsequent purchaser; or seeking to limit or restrict the price, or to impose a minimum or maximum price, at which an event ticket may be resold.

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