Last week, I went on Ticketmaster to purchase a ticket to see one of my favorite artists, The Weeknd, in concert. Tickets went on sale on Thursday at 10 am. There I was on my iPad at 10am, trying unsuccessfully to process my order. I tried for thirty minutes – on my iPad, my Blackberry, and even a PC. Finally, I called Ticketmaster, who apologized for my inconvenience and explained that the show was sold out (a fact that my Twitter feed later confirmed happened in about 30 seconds). On a whim, I checked out Stubhub, the world’s largest fan-to-fan ticket marketplace. To my non-surprise, tickets
for the concert were already on sale, less than an hour after Ticketmaster opened for sale and priced at up to 200% of the face value.
Look, I respect a good hustle as much as the next person. But, as a music fan, I am frustrated and annoyed by this scenario: so-called savvy entrepreneurs purchasing tickets from the official ticket vendors, then re-selling the tickets with the appropriate price mark-up (which sounds eerily similar to the cybersquatters from the early 2000).The purpose of Stubhub is “provide fans a safe, convenient place to get tickets . . . .and an easy way to sell their tickets when they can’t go (to the event). Stubhub was not meant to serve as a de facto gray market for scalpers—yet in my situation, and in countless others, that is precisely what it is used to do.
While technology and innovative new business models continue to provide opportunities for connecting fans to music, the question becomes: how can we ensure that these new tools are used in a way to promote fairness? What are our “code of ethics” or best practices with respect to the Internet? Where do we draw the line between capitalism and theft? Who will be responsible for ensuring “fairness” in the internet marketplace? Who will protect the innocents?
I have been thinking about these questions in several contexts over the past few months, most significantly with respect to former Megaupload users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing customers who stored legitimate, non-infringing content on the cloud-storage service, but were left with no access to their data after the Department of Justice shut Megaupload down in January. On its face, their stories are not much different from mine: individuals using technology for its intended purpose, only to be penalized for the actions of those who do not. Thus far, the solution has been to rely on the law to protect and punish, but even that does not seem to provide an effective solution because when Congress attempts to protect, we cry foul.
So what are we to do? Ideally, I think the only way curb this “bad behavior” is to hold ourselves and each other accountable. But in order to do that, we need to find a common understanding of what is “right” and “wrong.” It occurs to me that there remains a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Internet is or should be, how it should be used and for what purpose. Most importantly, our moral and economic compass remains in flux. If left unaddressed, this misunderstanding or failure of the meeting of minds will continue to manifest itself and reflect in disagreements on the appropriate action to take. Laws are simply a consensus of social rules with actionable consequences. So before we can take any action we need to take a hard look at what’s going on and see if we can’t pull out some general consensus on how we feel about it.
(And I’m off my soapbox.)