When Taylor Swift announced she was going on tour in 2023, the first time in nearly five years, fans got angry when Ticketmaster, the giant online ticket seller, botched the ticket sale rollout. That anger grew as a love story turned into a legal story and produced calls for an antitrust investigation, and a class action lawsuit was filed. GBH News legal analyst and Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk about whether the recent legal challenge to the ticket fiasco will result in swift justice. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Paris Alston: So, Daniel, I added to your accolades here earlier that you were a Taylor Swift fan because you are Swiftie, isn't that right?
Daniel Medwed: Yeah, I like her music a lot. I don't know if I rise to the level of Swiftie status. My kids certainly do. But I'm generally sympathetic to the idea of pursuing your outside interests, whether it's music or art or sports. I think in this case, the non-law student Taylor Swift fans out there got an inadvertent and really undesirable legal lesson as a result of this debacle.
Jeremy Siegel: And this legal lesson hasn't really been something they've been able to shake off. I mean, what happened during the ticket sale rollout that led to so much legal controversy?
Medwed: Here's the short version. Basically, tickets went on sale through Ticketmaster on November 15th. And in order to have access to this batch of tickets, you had to sign up to be a verified fan, register through Ticketmaster. That would get you an online code that in turn you could use to purchase tickets. All sounds great, except 3.5 million people signed up for these online codes and a lot of people were left in the lurch, including my wife. We didn't get tickets right. We didn't even get a code.
Alston: One of your students as well, right?
Medwed: One of my students missed class, and I gave her props for it because I would have done the same thing in law school, I guess, if Nirvana had been on sale back then, I might have done that. And so Ticketmaster basically stopped the pre-sale on day three, after many people waited online for hours, eight hours a day, without success to get tickets. And Ticketmaster cited this unprecedented volume, unexpected demand as the culprit. Now, a lot of Swifties cited a more nefarious reason as the culprit: Basically greed on the part of Ticketmaster, which misled the public about the number of seats available in relation to verified fans, and also about the role being played by scalpers and bots and swooping in and picking up some of these tickets.
"A lot of Swifties cited a more nefarious reason as the culprit: Basically greed on the part of Ticketmaster, which misled the public about the number of seats available in relation to verified fans."-GBH News legal analyst Daniel Medwed
Alston: Now, Daniel, this saga has caught the attention of Congress with several senators and representatives clamoring for an investigation. You know, this kind of reminded me of around the Facebook hearings that they had. I hope more of them are in tune with Taylor Swift's music than they may have been with Facebook and the way that the platform works. But in any event, it has also spawned at least one lawsuit so far, the class action lawsuit on behalf of 26 plaintiffs from 13 states. So why was that lawsuit filed in California state court, as opposed to federal court or somewhere else? Fill in the blank space for us.
Medwed: I think for two reasons, really. First of all, Ticketmaster does substantial business in California, and it's also a wholly owned subsidiary of a parent company called Live Nation Entertainment, which is headquartered in Los Angeles. So those data points supply what's called jurisdiction for California to field this lawsuit. Second, even if the Swifties here could have filed a lawsuit in federal court or in some other state, I think there were a lot of strategic advantages for pursuing recourse under California state law. Most notably, a couple of laws on the books, including something called the Cartwright Act and the California Unfair Competition Law, that give very beneficial, favorable damage award remedies in these cases. For instance, here, the plaintiffs, the 26 plaintiffs in this case are seeking $2,500 in damages per violation. In the aggregate, if thousands or millions of aggrieved Taylor Swift fans sign on to this lawsuit, that could be an astronomical, staggering damage award. So I think there are a lot of reasons why they went for California here.
Siegel: It'll be interesting to see who joins this. I hope it's not you, because I feel like you'd have a conflict of interest reporting on this with us. I don't think you belong there. I think you belong with me covering this. There are probably some people in our studio who would join in. Our associate producer, Rachel Armany — she was on the computer for hours and part of this. Tell us a little bit about the legal claims here and what people could be part of. What are plaintiffs exactly accusing Ticketmaster of doing of, running a monopoly to maximize profits?
Medwed: That's right. So I won't pretend to be an antitrust scholar. It's a very complicated area of the law. But here's sort of the general overview: on a macro level, the idea is that Ticketmaster, by virtue of its relationship with all of these large concert venues, essentially created a mini monopoly over ticket sales. It controls something like 70% of the primary and secondary ticket sale market, and it used this market clout to basically extract excessive ticket prices far in excess of what a competitive market price would be. At least that's what the plaintiffs allege. So on a micro level, that translates into a number of specific legal theories. The lawsuit cites six different causes of action. And one of those six, the anti-trust cause of action in turn also has six sub-claims. So at a minimum, there are something like 11 different legal theories in this case.
Alston: So tell us about those antitrust claims really quick here, Daniel. What are they exactly?
Medwed: Right. The "Anti-Hero" antitrust claims. So there are six of them and they vary a little bit in terms of the specifics, but they all tie into this idea of Ticketmaster deceiving the public and using its market dominance to its advantage. One of them, for instance, points to a so-called tying arrangement where allegedly, in order to become a verified fan, you had to show proof of having previously acquired a Taylor Swift concert ticket, presumably through Ticketmaster, or that you have purchased certain merchandise through Ticketmaster related to Taylor Swift. There also is an old fashioned price fixing claim that says that Ticketmaster was working in concert with scalpers and bots to secure higher prices.