Computer software that enables touts to exploit the secondary ticketing market by bulk-buying theatre seats will be banned under new government legislation.
The government has been under growing pressure to crack down on ticket touts using secondary sites such as Viagogo to resell highly sought-after tickets at inflated prices.
They are facilitated by computer software, known as ‘bots’, that allows touts to bypass security measures on ticket limits and harvest large numbers of seats at once.
Anyone caught using this software will now face an unlimited fine, according to new legislation in the Digital Economy Act that will make the use of bots a criminal offence.
Alongside tickets to sold-out music and sport events, secondary websites frequently list seats for popular theatre productions, such as Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for thousands of pounds each.
Creative industries minister Matt Hancock first signalled a ban on bots in 2016 , when he said the government would consider introducing legislation as part of a commitment to improve the secondary ticketing market.
The government has now notified the European Commission that it intends to take forward plans to enshrine a ban in law.
Hancock said: “We’ll be acting to stamp out the growing problem of touts misusing technology to scoop up vast numbers of tickets only to sell them on at rip-off prices.”
Last year, producers of musical Hamilton began using a paperless ticketing system  aimed at eliminating touts.
Jonathan Brown, chief executive of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, said that while bots are employed more in areas such as music and sport, theatre still presented a notable problem.
He told The Stage: “It’s good to see that the government is making progress with the next legislative step in outlawing the bulk buying tickets by touts using automated software.”
He added that enforcement would depend on ticket sellers being able to identify and report attacks by bots and for the authorities to then follow this up with action.
“Hopefully, the use of bots will diminish given this potential for action to be taken once the new legislation is finalised. It’s important that the prohibition of bots is seen alongside other work in this area,” Brown said.