Thoughts on TV Licensing

I recently wrote about the iPlayer, and made a throwaway comment about not having a TV licence, yet enjoying the ability to finally be able to legally watch TV programmes online, on my Mac. It sparked quite a discussion. Nick Reynolds (no relation) of the BBC kindly pointed out the new licence fee page on the BBC site. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but the legislation (of which more in a moment) has indeed changed. The page makes a good job of explaining the new situation:

“You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.”

(This is all only relevant in the UK by the way. Americans *cough*, I mean the 56% of my non-UK visitors (of which only about half are from the US) may feel free to look away now).

I find this interesting. Before 2004, and in older documents, it used to say something more like

A TV Licence provides a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment in order to receive or record television programme services. ‘Television receiving equipment’ can be a television set, a VCR, a set-top box, a TV-enabled personal computer or any other equipment designed or modified to enable it to receive television programmes.

The change is down to new legislation which came into force on April 1st (honestly) 2004, and was announced in a written ministerial statement by Tessa Jowell on 11th March 2004. More interestingly, the act itself is the Statutory Instrument 2004 No 692. The Communications Act (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 (which was an update to earlier acts from 1926, 1949 and 2003. Part three, section nine says that “television receiver” means any “apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving (whether by means of wireless telegraphy or otherwise) any television programme service, whether or not it is installed or used for any other purpose.”

The thing that broadens it even further is the text in 9.2…

In this regulation, any reference to receiving a television programme service includes a reference to receiving by any means any programme included in that service, where that programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public by virtue of its being broadcast or distributed as part of that service.

So when the TV licence talks about using a computer, it no longer only means computers with TV receiving cards in them. Steve Hewlett does a good job of explaining this in a Media FAQ in the Guardian last year.

To cut a very long story short, any device that can receive live TV pictures, whether or not originally designed or intended to do so, must be covered by a licence if you use it for that purpose.

Let’s just take that in for a moment. Watching a live TV broadcast, regardless of whether you do it on your TV, your computer, or even (as Steve points out in that post) your mobile phone, means you must have a TV licence. He goes on to say that

…while the new regulations might have succeeded in redefining the term “television” to mean any device capable of receiving it by any broadcast or quasi-broadcast means, they still define a “television programme service” as essentially a live, real-time broadcast stream…

… while the regulations extend beyond traditional broadcasting to cover internet and mobile live streaming, receiving TV programmes on-demand, or say as part of an internet-based catch-up service, appears not to be covered.

If correct, this would mean if you only watched programmes on demand via new services – such as the BBC’s emerging seven-day catch-up facility, or in any way other than via a live broadcast stream, however delivered, you would not be liable to pay the licence fee even if you used your old-fashioned TV.

All very interesting. So, some observations and questions.

  • In the UK, while you (still) don’t need a TV licence to own a TV, you do need a TV licence to watch live broadcasts which originate from the UK, regardless of the equipment used. This would include the live stream of News 24.
  • (Currently) I can use iPlayer to watch TV shows without needing a licence, because they’re not being simulcast on the TV. I have not used Channel 4’s 4oD, but I believe the same is true. It’s a download service, not live broadcast, and even the new Flash streaming flavour of iPlayer is video on-demand rather than being “received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public by virtue of its being broadcast”. Theoretically, I can continue to watch iPlayer without needing a licence, and only my conscience about supporting the programme makers to trouble me.
  • The TV licensing authority can already ask to see my TV, and I can tell them (and eventually show them) that I don’t use it to watch broadcast TV. If I don’t have a licence and I chose not to watch live streamed TV though a browser if it’s offered, will I have to prove that to them too?

Why all this interest in the licence? Well, we got rid of our household TV, video, and PC capture card a few years ago. We’d realised we were watching whatever was on, and not enjoying it any more. It was time to go cold turkey. There was a clearing of the house, and part of the cleansing ritual was to (probably a bit smugly) cancel the licence. If I went through the same process now, I’d probably have kept the licence, because the radio and web content is worth the money, but at the time I didn’t think so.

