Business

Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift Ticket Scalpers Found Guilty in Landmark UK Trial

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran gives a concert at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on June 11, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. 

Two internet ticket touts who used bots to buy large numbers of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift concert tickets – and then resell them at vastly inflated prices on secondary ticketing sites -- have been found guilty of fraudulent trading in a landmark British trial.   

London-based Peter Hunter and David Smith, who traded as Ticket Wiz and BZZ, used multiple identities and bot software to harvest £4 million ($5.2 million) worth of concert and West End theatre show tickets over two-and-a-half years, jurors at Leeds Crown Court were told.

The tickets were then sold for £10.8 million ($14 million) on U.K. secondary sites such as Viagogo, StubHub and the now-shuttered Ticketmaster platforms Get Me In and Seatwave.

During the three month trial, prosecution barrister Jonathan Sandiford told the jury that Hunter and Smith were "dishonest fraudsters motivated by greed."

Defending Hunter, Ben Douglas-Jones QC said his client did nothing wrong and cited positive online reviews that illustrated the businessmen were trusted and reliable sellers of tickets.

Rather than fraudulent scalpers, he argued that the pair actually provided a valuable service to music fans, as well as to acts who struggled to sell out venues.

Douglas-Jones said that while Hunter breached terms and conditions of primary vendors, his actions did not constitute a criminal offense.

That argument didn't convince the jury, however, and both men were found guilty of fraudulent trading and possessing an article for fraud.

They were released on bail and will be sentenced on February 24. Judge Mushtaq Khokhar warned Hunter and Smith that they could face a custodial prison sentence.

The prosecution is the first of its kind in the U.K. since National Trading Standards started investigating bulk buying and reselling tickets in 2017.   

Speaking after the verdicts, Colin Rumford, head of regional investigations for the National Trading Standards e-crime team, called the prosecution a "landmark decision" that proved that "fraudulent trading by digital ticket touts is not acceptable."

"Today's verdict shines further light on the murky world of secondary ticketing, and the dependency of websites such as Viagogo and StubHub upon large-scale commercial ticket resellers," said Adam Webb, campaign manager for the U.K.-based FanFair Alliance.

Webb said that he suspects Hunter and Smith "are not exceptional, and that other suppliers to these sites may also acquire tickets by unlawful means - no questions asked."

To tackle the issues, he said that more scrutiny must be urgently applied to the secondary ticketing sector.  

"If the likes of Viagogo, StubHub and other secondary sites operate without due diligence," said Webb, "then their directors must be held to account."

The prosecution comes just days after the U.K.’s competition watchdog ordered Viagogo to put its planned $4 billion acquisition of StubHub on hold while it continues to investigate potential anti-competitive affects of the companies' merger.