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‘It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster’: Justice Department sues concert ticket behemoth

Penny Harrison and her son Parker Harrison rally against the live entertainment ticket industry outside the U.S. Capitol last year.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Penny Harrison and her son Parker Harrison rally against the live entertainment ticket industry outside the U.S. Capitol last year.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice and 30 state and district attorneys across the country filed a federal lawsuit against Live Nation Entertainment and its wholly owned subsidiary Ticketmaster. The suit alleges that Live Nation has created a monopoly on live event ticket prices across the United States. The civil antitrust suit was filed in the Southern District of New York.

This fight has been long in coming: Music fans and other consumers, performers, independent venues and even members of Congress have argued that Ticketmaster, which merged with Live Nation in 2010, had artificially pushed ticket prices sky-high. If successful, this suit could reshape the live event landscape – and the prices fans pay to see their favorite performers – across the country.

The state and district attorneys joining the suit include several states that are home to major live event venues, including those of New York, California, Colorado, Florida and Texas.

Live Nation Entertainment did not immediately return NPR’s request for comment on Wednesday morning.

Within the suit, the Department of Justice and the states allege that Live Nation and Ticketmaster engaged in several forms of anticompetitive conduct, including retaliating against other promotion companies and venues that worked with its rivals; locking out competitors with long-term, exclusive ticketing contracts; restricting musicians’ access to live event venues, and strategically acquiring smaller, independent companies that Live Nation allegedly perceived as threats to its dominance.

Earlier this month, in a bid to increase transparency for consumers, the House of Representatives passed the TICKET Act, which would force Live Nation and other ticket sellers to list all the costs and fees within a live event ticket price. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Ted Cruz of Texas, has been supported by hundreds of prominent musicians, including Billie Eilish, Dave Matthews and Nile Rodgers, who wrote in a joint statement: “We are joining together to say that the current system is broken: predatory resellers and secondary platforms engage in deceptive ticketing practices to inflate ticket prices and deprive fans of the chance to see their favorite artists at a fair price.”

According to Wednesday’s filing, Live Nation Entertainment currently owns or controls over 250 concert venues across North America, and controls around 60% of concert promotions at major concert venues across the U.S. The company also directly manages more than 400 musical acts.

In the suit, the Department of Justice and the states asserted: “With this vast scope of power comes influence. Live Nation and its wholly owned subsidiary, Ticketmaster, have used that power and influence to insert themselves at the center and the edges of virtually every aspect of the live music ecosystem.”

In the past, Live Nation has said that musicians — not its own company — are the ones to ultimately set their own ticket prices, regardless of Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s dominance in the marketplace.

“It is not surprising that Live Nation has pointed its finger at artists,” a senior Justice official said on background on Wednesday morning. “In an industry in which artists have historically been squeezed for compensation for their creative work, it’s important that artists are properly compensated.”

“To us, that’s a little bit of a red herring,” the official continued, referring to Live Nation’s previous argument. “How is the system set up? How is Live Nation’s control at all levels of the system allowing for a process that’s distorted in part by Live Nation’s power?”

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.