The thing that really put my off the TV licence was actually the licensing authority themselves. When I cancelled it, and again when we moved house, and again when we bought a TV set (not tuned or even connected to the antenna, but bought in order to more fully enjoy DVDs and the Wii) I was quite disgusted with the regular letters, often very aggressive in tone, demanding we purchase a TV licence, with no expectation that people might not actually watch it. The regular bullying was annoying, and rather hardened my will against the system.

Throw Away Your Television

Things are changing. My previous frame of mind was in a previous era, a time in which I wasn’t addicted to the amazing content on Radio 4, and when iPlayer didn’t exist. As the BBC (hopefully) continues to open up ways of me watching content on my terms, of course I’m open minded about paying for services I use. I sometime (rarely) even want to watch live broadcasts, especially things like Wimbledon and the World Cup. What I want is to be able to get content when I want it, and I want to be able to do that on a Mac as well as on Widows.

There’s an interesting loophole at the moment, by which I can watch shows through the on-demand services, as long as I don’t record or watch them from a live broadcast. Personally, I may soon choose to pay for a licence anyway, but I wonder how many people the BBC expects will actually be jumping in the other direction, and cancelling licences so they can use the catch-up services on iPlayer (and 4od) for free.

82 replies on “Thoughts on TV Licensing”

  1. But surely, how do you listen to the radio? All those commentries about radio 4! Doesn’t that require a TV license?

    My problem is the opposite, when they stream stuff live I can’t get to it from the US, despite having a TV license in the UK… well not anymore… but I did until a few months ago. Personally I think if the BBC is going down this route they should go to a pay per play basis, and see how good their Internet service is… then you wouldn’t have to pay the year subscription, aka license.

    The problem with the TV licensing Authority is a result of Bliars Britain. Guilty until proved innocent, film everything, do nothing; tax everything pay for as little as possible. We always know better… and if we don’t don’t we’ll pay stupid consulting fees to find out…

    Will the last person to leave the country turn off the TV Set?

  2. There was once a radio licence. It was dropped once the majority of people were paying for a TV licence, which is now what funds the BBC’s TV, Radio and everything-else output.

    I find your situation (being a licence-holding Brit but not being able to access their services when you’re outside the country) very interesting.

    When I first heard of the iPlayer I was sure it would need me to enter some sort of TV licence number (do they have them?) in order to use the service. That would have been one approach, but little did I know the system had already been subtly changed.

    I can actually imagine that a great many non-UK residents (who tend to like and respect the beeb) would indeed pay for a licence/’subscription’ or even micropayments to get access to a decent streaming and/or download service that didn’t block them. It would be an another possible model, and perhaps a more long-taily, future-looking alternative to the current system of selling content into other geographies for broadcast distribution.

  3. I’m not sure if this is quite right, Roo.

    I don’t think its about whether you choose to watch live television. It’s about whether you own equipment that is capable of recieving it.

    A television set with no ariel (or cable, or satellite dish) can’t get live television.

    But a PC with internet access can (in the case of BBC News 24 anyway as that is now always available on the BBC News website).

  4. With respect Nick, I think you’re wrong on this point.

    There’s no way that even the new legislation covers the possession of equipment capable of receiving a live broadcast. It talks about the use of those things. Re-read the site you linked to earlier:

    You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.” (emphasis mine)

    In exactly the same way as the previous regulations didn’t cover owning a TV (they covered using that TV to receive a TV signal), it’s now about using your equipment (TV/computer/phone/brain implant) to watch or record live broadcast TV, not just owning such equipment.

  5. I think Roo’s right, as does the Guardian:

    Watching TV at home

    You need a licence irrespective if you want to watch live television. If you have equipment capable of receiving TV signals and its tuned in you will are required to pay. If you only watch DVDs at home then you are not required to pay. However TV Licensing (TVL) will expect your television not to display BBC1 or any other channels when they come round and turn it on and may question why you have an aerial on the roof. “If you watch live TV on any device, you need to be covered by a valid licence,” it says.

    That said, should the TV licence collection authorities appear at you door, you are not obliged to let them in anyway.

