MPs To Look At ‘Herman Sherman Law’

It’s taken longer to reach the Belgian federal parliament than he initially hoped, but Herman Schueremans has reason to be confident the anti-ticket scalping bill that’s been named after him will reach the Chamber of Representatives sometime next month.

During Melvin Benn’s “The Politics Of Live” panel at this year’s ILMC (March 12-14), Belgian economics minister Vincent Van Quickenborne outlined the parliamentary bill that – should it become law – would likely be the envy of official ticket outlets and concert promoters all over the globe.

At ILMC Van Quickenborne, who once jokingly nicknamed the bill “The Herman Sherman Law,” largely because it’s modeled on the Live Nation Belgium and Rock Werchter chief’s proposals for tackling ticket scalpers, explained why he’s one of its keenest supporters.

The bill he’s supporting in the Belgian parliament would prohibit tickets from being sold for more than 10 percent above face value. The 10 percent ceiling is fixed on the amount the purchaser actually pays and therefore must include any costs and charges the reseller incurs.

Selling a ticket for more than 10 percent higher than face value will make the seller legally liable to repay anything he or she made in addition to that amount.

It will also prohibit the resale of tickets until the initial vendor has commenced selling the tickets, making it impossible for touts to legally advertise tickets before possessing them.

The authority that regulates small businesses will enforce the law, as any reseller breaking the 10 percent rule will be considered to be in breach of the country’s economic regulations. Part of Van Quickenborne’s ministerial responsibility is the simplification of the administration.

Anyone found guilty of breaking the law could face a prison sentence of between one month and a year and also a fine ranging between euro 250 and euro 10,000. They could also be forced to refund any of the excess profits they’d made.

The bill’s also expected to contain a provision under which some offenders may avoid prosecution by refunding profits from the scalped tickets.

Van Quickenborne was one of the major sponsors of the document that was initially tabled for inclusion in the Belgian parliamentary agenda in June 2009. It was hoped it would get its first reading during the autumn session but the pressure of other parliamentary business has pushed it back to the spring.

Schueremans, who has been an MP in the Flemish parliament since 2004, began the groundwork for the bill in 2006, reaching a tacit handshake deal with the Belgian government that they’d work together to stamp out profiteering touts.

It wasn’t much more than a verbal commitment to work together within the framework of existing Belgian law. National media even referred to it as “a gentlemen’s agreement.”

Schueremans effectively set up his own consultation period by lobbying his government to recognise that tickets shouldn’t be sold to third parties without the permission of the event organizer. He said any scalped tickets should be declared invalid.

That in itself was enough to get coverage in the national papers.

The agreement also proved an effective tool in the spring of 2007 when LN Belgium director Yo Van Saet and Stefan Esselens of the Antwerp-based Tele Ticket Service forced touts to hand back the profits they’d made from selling tickets for the Shakira and Lionel Richie shows at the city’s Sportpaleis.

They’d invalidated tickets because they’d been re-sold and would only revalidate them when the touts refunded their profits to the ticket-holders. The touts – mainly Dutch Internet sites – caved in and handed out cash refunds outside the venue.

Schueremans wanted the “gentlemen’s agreement” made law and had already began recruiting support among his Flemish Liberal Party (VLD) colleagues including (then) economic minister Marc Verwilghen –Van Quickenborne’s predecessor –as well as Willem-Frederik Schiltz and Sofie Staelrave.

Schueremans admits to lobbying Verwilghen on the subject “until he started to listen.” Van Quickenborne – then a junior minister in Verwilghen’s economics department – also saw the benefits of the agreement becoming law.

Cross-party support initially came from Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V) including Liesbeth Van der Auwera and Jef Vandenbergh, and Socialist Dalila Douifi. Vandenbergh showed Belgian music fans the cross-party support is genuine when he joined Van Quickenborne and Schiltz to explain the significance of “Herman Sherman Law” to the crowd at last year’s 80,000-capacity, sold-out Rock Werchter Festival July 3.

Van Quickenborne, a metal fan with a particular liking for AC/DC and Metallica, was on Benn’s ILMC panel to explain how governments – happy as they are to share the benefits of the creative industries – can also be a practical support to them.