Ticketmaster, the United States’ most popular (and most reviled) ticket distribution company, has entered into a plea agreement that'll see it pay $10 million in fines for hacking rival Songkick’s computer systems, Reuters reports. As part of the agreement, Ticketmaster will also need to maintain compliance and ethics procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly — and illegally — accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting District Attorney Seth Ducharme in a press release.
It’s been nearly four years since Ticketmaster was first accused of illegally accessing Songkick’s computer systems, during which time Ticketmaster has managed to maintain its industry dominance despite this scandal (and plenty of others, too). It’s a case study in anti-competitive business practices — we can only hope it serves as a warning for others looking for underhanded ways to steamroll their competition. Or that next time Ticketmaster gets caught doing something illicit and immoral there's another zero on the fine.
If you can't beat them, hack them — Ticketmaster’s actions, as outlined by its own admissions and court documents, are downright devious. The kind of devious you’d like to think only happens in movies... or Facebook.
Here’s the rundown: Stephen Mead worked at Songkick (which went by the name Crowdsurge at the time) until July 2012. When he left his position there, he took with him a huge amount of confidential documents, including drafts of ticketing webpages and sets of usernames and passwords for Crowdsurge’s databases.
Mead then shared those credentials with other members of Ticketmaster’s staff, including with Zeeshan Zaidi, the company’s former head of Artist Services. Zaidi pled guilty to related charges last year.
Pocket change — These aren’t the first fines Ticketmaster has faced for its explicitly anti-competitive practices; the company paid a $110 million settlement to Songkick for a separate anti-trust case back in 2018. That case centered on Ticketmaster’s general use of its market prowess to overwhelm the competition. It was during that hearing that Songkick first accused Ticketmaster of spying on its activities — an accusation that caught the attention of the Department of Justice.
This week’s settlement won’t make much of a dent in Ticketmaster’s pocket. Live Nation — Ticketmaster’s parent company — brought in $11.5 billion in revenue in 2019. Of course, the pandemic has decimated this year’s sales for Ticketmaster, so the $10 million will at least hurt slightly more than it would’ve in the past.
The anti-competitive practices used by our most powerful corporations are finally facing federal scrutiny. Whether or not these investigations bring more equality to extremely uneven business landscapes remains to be seen. And sadly they likely won't mean any lower booking fees from Ticketmaster. It'll continue to gouge us unless regulators — or competitors — can force it to change its ways.