  6. The difficult thing is that you may have to prove that you’re not using the equipment to receive a TV signal, which is rather a logical fallacy because you can’t prove a negative.

    Kevin and I had no TV, no TV receiving equipment, and no aerial, so we had no TV Licence. You’re right, Roo, that TVL are an obnoxious bunch of arses – we got the threatening letters, which served no purpose other than to get my dander up. But they do have the power to insist on a search – they can get a warrant and a policeman in order to ensure you grant them access.

    Eventually, Kev and I got a TVEye USB receiver (no room in our flat for an actual telly) so we got a licence.

    But Nick, if your reading of the law was accurate, which I don’t think it is, then anyone with a computer or the right sort of mobile phone would be liable for a licence, even if they never used it to access live streaming TV. Now that’s absurd, as a computer’s primary purpose is not to receive TV, nor to display TV content, and it would be impossible to prove that you had never accessed the BBC’s streaming content (what with it being impossible to prove a negative and all that).

    The BBC’s current fundraising model is not only anachronistic, it’s also missing out on great opportunities to provide subscriptions to non-UK based users, which would both raise the BBC’s profile and bring in some earnings.

    Mind you, when I move to the US, I’m just going to buy my parents a Slingbox.

  7. Nick Reynolds ? I knew this guy must have worked for the BBC and now I know. I once tried adding to the tv licence pages on wiki but someone called Nick Reynolds would always remove the links saying no outside links even though I explained both sides of the argument should be heard( plus it was in the outside links section). I told wiki that I suspected he was working for the BBC but they just done the usual thing and banned anyone that criticised the mighty BBC!

    This was after finding out 7500 BBC employee’s had been editting wiki with their own left wing pro BBC bias too!

  8. Oh Sorry I forget your info is incorrect,

    ““You need a TV licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, set-top box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV.”

    You only need a BBC TV Licence is you watch LIVE transmissions and so don’t need one to watch DVD’s and play games. The BBC just likes to mislead people so they can make as much as possible.

    You have to remember when dealing with the BBC TV Licence people is these are the lowest of the low and will try anything to get that commision

  9. Good old Hansard (and good old TheyWorkForYou). I just found this response to a question, which nicely sums up where we are on this…

    Written Answers, Tuesday, 22 November 2005

    David Gauke (South West Hertfordshire, Conservative)

    To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

    (1) what representations the Government have received from the BBC requesting that the application of the BBC television licence fee be extended to premises which do not have a television but which have access to the internet;

    (2) what consideration the Government have given to extending the application of the BBC television licence fee to premises which do not have a television but which have access to the internet.

     James Purnell (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Media and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport)

    The Government have received no such representations from the BBC. However, the BBC, as television licensing authority, considers that the current definition of a television receiver in the licence fee regulations already extends to a PC that is used to watch television programme services over the internet, if they are received at the same time or virtually the same time as they are received elsewhere by conventional means.

    The Government have no plans for any changes to the current arrangements but, as indicated in the BBC Charter Review Green Paper published in March 2005, believes that changes to the existing funding model might have to be considered if in future large numbers of people are downloading audio-visual content from the internet and watching it on their computers or mobile phones, rather than using traditional TV services.

    (Emphasis mine.) So, what’s licensed here is

    • not a computer that is capable of watching, but one that is used to watch.
    • not programmes that have already been aired, but those that are being received at the same time (or virtually so) by traditional television broadcast. Of course received can mean ‘recorded’ as well as ‘watched’, so timeshifting a show yourself doesn’t mean you don’t need a licence.

    Yet again, I’m left wondering about the model here. It broadens the legislation to include internet delivery, but protects only the reception of live-broadcast television. I can’t help but think is going to be a decreasingly important part of people’s viewing habits.

  10. It is interesting to see what the BBC has to say on this matter where most people will be looking; on the iPlayer terms and conditions page. There is no mention of whether a licence is needed or not.
    Given the consensus that this not-as-live service does not require a licence, then this may not be so surprising.

    The News 24 streaming is as-live, so by all interpretations here, does require a license. However, absolutely no mention is made of this on any of:
    the Video and Audio page,
    the BBC News Player help,
    or even the Terms of Use linked from the streaming window itself.

