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Computer 'scalper bots' to be outlawed in Ontario

It's widely believed "bots" prevented many Tragically Hip fans from purchasing concert tickets during the iconic band's summer tour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Ontario plans to introduce legislation next spring to outlaw computer “scalper bots” that scoop up huge blocks of tickets to concerts and major sporting events, forcing many customers to the more expensive resale market.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi admitted Thursday there’s no magic bullet he can use to stop criminals operating in other jurisdictions from using sophisticated computer software to make bulk purchases of tickets to resell at far above face value. But he says inaction is not the answer either, and feels strongly that the government needs to do something to try to protect consumers and make sure they get a “fair shot” at buying tickets to big events.

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Naqvi says he was “bugged” by seeing Tragically Hip fans being shut out of initial ticket sales for the iconic Canadian band’s farewell tour last summer.

He plans to consult with consumer groups, entertainers and his colleagues in other jurisdictions like New York, who have also struggled to deal with ticket scalping and “bots.”

Naqvi says the government’s legislation will build on a private member’s bill by Liberal Sophia Kiwala, which also was aimed at banning “scalper bots.”

“I want to see what kind of solutions we can put in place,” he said. “New York and London are bigger markets than us, and they’re struggling with the same thing.”

The use of security bypass software — or “scalper bots” — allows re-sellers to override the feature that limits the number of tickets that can be bought in one transaction, and then put them online for resale at exorbitant prices, according to Kiwala.


The State of New York's attorney general released a report on how bots purchase tickets moments after they are placed on sale. STATE OF NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL
The State of New York’s attorney general released a report on how bots purchase tickets moments after they are placed on sale. STATE OF NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL


In 2013, New York’s attorney general released a report on the use of bots. In one case, it found that a computer managed to purchase 520 tickets to a Beyoncé performance in just three minutes. Earlier this year, the State of New York introduced a law to fight scalpers using bots. Violators face huge fines and possible prison time.

Ticketmaster Canada compares battling the bots to a never-ending “war against bad operators that are international,” and said it has a whole division that specializes in trying to block the bots and make sure tickets get into the hands of fans.