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Friday, September 11, 2009

Disneyland and property rights in tickets

Due to a family matter, I had to head down to Los Angeles last week, so naturally my wife and I took our two little boys to Disneyland as well.  While there, the following two possibly analogous incidents occurred that got me thinking about property rights in tickets.

The first was that we decided to go on California Soarin' (in California Adventures), which is kind of a flight simulator ride with a big curved screen and suspended roller coaster-like seats that tilt with the picture to enhance the feeling of motion.  It's a popular ride, so the line gets long, and it's also one of the rides that Disney offers "Fastpass" to mitigate lines for those willing to work.  The way Fastpass works is that you insert your park entry card into a machine near the ride, and the machine gives you back your entry card and a ride ticket.  The catch is that the ride ticket lets you bypass the "standby" line only for a one-hour period, and that one-hour period is in the future.  So, if you visited the Fastpass machine at 10 am, you might be given a return window of 12 noon to 1 pm.

Anyway, we decided to brave the approximately 45 minute stand-by line, but as we were walking up to the end of the line, a woman approached us, asked if we were going to ride Soarin', and when we said we were, she gave us her Fastpass tickets, which we about to become valid.  Woo hoo!  So instead of having to wait 45-55 minutes, we bypassed the long line and had about a 5 minute wait (basically for the designated simulator to clear out).  I'll get to the potential issues involved in a moment.

The second incident occurred later that same day.  As we were exiting the park (well before closing time), a young woman approached us and asked if we were leaving.  When we said we were, she asked, "Can I have your tickets?"  Naturally, we refused.  It would have been pointless, since the regular Disneyland tickets require a valid hand-stamp for re-entry that day, and you can only get a hand-stamp if you've already been in a park, which of course requires that you already have had a ticket.

Nevertheless, the woman's request struck me as quite wrong for reasons beyond the pragmatic.  It would represent revenue loss to Disneyland, since the only other way she could get in would be to buy a ticket.  But then I started wondering about how I was able to Fastpass the Soarin' ride.  The lawyerly side of me could respond that there was no revenue loss to Disneyland, since the Fastpasses are free (but you essentially can only have one active at a time).  Therefore the situations are completely different.  And from Disneyland's perspective, I would think that is right.  On the other hand, I suppose the other customers waiting in the stand-by line might have had a complaint, since we (marginally) extended their wait, which would not have happened had we gone through the stand-by line.  Then again, the customers were no worse off than if the original Fastpassing woman had used her Fastpass instead of giving it to us, and one can wonder why those customers would care who imposed the marginal increase in wait time. . . .

Posted by Tung Yin on September 11, 2009 at 01:31 PM in Odd World, Property, Travel | Permalink


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A bit tangential, but a ticket to Disneyland would generally be viewed as a license (and hence revocable without due process since it is a contract rather than a property right), rather than a lease (a property right revocable only with due process). If Disney wrongfully ejects you, you could sue for money damages for breach of contract, but it wouldn't, for example, constitute some manner of criminal theft.

Given the amount of money involved, the disclaimers in the ticket, and the fact that Disneyland is an inconvenient forum for many short time visitors, I suspect that this is almost nobody ever actually sues unless there is a point to be made from a civil rights perspective.

The legal issue then, is not what property right you have in your ticket, but whether particular documents are assignable or negotiable. In absence of an agreement, unique service providers and parties who owe money can't assign, but benefit receivers can assign. Express terms typically ban assignment, and the issue there is whether this is an unreasonable restraint on alienation and assignment that is void as a matter of law. Many state and local governments have laws either expressly permitting or expressly forbidding scalping, which is essentially what the acts in question involved (albeit gratuitous scalping).

The tickets themselves no doubt expressly provide that they are non-negotiable. The Fastpass document may be ambiguous on that point and the issuer of the license ultimately in the one that interprets those ambiguities in practice.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Sep 11, 2009 3:38:32 PM

The more interesting questions to me re: the fastpass involve the possibility of price discrimination. Disney could (and maybe does, or others may) offer multiple tiers of access to their parks, some of which permit no access to Fastpass, some get one Fastpass at a time (sounds like the arrangement described here), and some get Fastpass access to any ride at any time, etc. Then Disney could price accordingly to limit the amount of each so as not to send regular customers home complaining about never getting on any ride. This sounds awful for the most magical place on earth to have such "classes" of access, but it might actually lower the price of the basic ticket and increase access--price discrimination usually does have that effect.

Posted by: steve | Sep 11, 2009 4:00:50 PM

ohwilleke's point gets at what strikes me as slightly off about the title of the post. Your concern doesn't seem to be about the property right in the ticket itself. The physical object is unambiguously yours, and you're free to give or sell it to anyone you want, regardless of whether that effects transfer of any park access rights acquired by license.

The real question is thus not property rights in tickets, but the transferability of contract rights acquired via license (of which the ticket is only a physical instantiation). Your license would be valid even if you dropped your ticket in the water over the side of your It's a Small World boat and lost it. This may forfeit your right to exercise the associated access rights acquired by license, because as a practical matter you could no longer prove that you enjoyed any such rights, but it has nothing to do with the rights themselves.

Finally, a thought about Steve's price discrimination point. Imagine that you went to D-land and decided to leverage your FastPass rights into cold cash via arbitrage. You could arrive early, get FastPass access rights to all the rides possible, and then go to the lines at the appropriate time and sell the tickets to sad line-waiters for whom $20 would be well worth it to skip the line.

I'm not sure this is too much of a problem; after all, the FastPass system allows the same number of people to bypass the line, regardless of how they got their ticket. And if I saw someone buying a FastPass from a legitimate FastPass owner, I'd simply think that meant the owner was smart (and greedy) and the purchaser valued line-skipping more than me (and most others).

Posted by: Dave | Sep 11, 2009 5:58:19 PM

I suspect that Disney cares more about the impact that scalpers would have on its image than it does about the actual transactions free or otherwise. If it a transfer happens in private and isn't widely known, I suspect that they don't care.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Sep 15, 2009 1:57:41 PM

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