GEORGIA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON REGULATED INDUSTRIES
ADAM POWELL, CHAIRMAN
WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF DR. DAVID C. LOWERY ON HB 398
My name is David Lowery and I thank the Committee for allowing me to testify today on the StubHub legislation. By way of introduction, I am the founder of the musical groups Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven and a lecturer at the University of Georgia at Athens Terry College of Business. I have filed amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Google v. Oracle and Frank v. Gaos, testified before Congress on the topic of fair use policy and I am a frequent commentator on copyright policy at the U.S. Copyright Office. I advocate on artist rights in a variety of outlets, including founding and hosting the Artist Rights Symposium at the Terry College of Business (in its fourth year), my blog at TheTrichordist.com as well as Politico, the New York Times, Hypebot and other publications. Most notably I led the successful songwriter class action lawsuit against Spotify for failing to properly license and compensate self-published writers. Finally, I am a recipient of the National Music Council’s prestigious American Eagle Award “in recognition of his longstanding dedication to protecting the rights of music creators.” With this award I am in the company of such American music luminaries as Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and Stephen Sondheim.
In the interests of full disclosure, my wife has been a talent buyer at the iconic 40 Watt Club in Athens for many years and now works for LiveNation in a senior capacity. My testimony today is my own based on my own experiences over many decades in the music business with my bands and my own research into ticketing. My testimony today will focus on the effects of automated ticket scalping on Georgia’s many artists and resilient music ecosystem, but much of my concerns apply to all ticketed events from sporting events at taxpayer funded venues, to nonprofit fundraisers or even pledge drives for public broadcasting stations.
The Artist-Fan Social Contract Suffers When Bots Attack: Artists and their fans enjoy a kind of social contract. The vast majority of fans are small-dollar contributors that sustain their favorite artists. Artist do not price their tickets at a face value that captures the present value of all revenue the artist will make on a single show. Tickets are priced with the idea that the costs of sustaining the artist, paying the road crew, gasoline, sound, lights and vehicle equipment rental, housing, and promotion and marketing for an entire tour is amortized over an entire tour or leg of a tour.
Pricing tickets must be decided so as to allow current and potentially new fans to see the band live which is the railhead of the artist-fan relationship and is one of the most delicate touch points of that relationship. We do not want to price out loyal fans or new fans.
Ticket scalping has long been a problem that interfered with that social contract. Like many other areas of our lives, when bots attack, humans suffer. Companies like StubHub appear to allow or even welcome bot swarms as part of their business model and for all their Silicon Valley know-how, this Big Tech company seems to be unable to control their platform to avoid inflicting this suffering on fans and artists.
Unlike the careful decision-making that goes into setting ticket prices for a tour in the pre-StubHub era, ticket prices set by these online market makers seem to play an arbitrage game that attempts to extract the maximum price that ticket traders are willing to pay for that one essential artist with the best seating and a well-heeled clientele, rather than the small dollar donor to the artist’s sustenance. This arbitrage (some would say illegal market cornering) allows StubHub to free-ride on the artists reputation, marketing and other investments in their brand as well as the particular concert.
Ticket scalping has largely become another Silicon Valley racket in my view. It is virtually impossible for artists to compete and it is impossible for all but the richest fans to get the tickets they want to see the artists they love at a price they can afford. I have come to the realization that it is impossible for artists and fans to fix the problem because it has become a free-rider problem. StubHub isn’t operating because of “fan freedom” or other feel-good bromides. They are drawn to the business for one reason.
StubHub wants to take a skim off the artist’s value and the fan’s love and enthusiasm by commoditizing this exchange at scale. StubHub’s platform is not that different than a commodities exchange; the good could be a Cracker show, a Bulldog’s football game, or a pork belly. StubHub doesn’t seem to care; they do it for the money and just for the money.
Is StubHub Selling Securities as an Unlicensed Broker Dealer in Violation of the General Solicitation Rule? I call the Committee’s attention to a phenomenon I discovered in my research for today’s hearing: StubHub appears to be making a market in selling opportunities to buy tickets, i.e., a commodity, that have yet to go on sale. In other words, StubHub appears to be selling an option to buy a ticket in the future that does not yet exist and that the seller doesn’t own. The careful wording of their boilerplate disclaimers is a little too clever, and suggests they are aware of this practice. (Please see Exhibit A that details the author’s purchase of what appears to be the promised delivery of a ticket in the future, rather than the purchase of an already existing ticket).
This practice appears to be selling an option to buy a commodity in the future by an unlicensed broker dealer in a general solicitation to the public without complying with applicable federal or state securities laws.
Paying it Forward: Resale Royalties for Scalpers: StubHub may refuse to police itself but the State of Georgia can recover some of the value of StubHub’s free riding by establishing a resale royalty to be distributed to artists and venues for transactions occurring in Georgia. California already has a similar law on the resale of fine art. This is a very intriguing idea that would essentially force scalpers to return some of the value they have extracted from the artist’s brand to the state in which the transaction took place. I speak of the resale royalty as returned to artists and venues, but I am program-agnostic. The payment should also be returned to the performers, universities, or taxpayer funded venues around the state.
The resale royalty could be a way to continue to support communities that were hard hit by COVID and venues that survived based on the Save Our Stages funding. It would be better to fund this support from parasitic free riders than from hard working Georgia taxpayers.
Anticorruption Protections: When observing the amount of money and the number of high value transactions fixed by StubHub and other online marketplaces—effectively in cash—I am struck by the potential for bad actors to use the platform to hide cash transfers. I see no reason why StubHub should be treated differently than a bank in reporting these transactions to authorities such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or the Department of Revenue.
I would encourage the Committee to work with these agencies to determine the need for more detailed reporting of the origin and destination of higher dollar transactions, such as $10,000 in a single deal or series of deals closed by StubHub and its progeny. It is also apparent that the Georgia Department of Revenue is not likely receiving proper short term capital gains reporting from StubHub.
Conclusion: If this seems that these recommendations seem to advance the heavy hand of government, I will dispute that—these recommendations allow StubHub an opportunity to fix its own wagon. As Judge Patel told Napster in 2001, you created this monster, now you fix it. Further as StubHub has come before this august body to urge legislation that would regulate the practices of its market competitors, artists and venues it’s only fair that StubHub receive the same treatment.
 See The Scope of Fair Use: Hearing before the Subcomm. on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113th Cong. (Jan. 28, 2014) (statement of David Lowery) [hereinafter Scope of Fair Use].