One man's crusade again ticket titans

January 21, 2008 2:51:42 PM PST
A New Jersey man is pursuing a class-action lawsuit against a western Pennsylvania firm that helps ticket brokers get around limits Ticketmaster sets for individuals who buy sports and entertainment tickets online. The firm, RMG Technologies, helps brokers buy large blocks of seats that are later resold to the public well above face value.

RMG was widely criticized in the fall after parents across the country complained about the lack of availability of tickets for concerts by the popular teenage Disney Channel star Hannah Montana. The highly prized tickets quickly sold out through Ticketmaster, and many concertgoers paid well above face value for their seats.

The lawsuit, filed in Pittsburgh federal court on Thursday by plastic surgeon Boaz Lissauer, of Englewood, N.J., also targets several ticket brokers, some unnamed.

Lissauer contends brokers aided by RMG buy up to 80 percent of tickets available online to some Ticketmaster events, unfairly driving up the price to individual consumers who are all but forced to buy them from brokers.

Lissauer said he couldn't get tickets to the upcoming concert by The Police at Madison Square Garden in New York City through Ticketmaster. Instead, he bought tickets through a ticket broker, paying $195 each for seats with a face value of $63.

RMG's president, Cipriano Garibay, said the lawsuit "appears to be frivolous," and that the wording of the suit was identical to one filed by Ticketmaster.

He also disputed Lissauer's contention that RMG, which offers customized software, helps brokers inundate Ticketmaster with orders.

At issue is Ticketmaster's use of a security device known as a captcha - a word or series of odd-sized or misshapen letters displayed on its Web site. Ticket buyers must type the letters to access the Web page that lets them order tickets, generally no more than 4 or 8 at once.

Captchas are used because it is difficult for automated devices to read the random letters. They are designed to let real people access the ticket-buying page and keep computer programs away.

Garibay said he uses at least a dozen people in India and Nepal who manually type in the captcha characters in real time 18 hours a day for his clients.

"We're going through the front door like everybody else," he said. "We offer a service that operates much more efficiently than Ticketmaster thought was possible."

West Hollywood, Calif.-based Ticketmaster has argued successfully in federal court that RMG's system - however it works - violated its legal rights to control how quickly tickets can be accessed.

Ticketmaster got a federal court injunction in October against RMG, barring the firm from buying or helping brokers buy tickets from Ticketmaster's Web site for the purpose of reselling them. RMG took that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and has filed a counterclaim alleging Ticketmaster is an illegal monopoly.

Lissauer's suit seeks to represent anyone shut out of buying tickets through Ticketmaster because of RMG's actions. A federal judge, however, must approve having the lawsuit cover anyone other than Lissauer.