    Now, I Am Not A Laywer, but assuming I agree to all of the T&Cs given for watching News 24 streamed, and if said T&Cs make no mention of needing a TV licence, then am I covered?

    There is another interesting (although possibly silly) point to consider; a black & white TV licence is available at almost 1/3rd the cost of a full colour one. A slightly anachronistic fact dating back to when the majority of TVs where still black & white; why should they pay the full fee when they don’t receive the full quality image? (as an aside, I would be intrigued to know how many households still only have B&W TVs)

    Given the premise that a reduced image quality has been deserved of a reduced license fee for the past 40 years (the colour licence was introduced in 1968), what of the approx 480×320 image I get when I do watch the streamed content? Like I said, possibly a silly point that doesn’t add anything to this discussion.

  11. With a bit of digging around and searching, I also found a relevant FAQ page on the iPlayer site:

    Will I need a TV licence to watch programmes on BBC iPlayer?

    You do not need a television licence to watch television programmes on the current version of the BBC iPlayer.

    You will need to be covered by a TV licence if and when the BBC provides a feature that enables you to watch ‘live’ TV programmes on any later version of BBC iPlayer, which has this option.

    A ‘live’ TV programme is a programme, which is watched or recorded at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is being broadcast or otherwise distributed to members of the public. As a general rule, if a person is watching a programme on a computer or other device at the same time as it is being shown on TV then the programme is ‘live’. This is sometimes known as simulcasting.

    You cannot currently watch ‘live’ TV programmes as part of BBC iPlayer, however, we hope to offer this function in the future.

    What will happen if I don’t have a TV licence?

    It is a criminal offence to watch ‘live’ television without a TV licence or to posses or control a device which you know or reasonably believe will be used to watch ‘live’ TV without a TV licence. You could be prosecuted and fined up to £1000 (plus be ordered to pay legal costs) for these offences.

    That‘s actually pretty helpful.

  12. I don’t live in the UK, so maybe I shouldn’t enter this debate. However, I do live in Ireland and since we have a TV licensing system which is closely modeled after the UK/BBC model I have some thoughts.

    The fundamental problem is that the government and the broadcasting authorities have not decided if this is either:

    1) A tax subsidizing the production of programs of cultural merit (in which case it would make sense to roll it into the income tax system and place a relatively higher burden on richer people in common with the distribution of other social costs).


    2) A subscription fee for access to the programs broadcast by the BBC (or RTE). It would be interesting to see what proportion of the population would subscribe if this model was used.

    My opinion is that the first option really applies. The government could easily abolish the license fee if they just made a relatively modest addition to the income tax rate. This would clarify what the money is for and would eliminate the need to waste effort defining and tracking down exactly who should pay.

  13. I’ve as yet never had a TV since becoming independent (and I’m thinking given the amount of programs I actually like it’s cheaper to use DVD’s and OD services anyway)…

    And I’ve had exactly the same issue with the TV liscencing agression, as has my sister. Despite contacting them through every medium imaginable the letters continued to escalate in their threats and assumption I was guilty.

    In the end I had to write a really legally worded, deadlined, letter with references to the evidence of this and previous communications in order to get confirmation that I had said I had no TV. At that point a response came pretty quickly, but I shouldn’t have been forced to go to that level of extremes in order to get TV liscencing to admit the possibility that I might not own a television.

    On the original letter there should be a tick box, as there is for other reasons that you don’t have a liscence which says “I don’t have a TV.” Yes you could lie, but considering its been nearly a year since they said their inspection team would check the premises shortly I hardly think the blame in verification lies with me.

    I have been offered a TV set for free, which I’d use for DVDs and I’d rather like to get a wii, but TV liscencing are still apparently going to appear at the door at any minute, and given their previous level of belligerance I’d have to get something in writing from them that I could use it in this way before I’d give them the (true) arguement that I wasn’t using it to recieve TV.

