See Them In Court

Ticketmaster may be the most clueless monopolist on the planet. It dominates the market for remote ticket selling to concerts and other events. And its deals are exclusive, which is why I call it a monopolist.

Ticketmaster also thinks that revenue from forcing buyers to look at their ads on the way to paying these charges is worth the aggravation, which is why I call it clueless.

Of course, Ticketmaster may also be crazy like a fox. It has worked to leverage its ticketing position into a monopoly on local news, and so far it’s succeeding.

After merging with CitySearch last year, Ticketmaster won an agreement six months ago from Microsoft not to link directly to its ticket database (and thus its ticket windows), because Microsoft had created the links only after offering to pay for the access (and being rebuffed on price). A few months later, Ticketmaster bought Sidewalk.

It has also negotiated “link licenses” (to bypass its ads for a price) with (among others) Knight-Ridder and Yahoo. When the Sidewalk deal’s done, Ticketmaster-CitySearch will dominate the market for local web sites (newspapers take note) with a chain of 77.

As a result of Ticketmaster’s success (which has never been sanctioned in court), Hollywood thinks (wrongfully) that “deep links” (their term) can be enjoined. (As we noted earlier this week regarding Universal Studios.) Ticketmaster is now trying to enforce its “precedent” against Tickets.com, a rival online ticket broker.

I’m not going to pretend that Tickets.com is a sympathetic defendant. When shows are sold out, Tickets.com gets them from “ticket brokers” (read: scalpers) then sells them at the market price (or auctions them). But if principles mean anything, they protect folks you don’t care for as well as those you like.

In addition to linking into its database, Ticketmaster also claimed Tickets.com lies on behalf of its ticket broker partners (claiming tickets aren’t available at the box office when they are), and that it plagiarizes lists of events from Ticketmaster’s web site (downloading and reprinting them on Tickets.com). Perhaps worst of all (from Ticketmaster’s point of view), the suit charges that Tickets.com has been favoring other online ticket outlets like TicketWeb on its pages.

If you’re a publicly accessible site, you have three ways of preventing links into your database. You can charge for access to the database. You can require registration for access to the database. Or you can move links around (as newspapers do) so you can charge for access to your “morgue” later.

Ticketmaster has done none of these things. It has merely asserted ownership of links into its database and sent its lawyers after anyone who disagrees.

So there is a principle here worth fighting for. All sites on the public Internet are equal, those of individuals as well as those of corporations. If Ticketmaster wins in court, then some (those who can afford lawyers and “link police”) will truly be more equal than others. If you want to call me pro-scalping for that, go ahead.

My clue for Tickets.com is simple. See them in court. If you need to take up a collection to do so, do it. Just see them in court.

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