Europe

Italian court upholds €3.7m Viagogo fine for ticket touting

An Italian court has upheld a €3.7 million fine against secondary ticketing platform Viagogo for selling tickets above face value, or “ticket touting”.

The judgment handed down from the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio upholds a 2020 ruling from the Italian Communications Regulatory Authority AGCOM, which levied the major fine against Viagogo for listing tickets to at least 37 events at above face value between March and July of 2019.

Under Italy”s 2017 Budget law, event tickets must be sold by authorised ticket providers.

Consumers, however, are able to sell unwanted tickets for a price that is equal to or less than a ticket’s face value.

Viagogo had argued that the rule on resales should not apply to them because they were acting as a “passive hosting provider” connecting resellers with buyers, making them exempt from liability under Italian law.

The judges rejected that argument, however, asserting that Viagogo appeared to promote and advertise tickets in a way that suggested active involvement in the reselling of tickets.

“The service provided by…Viagogo… clearly does not have the characteristics of passive hosting, given that it clearly does not consist in the mere ‘storage of information’, but rather in the articulated activities of optimisation and advertising promotion of the titles on sale,” they said, according to a press release put out by the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT).

“Nor has the appellant in any way substantiated the claim that such complex activities would be carried out by the platform in a completely automatic manner and without any awareness and/or the possibility of control on its part,” the judges asserted.

Even if Viagogo did meet the qualifications to be considered a “passive hosting provider”, however, the judges said it would still not be considered for liability exemption because it did not respond to warnings about its listings being in violation of Italian law once notified.

‘Step towards greater accountability’

“Uncapped secondary marketplaces such as Viagogo have long been shielding under the liability exemption offered by EU law by claiming to have little to no knowledge of the activity taking place on their sites,” FEAT Director Sam Shemtob said in a statement.

“It is time that they’re held responsible for the illegal activity they promote and profit from, both in Italy and across Europe,” Shemtob said.

The ruling has been welcomed by FEAT as “another step towards greater accountability of secondary ticketing platforms”.

“It builds on consistent rulings against liability exemption as a passive hosting provider – from both the Italian Supreme Court,” the alliance noted in a statement on the development.

FEAT spokesperson Katie O’Leary told Euronews that as far as she is aware, this is the first case in which a national court has upheld a ruling that Viagogo does not count as a passive service provider.

She noted that the company had used the same line of defence in a case led by AGCOM in 2019 and managed to successfully escape a €1 million fine.

“However, in this instance, the court has ruled against Viagogo, citing that its activities and advertising practices cannot be seen as merely passive in nature,” she said.

Elsewhere in Europe, she noted that a number of legal cases have been launched against Viagogo, with the UK’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority suspending court proceedings against the ticketing platform last year after the company made changes addressing the oversight body’s concerns.

The CMA had accused Viagogo of failing to comply with consumer law by failing to adequately inform buyers that they could be turned away from events where artists or promoters were refusing entry to those who had purchased tickets on resale sites.

The company was also accused of publishing misleading details about ticket availability.

However, the CMA said that Viagogo had made sufficient changes to its website, allowing it to suspend legal action.

The CMA said on Thursday that Viagogo had made enough changes to the website that it no longer needed to pursue legal action.

Viagogo’s recent failed appeal comes amid EU discussions around the proposed Digital Services Act, which aims to create new rules around the way technology companies and digital services can operate.

O’Leary said the proposal presents a major opportunity “to make sure that platforms like Viagogo, which perpetuate the ticket resale problem, behave responsibly”.

Euronews has contacted Viagogo for a response.

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