    I’m wondering if there’s any way I can take the TV to bits so it can’t recieve TV signals (of course logically it can’t if its not connected to an arial. )

  14. Excellent post, Roo!

    I have precisely the same set of circumstances – having returned to the UK from Australia (where their TV is so poor I stopped watching it altogether) and rented a new house in the UK, we found no fewer than four demanding letters from TVLA.

    Unfortunately for them, we haven’t bought a TV, and I don’t want to – after I watched Little Miss Jocelyn on I-Player the other night.

    Nick Reynolds – unless you can explain that abomination of a comedy, then I’ll never watch BBC again. Awful.

    Anyhow, back to the subject – I was accused of being in contravention of the law after I discussed the above rationale for not getting a licence – thanks to this post I now know I was in the right. Which I also enjoy.

  15. This post has caught my attention as I’m currently considering losing my TV supply.

    Currently I have no choice but to get my TV through Virgin Media’s cable services as I live in a rented flat with no connected aerial, and I cannot have a satellite dish fitted.
    I would, however, like to keep my TV for watching DVDs in comfort, and playing games on my PS2 (and hopefully a Wii later this year!).
    (Unfortunately there is no package available which only allows access to VOD programmes – they all include the basic i.e. licensed content.)

    A few years ago, whilst lodging in one room of a friends house, I bought a TV card for my PC in order to watch and record TV on my PC.
    Within 4 or 5 days I received a bill for a TV licence! How did they know?! Well apparently whenever anyone buys equipment capable of receiving a TV signal, the TVLA are informed, and as there wasn’t a licence in my name at that address, they automatically sent out the demand.

    I called them, of course, to explain that the household already had a licence so would they please not hassle me, but the very nice lady explained that it was because I had a different name – and then asked whether I was renting a room there. I said yes, but asked what did that have to do with it? She said that I was supposed to have a separate licence. (In fact, my friend’s adult son who was paying to live in a room at the other end of the house should also have had a licence!). 3 licences for one (4 bedroom) house!
    There was a but, however: That if my equipment was for communal use – or situated in a communal area e.g. the lounge – then that was fine. Of course I confirmed this and I heard no more about it. Phew!

    At least this time, if I get Virgin Media to stop piping TV into my flat, I can prove that I am not even capable of receiving live TV (whether or not I should have to by the terms of the TVL wording). I feel for anybody who CAN receive TV but chooses not to, and would like to own a TV set for other uses.

  16. I allowed my license to lapse recently but contacted TV Licensing first by phone. I was told I could have a TV as long as it was not connected to or receiving any live broadcast; that I should remove all cables/connections of receivers from the back of the TV and that a good idea would be to remove the actual connectors from the cables or tape up any connectors to arials, etc. just in case perhaps a ‘visitor’ might be tempted to view TV.

    Part of a recent e-mail from TV Licensing after I complained about their “harassing, abusive, threatening letters”;
    “In due course one of our Visiting Officers will call on you and confirm the situation. Once confirmed, we will update our records accordingly. This will protect your address from mailing, for a longer period than would normally be set at an address, as it has been confirmed that a set is not in use”

    I replied to the effect that I do still have a TV and use it to watch videos, DVDs and as a PC monitor.

    I await their next communication :/

  17. And so….

    “As you have let us know that you only use television equipment to view videos, DVDs. We have now updated our records to show that you do not need a TV Licence. However, I should advise you to make sure that the television and video are not tuned to receive television broadcasts, it is also advisable to ensure the equipment is not connected to any aerials. I must inform you that one of our Visiting Officers will visit your premises to check that the equipment being used does not receive broadcast signals.”

    Just have to wait on the visit from der Gestapo now.

  18. I am in the same position of not having a TV for 18 months now, yet the Stasi are expected to visit soon, as per their recent letter. TVL is run by Capita – what you would expect really. Just email back and say it is harassment and you will be contacting your MP. It stops the letters.
    I await the Stasi’s appearance and attempts to step over the threshold will be met with unrestrained useage of army acquired Aikido. And all this for the obsession that someone MUST be watching a box in the corner – to veg out on overpaid excesses like Jonathan Woss??? Go and read a book – far more educational!!

  19. Hi ,

    I have had the same gestapo treatment .Trying to convince the TV people that I do not watch television.

