Ticket company must pay $9M — all money it owes to consumers nationwide
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that, as a result of his lawsuit, Seattle-based ticketing company Brown Paper Tickets must fully refund all consumers who purchased tickets to canceled events, and pay all money it owes to organizers of past events. An estimated 45,000 event organizers and ticket purchasers nationwide, and internationally, will receive a total of approximately $9 million from today’s resolution. The company is also required to pay the Attorney General’s Office $70,000 for attorney’s costs and fees.
From March 19, 2020, through February 23, 2021, the Attorney General’s Office received 1,200 complaints from consumers about the company’s conduct. An estimated 45,000 people have been affected nationwide, according to the lawsuit. Many of these consumers are organizers and attendees of small, nonprofit or community-based events, like those at community centers, schools or children’s theaters.
Consumers do not have to file a claim to receive their restitution. Brown Paper Tickets will reach out directly to ticket holders and event organizers to arrange a refund. In addition, Washingtonians will receive a letter or email from the Attorney General’s Office notifying them of their refund.
Brown Paper Tickets owes an average of less than $50 to ticket buyers, and substantially larger amounts to event organizers — as much as $1,000 to $10,000 or more per event. Ultimately, much of the restitution going to event organizers will be used to recoup losses for completed events for which they were not paid. An estimated 90 percent of the consumers who are entitled to refunds are ticket buyers. Ticket buyers may elect to donate their refund to the event organizers.
“For most of the year, we’ve had to sacrifice in-person events,” Ferguson said. “Small theaters and arts organizations — like your local children’s theater, community center, church or music school — have been hit hard by COVID. Today’s resolution ensures Brown Paper Tickets will uphold its promises to these essential community spaces by returning the millions of dollars it owes them, and puts money back into the pockets of thousands of individuals across the country.”
Under today’s resolution, filed in King County Superior Court, Brown Paper Tickets is required to submit a detailed report on the progress of the refunds to the Attorney General’s Office every 30 days. The resolution is designed to ensure Brown Paper Tickets pays the restitution amount in full as promptly as possible, and hold the company accountable if it fails to do so by the deadline, seven months from the date of the consent decree.
Brown Paper Tickets is legally required to issue payments and refunds to event organizers and ticket buyers as quickly as possible, while prioritizing payments to Washington consumers.
Since its launch in 2000, Brown Paper Tickets offered low-cost ticketing services to event organizers and acts as an intermediary between event organizers and ticket buyers. It takes 5 percent of the revenue from an event’s ticket sales and a 99-cent fee from ticket buyers for its services. Its low-cost services cater to small organizations, such as community theaters and nonprofits.
Brown Paper Tickets historically operated on tight margins to keep its fees low, and relied on incoming funds from new ticket sales to cover its costs and debts. When the COVID-19 pandemic brought about the cancellation of most live events — halting nearly all new ticket sales and drying up the company’s revenue — Brown Paper Tickets was unable to meet its outstanding obligations to event organizers for events that took place or to ticket buyers who requested refunds for canceled events.
Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Brown Paper Tickets in September, after his office received hundreds of complaints from ticket holders and event organizers in the wake of COVID-related event cancellations. The lawsuit asserts Brown Paper Tickets failed to pay organizers for events that occurred, including those before COVID-19 shutdowns, and has not refunded consumers for tickets they purchased for entertainment and other events canceled due to the pandemic.
Ferguson’s lawsuit provides several examples from complaints submitted to the Attorney General’s Office by Washington consumers:
- A youth arts organization in Bellingham staged two performances in February and March and earned in excess of $3,000 in ticket sales. Despite having collected payments from ticket buyers, Brown Paper Tickets failed to pay the organization.
- A café and community event space in Renton held three remote “dinner and a show” fundraiser events in May and June. Brown Paper Tickets failed to pay approximately $2,000 it owes the café.
- A community events organizer used Brown Paper Tickets to collect camping fees for an outdoor festival it planned in late March. Brown Paper Tickets collected nearly $7,000 from 93 ticket buyers but failed to provide refunds to ticket buyers after the event was canceled.
- A Seattle resident paid Brown Paper Tickets approximately $300 for a child to attend a summer camp. When the camp organizer canceled the camp due to COVID-19, the parent could not obtain a refund despite repeated requests to Brown Paper Tickets.
Assistant Attorneys General Craig Rader and Marc Worthy as well as Paralegal Amanda Bartling, Legal Assistant Joshua Bennett and Investigator Anton Forbes are handling the case for the Consumer Protection Division.
The Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division enforces the Consumer Protection Act and other statutes to help keep the Washington marketplace free of unfair and deceptive practices. The division investigates and files legal actions to stop unfair and deceptive practices, recovers refunds for consumers, seeks penalties and recovers costs and fees to ensure that wrongdoers pay for their actions.
Consumers may report any unfair or deceptive business practices to the Consumer Protection Division by filing a complaint at https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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