City Council approves bill allowing Ticketmaster's service fees

The City Council approved a bill Monday that would allow companies such as Ticketmaster to continue to charge unlimited fees in selling tickets to events in Baltimore.

The 15-member council voted heavily in favor of the bill, which would exempt Ticketmaster and other ticket sellers from Baltimore's long-standing anti-scalping law. Only council members Bill Henry, James Kraft and Mary Pat Clarke voted "no."

Before approving the measure, the council amended the bill to make it sunset in September instead of November. The bill allows ticket-selling companies to continue to charge unlimited user, service and "convenience" fees. But citizens would still be prohibited from adding to a ticket's face value when reselling it.

The legislation — which Councilman Carl Stokes said he sponsored as a temporary solution while the council works on permanent legislation — was a response to a ruling by Maryland's highest court, which in January struck down Ticketmaster's unpopular user fees in Baltimore. Ticketmaster and its owner, Live Nation, have declined to comment on the issue.

Stokes said the Ravens, Orioles and concert, entertainment and cultural venues asked for the bill, concerned that Ticketmaster and other ticket vendors might refuse to handle events in Baltimore. The legislation would exempt ticket sellers from a 1948 law that bars businesses and citizens from charging fees in excess of 50 cents on top of a ticket's stated price.

By September, the council would have enough time to introduce permanent legislation that will "protect the consumer, that allows full transparency in advertising," Stokes said Monday.

Andre Bourgeois, a 50-year-old Inner Harbor resident, filed suit against Ticketmaster and the Lyric Opera House in 2011 after being charged $12 in user fees on a $52 ticket to see Jackson Browne in 2009. His hope was that Ticketmaster would be forced to stop charging the fees for events in Baltimore — and to issue refunds to customers who have paid the charges.

According to his lawsuit, Ticketmaster takes in about $1 billion annually from user fees on $8 billion in ticket sales worldwide. The suit does not estimate how much of that comes from Baltimore.

In 2011, Ticketmaster owner Live Nation agreed to pay $22.3 million to customers to settle a class action lawsuit over fees in California.

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