High Court and Court of Appeal reject ticketing company last-minute bid
Channel Four and independent production company, Hardcash Productions, won a last-minute legal battle in the High Court and the Court of Appeal yesterday brought by online ticketing giant Viagogo. Viagogo sought an interim injunction on grounds of breach of confidence arising from an undercover investigation by Channel 4’s current affairs programme, Dispatches “The Great Ticket Scandal” an exposé of the ‘hidden practices’ of the online ticket re-selling market. Hildyard J in the High Court found that there was a clear public interest in the broadcast of the information. The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, refused permission to appeal just hours before the programme was due to be aired at 9pm.
Viagogo claims to be Europe’s largest ticket exchange, selling tens of millions of pounds worth of tickets each year. Viagogo sought to prohibit the disclosure of information about specific business arrangements and relationships which they said was obtained in breach of confidence by an undercover reporter who had gained employment at the company.
The reporter had worked in Viagogo’s London headquarters and obtained footage which was said by Hardcash to reveal that the company’s depiction of itself as a “fan-to-fan exchange” and “not a primary ticket seller” was not accurate. They said that, in fact, it was established during the investigation that the majority of tickets offered for sale through Viagogo were not from individual fans but from large-scale professional ticket resellers and concert promoters. Viagogo’s managers at the London offices were secretly filmed describing the practices as “highly highly immoral” and “really shady”.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Hildyard in the High Court refused Viagogo’s injunction application, after applying section 12(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998, on the grounds that he was not satisfied that Viagogo would succeed at trial in showing that the information was confidential in nature, and that in any event, that there was a clear public interest in correcting the false image that they had put forward to the public. In carrying out a balancing exercise, the Judge took into account the express confidentiality clause that had been signed by the undercover reporter in the employment contract and that some of the information had been obtained by covert means. He nonetheless concluded that the balancing exercise favoured the Defendants and Viagogo had not satisfied the court that it was likely to succeed at trial. The Judge further held that the claim was likely to be a libel action in disguise.
Viagogo made a last minute attempt to appeal the decision and sought permission to appeal from the Master of the Rolls at an oral hearing just hours before the programme was due to be aired. At 4.30pm, Lord Neuberger refused permission on a number of grounds, including:
- that Viagogo had not satisfied the court that it could provide a sufficient cross-undertaking in damages,
- that Viagogo had not acted promptly enough to bring the application; and
- that the Judge in the High Court had approached the question with great care and was more than entitled to reach the views he did.
“Dispatches: The Great Ticket Scandal” was aired on Channel 4 at 9pm on 23 February 2012. You can watch it here on 4oD until 24 March.