Ticketmaster’s practice of blocking the IP addresses of ticket brokers has been an open secret for years, but in an apparent change from its...

Ticketmaster’s practice of blocking the IP addresses of ticket brokers has been an open secret for years, but in an apparent change from its past of not disclosing the tactic, the company is now admitting it.

The company’s hard-charging CEO Nathan Hubbard, who has dramatically increased his and Ticketmaster’s profile in recent months, offered an apology via Twitter this week to a music fan who was complaining that he and other fans were also being blocked.

“We block IPs b/c heavy activity is telltale sign of scalping. So it hits them most. Never want to block a fan [sic],” Hubbard wrote, publicly acknowledging the practice. He added that he was sorry that some fans are also being blocked. “Trying 2 keep water clean so u have a shot [sic].”

Ticketmaster has employed IP blocking technology in its fight against software bots, which are computer programs that can worm their way past internet security protocols to quickly and surreptitiously procure large blocks of tickets. Such programs are generally avoided by the vast majority of ticket brokers because several states have banned, or looked at banning, their use, and also because they became the focal point of the recent federal case involving Wiseguy Tickets.

Bots can bombard Ticketmaster.com and/or other primary ticketing Web sites, such as Tickets.com, with hundreds or thousands of ticket requests at once, tying up the Web site so that regular fans are shut out from buying tickets, and sometimes the bots can end up crashing the site in the process. It was such cyber-attacks that led to the investigation, and subsequent indictment and guilty pleas of the principals from Wiseguy Tickets, who used bot software to build a ticket resale empire that garnered more than $25 million in illicit profits.

The defendants in the Wiseguys case were sentenced to months of probation, community service and some fines, and they were driven out of the industry. In a blog post on parent company Live Nation’s site, Ticketmaster executives praised the ruling and thanked prosecutors for their hard work; in addition, they vowed to keep up the pressure on users of software bots, but they did not expressly disclose their tactics, such as blocking IPs.

“We will continue to work with law enforcement and all others to make sure that illegal scalpers are shut down and brought to justice,” Ticketmaster executives wrote. “We call on others in the industry to stand with us in this fight. Some companies, particularly ticket reseller sites, are shying away from this fight because illegal scalping is good for their business. Well guess what? We’re in the ticket reselling business too. But we believe in resale done right, which means fans ALWAYS come first. You can be confident that artists, teams, venues, and promoters – all the people who are involved in creating the events you love – are behind us and join us in supporting you in this fight. And together we won’t ever stop fighting to protect your right to get fair access to tickets.”

The Fan Freedom Project, which opposes Ticketmaster on its use of restrictive paperless tickets, has taken up the call and come out forcefully against the use of bots by ticket resellers.

For some fans, however, Ticketmaster’s efforts to protect them are causing them headaches. “Twice a year I need tix to ~6 shows, on sale close to eachother, some same day, all on presale. TM’s 24hr block completely screws me over,” responded one fan, who goes by the handle TMforbidden on Twitter, to Hubbard. ‘Heavy activity’ isn’t accurate enough indicator of scalper. Also = valued customer looking for best seats. Worth turning away the latter? [sic].”

A spokesperson for Ticketmaster did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment. The practice poses questions about fairness and consumer protection, even though Ticketmaster claims it is doing it to help regular fans. And, considering the company owns its own secondary ticket resale site, TicketsNow, blocking competing ticket resellers would appear that it could give Ticketmaster/TicketsNow an unfair business advantage.

“Ticketmaster and Live Nation have been banning users based on IP addresses without just cause,” another fan, who wished to remain anonymous, told TicketNews, adding that she has contacted state and federal authorities about the practice. “This prevents individuals from accessing the Ticketmaster.com and Livenation.com Web sites and being able to access orders that have previously been made – and which are the property of the purchaser.”