Rio 2016: How Brazil is clamping down on ticket touts at the Olympic Games

Published 31 May 2016 | Authored by: Poonam Majithia

On 4 April 2016, the Brazilian and international press reported that the Consumer Crime Unit (Delegacia do Consumidor) of the Brazilian Civil Police (Policia Civil) had identified ten individuals who were illegally selling Rio 2016 Olympics tickets online.

The ticket touts had bought the tickets legally through the official Rio 2016 ticket portal and then attempted to resell them at inflated prices via their Facebook accounts.Over 700 tickets were being offered for sale, many of which for high-profile events, and some were being sold for up to ten times the official price.2

As the tickets were not yet been printed by the Rio 2016 Organising Committee (“ROCOG”), the touts were offering ticket vouchers that could then be exchanged for actual tickets once issued.3 The illegal activities were first discovered by ROCOG4, who subsequently informed the Police. The touts are now facing questioning and the ticket vouchers will be cancelled by the Juizado Especial do Torcedor e dos Grandes Eventos (a special court created in Rio de Janeiro to deal with offences relating to sporting and entertainment events) and so can no longer be used by the touts or anybody that has already bought them from the touts.5

Unauthorised ticket touting for large sporting events, in particular via online platforms such as social media, is unfortunately inevitable and can be difficult to police. Organisers of such events are therefore required to put in place legal and practical measures designed to prevent and penalise such activities. 

This article explores the legal basis upon which ticket touting activities can be penalised in Brazil. It also looks at the specific measures adopted by ROCOG and the Civil Police to curb the unauthorised resale of Rio 2016 tickets.

 

Relevant legislation

Statute

Unlike in the UK6, Brazil has a specific law (the Estatuto do Torcedor 2003) which prohibits tickets for sporting events from being sold at a price higher than face value. Anybody caught committing this criminal offence can face 1 to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to £390,000.7

It is also illegal to supply or facilitate the distribution of tickets for sale at a price that is higher than face value. The penalty for doing so is 2 to 4 years in prison and a fine of up to £390,000.8

The law is enforced primarily by the Civil Police’s Consumer Crime Unit (DECON) and the Juizado Especial do Torcedor e dos Grandes Eventos (Special Court for Fans and Big Events). The special court was created to deal with both criminal and civil offences relating to the Estatuto Torcedor and large sporting and entertainment events generally, and is set up by each of the states separately. The court for the state of Rio de Janeiro was set up by the Rio de Janeiro state tribunal in June 2013 ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup and is classed as a court of first instance.9 

It is important to note that the statute only applies to touts that are attempting to sell, supply or facilitate the distribution of tickets in the Brazilian territory. It does therefore not apply to international secondary ticket websites (such as Viagogo) to the extent that such websites are not targeting Brazilians, Nevertheless the resale of Olympics tickets on these websites is still a breach of the Ticket Terms and Conditions (see below). 

IP infringement

A number of Olympic related words and symbols receive special protection in Brazil and are registered as trade marks with the Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial, the national trade marks registry (INPI). Under Law 9.615 of 24 March 1998 (the “Pelé Law”) and Law 12.035 of 9 January 2013 (the “Olympic Act”), it is prohibited to use such words and symbols without express consent from ROCOG or the International Olympic Committee.10 These include but are not limited to the following words (in any language): “Jogos Olimpicos” (Olympic Games), “Rio 2016”, “Rio Olimpiadas” (Rio Olympics) or “Olimpiada” and "OIimpiadas”.11

As such, using any of the abovementioned words or expressions in order to offer tickets for sale through unauthorised channels, for example advertising “Rio 2016 tickets” or “Ingressos Olimpiadas” (Olympics tickets) on a website or on a social media post is prohibited and constitutes trade mark infringement. 

As well as being subject to trade mark infringement proceedings, under a forthcoming alteration of the Olympic Act, anybody caught using these protected words without express permission could face between three months to one year in prison or a fine.12

 

Ticket Terms and Conditions

In addition to federal legislation, Rio 2016 tickets are subject to specific Terms and Conditions of sale as well as a Licence regulating the use of the tickets. Both the Terms and Conditions and the Licence make clear that Brazilian residents are

  1. only permitted to purchase tickets through the official Rio 2016 ticket portal or, in relation to hospitality packages, through TAM Viagens; and
  2. prohibited from reselling their tickets other than through the official Rio 2016 resale portal.13

Tickets bought by non-Brazilian residents via ROCOG’s authorised ticket resellers in other jurisdictions are also subject to similar provisions. 

