City Council lifts 50-cent cap on ticket surcharges

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//March 4, 2013

City Council lifts 50-cent cap on ticket surcharges

By Kristi Tousignant

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//March 4, 2013

Licensed ticketing agencies can charge unlimited ticket fees for Baltimore events for the next six months, according to new legislation passed by the city council Monday.

Councilman Carl Stokes successfully advocated for a Sept. 1 sunset provision on the new law.

The Baltimore City Council voted to temporarily repeal a 50-cent cap on ticket surcharges and also exempted licensed ticketing agencies, like Ticketmaster, from a scalping ban in the city. Private citizens and unlicensed sellers are still subject to anti-scalping laws.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Carl Stokes, will be in effect until Sept. 1, by which time the council expects to have drafted permanent legislation.

The council voted on the bill 11-3 during its Monday meeting. Council members Bill Henry, Mary Pat Clarke and James B. Kraft voted against it.

The council passed the bill in response to a January Court of Appeals decision, which found the 50-cent cap applied to ticket agencies’ service fees. The law was adopted in 1949 to prevent scalpers from selling tickets to U.S. Naval Academy football games.

There was debate among council members at Monday night’s meeting over the deadline to create permanent legislation. The original bill set a Nov. 1 expiration date. During the meeting, however, Stokes proposed a Sept. 1 deadline while Clarke advocated for June 30.

“We are anxious to put caps and limits on Ticketmaster,” Clarke said.

Clarke pushed for the earlier date because the council only meets once in July and August.

“If we don’t do it by then, we will not do it when we can’t meet in July and we will not do it when we can’t meet in August,” she said.

Clarke, Henry and Kraft were the only council members to vote for the June 30 deadline.

“It’s difficult to believe the solution to our problem is available in seven months and not available in four,” Henry said.

Stokes said he proposed the legislation at the request of the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, the Hippodrome and several nonprofit local cultural institutions. He also feared Live Nation Entertainment Inc. (which merged with Ticketmaster Entertainment LLC in 2010) would stop operating in the city — a decision he said could trickle down to local ticketing agencies and venues, causing business to suffer.

Those in favor of the legislation also argued the cap’s original intention was to curb scalping in the city and did not apply to modern ticket resales.

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition opposed the measure because it imposes two sets of rules for corporations and citizens.

Last week, Henry advocated a temporary service fee of $5 per ticket or 10 percent of the ticket price. This amendment, however, was defeated 3-1 during the city council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting Thursday.

“I have misgivings about the bill in general, essentially about the suspension of our laws for any period of time,” Henry said.

The original case was brought by a city resident, Andre Bourgeois, who had purchased a ticket for a Jackson Browne concert at the Lyric. Bourgeois paid $52 for the ticket and $12 in additional service fees.

Bourgeois filed a complaint in July 2011 against Live Nation; its local ticketing agency, Landover-based Monumental Ticketing L.P.; and Lyric Productions LLC.

According to his complaint, Live Nation takes an average of $7.82 per ticket. The complaint said Live Nation and the Lyric have a deal granting Live Nation exclusive rights to sell Lyric tickets.

The complaint also accuses Live Nation of being involved in a kickback scheme with the Lyric in which the ticketing agency gives the venue a portion of the profits it makes from surcharges.

Judge Ellen L. Hollander has been presiding over the case in U.S. District Court, but sent certified questions to the Court of Appeals in June. The state’s top court heard testimony last fall and issued a decision Jan. 18. The case is now back in federal court.

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