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The Argument Over Ticket Ownership

Loyle Carner is one of Britain’s rising stars within the music industry. The young rapper hails from South London, and at just 25 years old he’s already released two hit albums, sold out a European tour, and played to a crowd of 40,000 adoring fans on The Other Stage at Glastonbury; a stage that has been graced by giants of music past like Oasis, Pulp and Iggy Pop. His disarmingly confessional lyrics about his absent father, his adoring mother, and his struggles with ADHD have led to this meteoric rise from impoverished student to (almost!) household name.

Upon embarking on his most recent “Not Waving But Drowning Tour”, named after his second studio album, Ben Coyle-Larner, the artist’s real name, waded into the debate between primary and secondary ticket sellers. Just before tickets went live, a statement was put up on the homepage of his website, reading like the legalese of an affidavit presented in court:

“Please note that Loyle Carner has appointed Twickets as his official ticket resale partner. Buying or selling tickets on any other resale platform is strictly prohibited. Twickets is a marketplace that enables fans and events to trade tickets at face value. Twickets fully protects its users with a guarantee against fraud and overpricing and serves to steer away from the exploitative secondary ticket platforms”.

And with that, Loyle Carner nailed his colours to the mast, picking a side in this ever-developing war of attrition between primary and secondary ticket sellers. He’s joined the growing ranks of those that claim secondary ticket sellers are mere touts, out to exploit “real” fans of their hard-earned cash, selling tickets ten times their face value to desperate devotees that will do anything for the chance to see their hero perform live.

But in preventing people from going down the avenue of secondary ticket sellers by telling them how they can and can’t buy or sell tickets, you are engendering debate over ownership. Tickets may be “transferable”, but only in the narrowest of senses, all because of a corporate partnership between the artist and a primary seller. If you are not allowed to do what you wish with a ticket you have paid for, then who really owns it?

So, who are these “real” fans artists are so desperate to protect? To quote Loyle Carner, “I kind of miss my student loan, I miss sitting in the student home, sharing stories now I simmer sippin’, sorta Rome, walking like I’ve been talking the talk but can’t afford a phone”. They are, as former editor of The Evening Standard Simon Jenkins makes clear, young and poor. But as Jenkins points out, “anyone stupid enough to pay £4,000 for an Adele ticket, even if deplorably old and rich, must at least be a fan”.

The debate over who really owns a ticket once you have paid for it is quite straightforward. You either believe it is yours to do with what you like, or you don’t. I, along with scores of others, take the former to be true. But let’s look at the second maxim for a moment. Let’s say that when you buy a ticket, you do not buy ownership. Even if you hold this to be true, there are fundamental flaws in the argument that should not preclude you from reselling a ticket you have paid for.

Short selling is when you bet the price of a certain stock will go down, not up. The process itself is rather complex, but at its core, short selling is essentially selling something you do not own. Let’s say Boris thinks the price of iPods will go down over the next few weeks, but he doesn’t own one himself. So Boris goes to his friend Jeremey, who does have one. Jeremey’s iPod is worth £100, and he lends it to Boris on the condition that in two weeks, he will give it back. Boris then takes this iPod, and sells it, netting him a profit of £100. Two weeks later, the price of an iPod has gone down, and so Boris buys one at the cheaper price of £75, meaning he is still £25 up. He then gives this iPod back to Jeremy, and maybe a little slice of the £25 profit he has made to say thanks. Boris managed to successfully short sell an iPod that didn’t belong to him and made a bit of money in the process.

Outside the financial world are myriad other examples where people sell things that they do not own. Estate agents, for example, sell houses on behalf of others. The agency model is one that could easily be applied to the ticketing industry. The original purchaser acts as the agent, the primary seller or artist is the seller, and the secondary purchaser is, you guessed it, the buyer.

Of course, I am by no means holding this as a universal truth. There are and must be times when a purchase does not entail ownership. Copyright and intellectual property (IP) law are cornerstones of a modern and open economy, safeguarding businesses and protecting their rights. When you buy a DVD, its usage is restricted by the licensing agreement; you don’t own the film, the studio does, merely a copy of the finished product. The same applies with music where the artist retains ownership, but you pay for a copy of the final song or album. When you pay a builder to install a new bathroom in your house, you don’t ask them to leave their tools behind so you can fix the shower when it leaks. Similarly, when you buy a programme like Microsoft Word, you are not paying for the source code behind it, but a final copy. Books, paintings, the list goes on. With all these examples it is vital the artist/tradesman/developer protects the methods and tools they employ so they cannot be ripped off in the future. The news is rarely void of someone taking a musician to court over a guitar riff or lyric they appropriated, like what happened with Ed Sheeran in August of this year over his song “Shape of You”.

IP law means a pharmaceutical company can prevent another from selling their drugs at a lower price without putting the same time and money into research and development. But the most important thing to ask here is, why are these laws are in place? The simple answer is profit. How can you expect anyone to make any money if once they’ve developed something, someone else comes along and sells it as their own? By maintaining ownership, you can maintain your profit margin.

Buying tickets to see your favourite artist play live is tantamount to paying for the final product. You are not buying the rights to the music, but the chance to see them perform the finished article. Apart from flights and select sporting events where security is a concern, there are no other examples where tickets are “transferable” in such a restrictive manner. The existence of a secondary ticketing market is evidence that the primary market has failed, and those primary sellers are attempting to mitigate this failure by shifting blame onto others. Loyle Carner’s tour sold out in eight minutes, so if you weren’t online at the exact moment they were released, you missed it. And for that, you will be penalised to protect corporate interests.

If artists want to protect “real” fans, why don’t they sell tickets on the day, on a first-come-first-serve basis, like Wimbledon? If you want to see “real” tennis fans, then go to Wimbledon a week before the championship starts and you will see the tents, roll mats and excited faces queuing for the chance to see the best tennis in the world. Or why not offer up free concerts or events every once in a while? In the 2016/17 Premier League season, matchday income accounted for just 20p of every £1 earnt for 18 of the 20 teams. 11 clubs could have given every ticket away to every game for free, and still recorded a pre-tax profit. Bournemouth would have made more than £130 million!

The point I am trying to make here, is that by restricting the transferability of tickets, and therefore retaining ownership of them in order to protect “real” fans, you are disguising your desire to protect your bottom line. Corporate partnerships between primary ticket sellers and artists, like that of Loyle Carner and Twickets, merely protect profits, not the young, poor fans they say they’re looking out for. Even if you agree that artists and primary sellers retain ownership of your ticket, what’s to say you can’t sell it? The corporate behemoth rolls on.

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