    My question, can you watch Sat programs from outside UK without a licence?

  20. [Quote]Tariq:
    “can you watch Sat programs from outside UK without a licence?”
    You cannot view any televised signal as at is being braodcast.
    Easy way to think of it;
    you need to pay for the airspace that the signal passes through (even cable TV passes through airspace at some point before entering cable)

  21. Whats acctually happening is this guy roo is avoiding licence fees while enjoying previously broadcast material at the expense of others and is BREAKING THE LAW. Its quite simple if you want to watch what has cost money to produce you need a licence. Oh and Nick Reynolds from the BBC what are you doing about reporting this guy for breaking the law its quite simple here are his address details:

    [Roo says: I’ve removed my home address from the end of this comment]

  22. ‘Gary’, I wish I knew why you are so angry. I can assure you that I’m not breaking the law by using iPlayer (as it stands now) without a TV licence. To quote again from the iPlayer FAQ:

    “You do not need a television licence to watch television programmes on the current version of the BBC iPlayer.

    You will need to be covered by a TV licence if and when the BBC provides a feature that enables you to watch ‘live’ TV programmes on any later version of BBC iPlayer, which has this option.”

  23. If the BBCi player where to fall under the TV licence fee, so would youtube. Just because the programme may have been made by the BBC, it doesn’t, in my opinion, elevate it above any other ‘on demand’ streaming video.

    It could be argued that the ‘on demand’ service is a broadcast. The BBCi player server broadcasts the programme and the client receives it. However, the same could be argued for sending a video message on a mobile phone.

    “where that programme is received at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public” makes this situation fairly clear cut.

    A friend of mine suggested that it would be OK for me to use his slingbox (neat bit of kit that streams the output of and remotely controls a skybox). I won’t, it wouldn’t be legal.

    And then I pondered this. If I where to set up a webcam on my cat’s basket and broadcast it via, would the new regulations require you had a licence? It is, after all, no different to a TV signal, originates in the UK and can be watched simultaniously by members of the public” I guess my question here is, how does UK law define a broadcaster?

    I keep to the law on licencing very strictly. The good people at the TV licencing authority take such pleasure in writing threatening sounding letters with bold print talk of thousand pound fines and small print to mention these occur only if I am illegally watching TV.

  24. Couple points that others have mentioned that I’m currently pondering…
    1) As mentioned by Ivan-I think anything, anyone broadcasts, in whatever way, requires a license. So, if Ivan allows people to watch live coverage of his cat, would his millions of viewers need a license? I suspect so.
    2) You clearly need a license to watch stuff as it is being “received by members of the public’; is, in this definition, the word public limited to the UK public? Could we watch programs that are being streamed by (for example) American TV channels? If not, how are we to know if something is being broadcast at the same time as we are watching it?!
    By the way, I think 4od does show some stuff live, so worth keeping an eye on what you watch.

    Agreeing to the ToC doesn’t protect you from licensing legalities. ToCs are between you and the BBC, and wouldn’t override the law.

    I don’t like the way the TVLO harasses people with mail, or how you have to provide address details when buying equipment, or how they carefully avoid calling you a criminal in their letters. When I last moved I made a couple phone calls and sent a couple letters-after the second one which picked them up on how they had broken the data protection act (not using accurate details provided to them) they stopped bothering me for a year. Though, judging by recent post it seems a “I’ll get my MP on you” letter might be needed!
    Generally I think the inspectors themselves are fine-they’ve got little to gain from annoying people.

  25. I think the days of detector vans are over – TVLO now use a database listing all addresses with a current TV licence gathered from those who had and renew licences or disclosed their addresses when buying a new TV.

    Now here is my question. If I am using a PC without TV card, and watching TV programmes on my PC via the internet…..if the TVLO were using a detector van my PC is not a TV receiver so will not emit any local oscillator signals from its circuity – what detector van’s look for, and if I do not own a TV or VCR or DVD-R…..what then? How will they know what I am doing in the privacy of my own home?
    With the advance of technology I think the days of the TV licence are numbered…..but guess the government of the day will find some other way to screw us over to the benefit of the BBC.