Tickets bought through a third party are subject to being declared invalid, confiscated or cancelled without refund.14 Indeed, the reason why ROCOG have not yet issued printed tickets is so that they can be easily cancelled if they are found to be resold through an unauthorised channel. In addition, under the Licence of use for the ticket, if the ticketholder obtained the ticket through an unauthorised channel, they may be deemed to be trespassing.15 Any such individuals are therefore at risk of being denied entry or removed from the event venue and may face civil or criminal prosecution.16 

These legally binding restrictions make clear that reselling Rio 2016 tickets or purchasing them from an unauthorised reseller is strictly prohibited. It also makes clear that the penalties for breaching the Terms and Conditions and Licence are strict. An individual who has purchased a ticket for the Olympics Opening Ceremony, for example, through a reseller for three times the price would not want to show up at the event to discover that their ticket is now invalid and they are denied entry.

In practice however, it is difficult to monitor compliance with these restrictions. How does ROCOG ensure that those who have purchased tickets do not resell them? How can they identify the actual ticket touts? And how do they detect resold tickets so that they can cancel them? Also, how will they identify those in possession of tickets bought from touts at the Games?

When purchasing tickets, individuals must first register on the official Rio 2016 ticket portal and provide detailed information about themselves. This includes their name, full address and Brazilian tax number, as well as bank account details on purchase.17 This allows ROCOG to match any tickets they find being resold illegally to the person who initially bought them. Indeed the ten touts who were caught offering tickets for sale on their social media accounts were identified by tracing those tickets to their Rio 2016 ticket portal account details.18

Further, this should allow stewards during Olympic sessions to check that a ticketholder’s identity matches the personal identity details provided when the ticket was initially purchased. It remains to be seen whether such detailed checks will be carried out at Rio 2016; often it is unfeasible to do so at such large events.

 

Enforcement

ROCOG engages with the public by asking them to report the illegal offer for sale of tickets via the email address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. It also has a contact email address for the reporting of any unauthorised use of Olympic trade marks: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. It is believed that tip-offs from the public led to ROCOG catching the ten ticket touts at the beginning of April.19 

ROCOG has also been working closely with the Consumer Crime Unit of the Civil Police in order to identify, investigate and penalise ticket touting for the past ten months.20 ROCOG’s special Ticket Monitoring and Brand Protection Departments monitor such activities and gathers intelligence which is then passed on to the Consumer Crime Unit – in the recent investigation, ROCOG gathered information on the touts’ social media accounts.21 The Unit then launches a more detailed investigation and begins the process of enforcement for example, by blocking the pages upon which the tickets are being resold, cancelling the tickets and questioning and penalising the individuals involved.

 

Prevention

Of course, it would be ideal if ticket touting did not happen in the first place. The fact that it is a crime in Brazil did not stop the ten individuals from the April investigation from advertising their tickets at exorbitant prices. To supplement its enforcement strategy, ROCOG also has a couple of prevention tools designed to deter ticket touting from the outset. 

ROCOG has produced an easy to understand guide for the general public on how to purchase Rio 2016 tickets in a simple “question and answer” style format. The guide explains that reselling tickets is prohibited and a crime, and that the only trusted channel for buying tickets is through the official Rio 2016 channel (or, for hospitality packages, through TAM Viagens).22 There is also a guide on Protected Marks, which provides the general message that it is prohibited to use any Olympic related words or marks to offer or advertise any product or services unless officially permitted by ROCOG or the International Olympic Committee.23 

In addition, ROCOG has a ticket resale portal where those who have obtained tickets but can no longer use them, can sell them at the official price for which they were initially bought. It is hoped that providing ticketholders with a legitimate channel to resell their tickets will also deter ticket touting.24 

 

Is progress being made against unlawful touts?

Ticket touting has always been extremely difficult to police, especially for large events such as the Olympic Games. It is now even more challenging than ever because touts can easily advertise tickets online and via social media, making them available to a larger audience. A quick glance shows that there are still numerous Rio 2016 tickets and hospitality packages being offered for sale in Brazil via Facebook.

However, it is clear from the restrictions placed on tickets by ROCOG, the setting up of an investigations team and ROCOG’s collaboration with the Consumer Crime Unit that ticket touting is being taken seriously and effort is being made to curb the practice. 

Although the Consumer Crime Unit has indicated that it is not possible to take action on every incident of ticket touting which is reported25, the recent investigation, which received widespread national and international publicity, should serve as a useful example to anybody in Brazil considering selling or buying Rio 2016 tickets at inflated prices via social media or through other unauthorised channels.

 

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About the Author

Poonam Majithia

Poonam Majithia

Poonam is a lawyer in the intellectual property team at CMS Cameron McKenna. Her areas of interest include the exploitation of media rights, brand protection, advertising law and ambush marketing.

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