Marshall movie ticket scalping legal, Assistant AG says

By John O'Brien | Dec 1, 2006

CHARLESTON - Anyone familiar with knows it doesn't matter that the "We Are Marshall" movie premiere is sold out -- tickets are easy to find on the Internet auction site.

Of course, anyone who wants to go will probably be paying more than $150 for a ticket to the movies.

It's a problem about which little can be done, according to Assistant Attorney General Norman Googel, part of Attorney General Darrell McGraw's Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division.

"Some states have statutes that prohibit ticket-scalping, although even those states do have difficulty enforcing those laws," he said. "People often find loopholes and do it anyway.

"At this time, no West Virginia law prohibits ticket-scalping, as far as I know -- at least no statewide law."

A search for tickets on Thursday to the movie's Dec. 12 premiere in Huntington returned 20 results. At presstime, the most immediate-ending auction had two tickets going for $308, with more than five hours of bidding left.

The movie, starring Matthew McConaughey, recounts the story of the 75 Marshall University football team members who died in a plane crash on their way back from North Carolina.

After the movie is released, tickets in Charleston can be found for as low as $4 -- the amount Park Place Cinemas charges on Tuesdays.

However, scalpers gauged the public's interest in having a chance to attend a premiere and have acted accordingly.

It reminded Googel of a case from 1998 that saw McGraw's office challenge the lack of anti-scalping laws. He was the main attorney on a petition for injunction that requested Robert Mazzie stop scalping tickets to state events through his business AAA Prime Time Tix.

Mazzie had scalped tickets to most big events in the state, from West Virginia University football games to a Garth Brooks concert (jacking the $16 price to more than $200) when the Attorney General's office attempted to intervene.

Quoting the complaint, Googel said, "Ticket-scalping benefits only the scalper and harms the performing artist, promoters, facility, city or other governmental body, local merchants and the consumers."

Googel attempted to prove that Mazzie had violated the City of Charleston's own anti-scalping ordinance by placing ads in the Charleston Gazette, and that he was violating the terms printed on the back of a ticket.

"In the complaint, we quoted the language on the back of all tickets from Ticketmaster: 'This ticket is a revokable license subject to termination with denial of admission at the management's discretion. Attempted resale of ticket at a price higher than appearing hereon is grounds for seizure and cancellation of ticket.'" Googel said.

Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky did not agree with Googel's argument, however, and denied the AG's petition.

Stucky said that because Mazzie was headquartered in Triadelphia, any scalping performed originated in that town. Merely advertising in a Charleston newspaper and selling to Charleston residents did not violate the city's ordinance.

As far as the language on the back of the ticket was concerned, Googel conceded that maybe that was Ticketmaster's battle to fight, since it was its terms that were being violated. He cited a successful petition that was filed in Ohio County by a music festival organizer who said the terms of his tickets were being violated by a scalper.

"We believed it was harmful to consumers. That was the basis of our suit," Googel said. "We believed it was unlawful and did what we could to stop it. Obviously, a lot of people disagreed."

Most importantly, Stucky disagreed.

"While this Court does not personally condone the sale of tickets on the secondary market, the Court has reviewed the consumer protection laws and has also reviewed the other -- any applicable statues in the West Virginia Code -- and the court will note that the State of West Virginia does not have an anti-scalping statute..." Stucky said during a hearing.

"And certainly, the state Legislature could pass such a law if they so desired."

Shortly after the case, Googel said a bill was proposed but didn't pass. The Supreme Court also denied to hear Googel's appeal.

That left the door open for any scalper who wishes to make an easy buck. Googel added that even if the state had an anti-scalping law, prosecuting Internet offenders is difficult because it raises the question of where a sale takes place.

"It's a little bit more confusing than if you walk into a retail store and buy something. You know the purchase takes place right there," he said.

"(Mazzie) was selling tickets over the phone. They were a legitimate business. It wasn't fraud, it was a question of whether or not that type of business was lawful."

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