Exorbitant service fees ruled illegal under 1948 ordinance, legislation being vacated

Baltimore has a law prohibiting anyone from selling tickets to concerts and sporting event for more than 50 cents above their face value. The anti-scalping ordinance dates to 1948, we hear, when a Navy-Notre Dame football game inspired a bit too much entrepreneurship for the city fathers' liking.

On the books it has been, ever since, vigilantly protecting consumers from ordinary idiots out to make a buck.

Until now, that is.

On Jan. 18 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the law applies to Ticketmaster, the totally legal and non-monopolistic company that bought events promoter Live Nation in 2010 and just happens to charge a "service fee" that many consumers think is often exorbitant. According to the new ruling, such service charges-if they exceeded 50 cents-would be scalping and thus subject to a $500 fine and revocation of their vendor's license.

Only one thing to do then, according to Carl Stokes, who was tapped by Baltimore venues and working in conjunction with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's people to carry the appropriate bill into City Council: Vacate the city's law.

"I've been asked to bring in a bill to vacate the legislation for nine months," 12th District City Councilman Carl Stokes says. "To not enforce the law."

The idea is to give the city and the giant company-which feeds shows into the 1st Mariner Arena-time to figure out what to do after the decision is finalized at the Federal District Court and the expected appeals process begins. As of Jan. 1, 2013, Live Nation added Baltimore Soundstage, which has the potential to bring some of the most high-profile acts coming through town, to the list of venues it books.

Stokes wants it clear that he does not necessarily support the bill he's carrying. "There is a service charge-there is no rhyme or reason," he says, citing a friend who bought two tickets for a John Waters appearance last year. "Someone here-I won't name them-paid a $50 service charge on $45 tickets."

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