MPs urge consumers to steer clear of Viagogo, warn of 'prejudice' against urban music

MPs urge consumers to steer clear of Viagogo, warn of 'prejudice' against urban music

MPs have again warned fans against using Viagogo until the controversial secondary ticketing platform complies with consumer law.

The advice forms part of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Committee's report into live music, published today, which follows a series of sessions in parliament over the past two years. The report also uncovers evidence of prejudice against urban music and grime artists, tackles the challenges facing small venues, raises concerns over the talent pipeline and supports calls for an EU-wide touring visa for musicians and touring personnel, post-Brexit.

“The UK is witnessing a boom in live music with increasing numbers attending concerts and festivals, giving a boost for the economy, with homegrown talent like Ed Sheeran taking that success across the world,". said DCMS committee chair Damian Collins.

“Yet for all its vibrancy, away from the headline acts the music industry is also facing stark challenges. Bad experiences with ticket resale platforms are damaging trust in the industry, smaller music venues are closing at an unprecedented rate, and the future of the talent pipeline is at risk.

“We’re calling on the Government to review the effectiveness of the law intended to prevent consumers being ripped-off when buying tickets for live concerts. The Government shouldn’t rely on the work of voluntary groups to take on the giants in the ticket resale market but make sure there is effective action to end exploitation, and greater transparency and redress for ticket-buyers when things go wrong.

“The DCMS Committee has taken today the highly unusual step of issuing a warning to the public against using a major secondary ticketing site until it complies fully with consumer law.

“When it comes to live performance, it’s shocking to hear that grime artists are continuing to face prejudice, which risks hampering the success of one of our most successful musical exports.

“Urgent action is needed if the live music industry is to continue to make a significant contribution to both the economy and cultural life of the country. We also look to the music industry to make sure that enough of the big money generated at the top finds its way down to grassroots level to support emerging talent. It happens with sport, why not music?”

The DCMS Committee has taken the highly unusual step of issuing a warning to the public against using a major secondary ticketing site until it complies fully with consumer law

Damian Collins

DCMS Committee chair

Additionally, the report suggests the Competition And Markets Authority (CMA) consider conducting a market study of the music industry to assess "whether competition in the market is working effectively for both consumers and those working in the industry". 

Association Of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO Paul Reed said: "We are pleased that the DCMS select committee has headed warnings from AIF and recognised dangerous conflicts of interest and stifling market dominance as a result of the vertical integration of giant corporate conglomerates in the live industry, and the effect this has on competitors and consumers alike. We hope to see the recommendation of a full market study from the Competition And Markets Authority acted upon swiftly."

UK Music chief Michael Dugher welcomed the DCMS' findings. “This is a landmark report into live music by Damian Collins and members of the DCMS Select Committee," he said. "They have really listened to the live music industry, which contributes around £1bn a year to the UK economy, and their report is a real wake-up call for everyone who wants to safeguard live music." 

Here, we break down some of the key findings and recommendations of the report...

Secondary ticketing

Viagogo has twice failed to appear before the committee when summoned, while the CMA is preparing further legal action against the company, saying it is still failing to comply with a court order to overhaul its practices. In response, Viagogo issued a statement saying it believes it has not breached the order.

“We believe that Viagogo has yet to prove itself a trustworthy operator given its history of resisting compliance, court orders and parliamentary scrutiny, and flouting consumer law," reads the DCMS report. "We are concerned that while that work takes place, consumers remain vulnerable to the site's misleading sales practices.

"It is imperative that the CMA acts promptly and decisively to bring Viagogo into line with consumer law and, until it does so, we advise the public not to buy or sell tickets via Viagogo.”

The report also takes aim at Google, noting that the web giant has repeatedly allowed tickets to be sold in breach of both UK consumer protection law and its own ad policy.

"It is time for companies such as Google to take more responsibility and act against such advertising, or else be considered to be knowingly making money out of fraudulent selling," it states. "The committee calls on the Government to set out the responsibilities of companies such as Google to ensure that advertisements comply with consumer protection law."

In addition, the report brought into question the effectiveness of legislation intended to block the use of bots to harvest tickets on primary websites. 

"We request that in its response to this report the Government lays out how it intends to review the effectiveness of the regulations," it said. "We also ask the Government to publish a review of the regulations no later than 18 months from their coming into force, and for it to include how much has been spent by National Trading Standards on monitoring and enforcement activity related to the regulations."

Discrimination against urban music

MPs welcomed the abolition of the Form 696 risk assessment form. The form was designed by the Met Police to allow the management of licensed premises, event security and police to work together to minimise the risk of serious violent crime at promoted music events, but was removed following concerns that it unfairly targeted grime, garage and R&B acts.

However, one witness told the committee that “institutionalised racism” continued to exist. Hip-hop artist Shaodow cited a club cancelling a gig at short notice when it discovered his style of music over concerns it would lose its licence if the performance went ahead. 

"It is concerning to hear that prejudices against urban acts persist," said the report. "The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office should work together to develop guidance for licensing authorities, police forces and music venues on how to collaborate on managing risks to ensure that urban music acts are not unfairly targeted."

“One of our first campaigns after UK Music was set up in 2008 was to call for Form 696 to be axed," said Dugher. "We welcomed the move by Mayor Sadiq Khan to end a practice that effectively discriminates unfairly against genres like grime. We must root our discrimination wherever we find it and we support the committee’s call for cross-departmental action by Government to develop guidance for all the relevant authorities to ensure that urban music acts do not face discrimination."

Venue closures

The 55-page report found that the Government has failed to act to stem the tide of venue closures happening on a scale unprecedented in other cultural sectors. Describing the development as a "significant and urgent challenge to the music industry", it urged the Government to immediately review the impact of recent business rates changes on the live music sector and introduce new, or extend existing, relief schemes.

"We recommend that in the next legislative session the Government appoints a statutory consultative body to promote the protection of music venues, provide advice to local authorities on relevant planning applications and monitor how ‘agent of change’ is applied in practice around the country," it concluded.

“It’s great that cross-party MPs have recognised the warnings that we at UK Music have issued over the impact of soaring business rates’ bills on venues," said Dugher. "This Committee has now joined MPs from all parties who have called on the Chancellor to end the present system which discriminates against music venues, including by not allowing them to get the the same rates rebate as pubs and clubs.  It is time the Government listened and threw a lifeline to venues who are struggling to survive."

The report also calls on the Government to set up a taskforce to examine how the music industry may be supported and incentivised to invest more effectively in supporting grassroots talent."

We urgently need to help nurture the music industry's talent pipeline if we are to continue producing world-leading superstars

Michael Dugher

UK Music

“We particularly welcome the recommendation that a new taskforce is needed to help and support emerging talent," added Dugher. "We urgently need help to nurture the music industry’s talent pipeline if we are to continue producing world-leading superstars like Adele and Ed Sheeran. With the decline of music in education in particular, there is a real danger that having the chance of a successful career in music means that you have to have access to the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. We are, in effect drawing water from a well that’s getting smaller and smaller."

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