HomeInsightsGovernment commits to creating criminal offence in relation to use of bots

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The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has prepared a Further Supplementary Delegated Powers Memorandum for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to consider in relation to the Digital Economy Bill. The Memorandum includes a clause conferring a power on the Secretary of State by regulations to create a criminal offence of breaching limits on internet and other ticket sales.

The Government considers that the creation of a new offence is necessary to deal with the issue of ticketing bots being used in relation to recreational, sporting and cultural events that take place in the UK. Bots are software that automate the ticketing purchase process to circumvent limits on the maximum number of tickets that can be purchased. They are used to purchase tickets for sale on primary sites, in excess of the maximum number permitted by the conditions of sale, which can then be sold on the secondary market at inflated prices.

In his review of consumer protection measures applying to ticket resale (see item above), Professor Waterson did not recommend banning the secondary ticketing market, or capping resale prices. His view was that ticket sellers should adopt strategies to prevent automated ticket purchasing by bots. However, he also concluded that there was a lack of reporting of their use and uncertainty concerning the legal position.

In light of this, the Government says that the creation of a new offence is the most effective way of dealing with the situation where people are unable to buy tickets on the primary market, only to see them immediately reappear on the secondary market at inflated prices. Clarification of the law in this area means that there can be no doubt as to the illegality of this practice, or the need to report it.

The clause sets out as parameters the circumstances in which the offence may be committed. These are: that tickets for a recreational, sporting or cultural event in the UK are offered for sale, through a process that the purchaser completes using an electronic communications network or service, and subject to conditions that limit the number that may be purchased. The offence consists of using anything that enables or facilitates completion of any part of such a process with intent to obtain tickets in excess of the maximum permitted. The offence may be committed whether the offer is made, or anything is done to obtain tickets, in or outside the UK, since by their nature the acts that comprise the offence are not limited in terms of territoriality.

The principle of creating the offence will be approved by Parliament during the passage of the Digital Economy Bill. However, the Government considers that it is appropriate for detailed provision to be made by regulations rather than on the face of the Bill. This is because the offence, by its nature, is intricately bound up with behaviour driven by technology. The way in which the ticketing market operates is constantly changing and as technology evolves it may be necessary to revisit the details of the offence in terms of how it can be committed and what it comprises. By including detailed provision in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill, the Government will be well placed to amend that provision to keep pace with technological developments and thus ensure that the behaviour at which the measure is directed continues to be targeted most effectively. To access the Further Supplementary Delegated Powers Memorandum, click here.