  26. There’s quite a debate as to weather the TV ‘detector van’ was ever abale to detect the RF emissions of a tuned circuit from an individual TV anyway. They where probably more of a threat than a serious method of detection.

  27. I believe battery operated devices like TV’s in caravans are exempt which would mean a mobile phone is but then the BBC has never let facts get in the way of things.

    You do not need a BBC TV Licence for a TV or computer unless you watch “live” tv and so just watching dvd’s & playing video games is fine.

    Also I think you’ll find the BBC is pushing the internet so much because they know less and less people are watching TV so are acting like a wounded animal looking for other means of funding.

    “If we saw, over time, that some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume televison programmes, solely on-demand through the iPlayer (or other players), then we might have to consider talking to the Government about Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, so that they can then consider whether on-demand tv viewing might be brought within its aegis.”

    Don’t fall for the BBC lies. Knowledge is power & the sooner this dinosaur is left to fund itself the better ;)

  28. Ivan the whole argument about the TV vans is flawed anyway. The TV detecter vans was only used to scared people because the evidence could never be used in court ;)

  29. Do you wish to hear lies from the BBC? Well I was reading some freedom of information stuff about the BBC which asked them if people were employed to surf the internet to seek and crush any discontent regarding the mighty BBC. The BBC said in the reply that they do not do this in anyway. I would just like people to look at this blog and you’ll see Nick Reynolds from the BBC blog team because he spends most of his time on non BBC sites doing what the BBC has denied!

  30. I recently had a visit from the TV licence people despite phoning them 18 months ago when i first moved into my house to explain that I do have a TV but it is only used for DVDs and a Playstation, and it was agreed that a licence was not needed. Anyhow, I explained all this to the people at the door which they politely asked if they could check the ariel lead was not in the back of the TV. Although I realise I didnt have to let them in, as I had nothing to hide, I figured it was in my favour to do so. They didnt mention internet access at all.

  31. Having said that, I do not disagree with the concept of the licence fee at all, I just chose not to watch telly any more until I got broadband and discovered iplayer. If the law stated that a licence was required for the iplayer I wouldnt argue, I would probably just revert to watching stuff on youtube. and thats the issue with licencing internet tv is how would you determine what is licensable, iplayer, 4od, youtube, veoh, et al…

  32. I have just joined the ranks of tv licence free households. I have declared my non-ownership of any aeriel connection and I gather I can expect an inspection visit at some point, it seems they check everyone now, this may be a new policy?

    Incidently, I still have a tv, currently marking time as a large black living room ornament. Its an old 28 inch crt and weighs roughly the same as I do, so moving it seems less sensible than asking someone to be very kind and buy me a DVD player for my birthday.

    Like Roo, my biggest reason was the attitude of the tv licencing folk, especially over the payment process. I have shared bills for almost all my life, and it so happens that the tv one has always been in someone else’s name, so this would be my first. And, since I’ve just had 6 months (unpaid) sabbatical, I’m currently a capital and savings free zone, so I’m trying to avoid large bills, which means paying £140-odd upfront is not a preferred option. There’s a quarterly payment scheme which charges an interest fee (I’m not sure how they justify it… I don’t watch the 4th quarter output during the 1st quarter, but I suppose it isn’t very far away from most car insurance schemes), but the weirdest option is the monthly direct debit.

    For the first 6 months, you pay double the normal rate, so that then “you are always 6 months ahead”. Leaving out the strangeness of being 6 months ahead, which strikes me as free interest for the beeb, my bigger question is … when do you get this back?

    I know of 4 ways: death, moving into a nursing home, leaving the country, or giving up your tv.

    How many people, when dying, or when moving into a nursing home, will think to advise tv licencing 6 months ahead of their change in circumstances, and stop paying?

    I’m willing to bet that hardly anyone gets to claim it back at all. I think the vast majority of those who pay by monthly direct debit end up donating those extra 6 months to the bbc. And those who pay annually probably donate around 6 months on average, for the same reasons.

    So my question to those of you who have given up a tv licence: did you remember to claim back or stop paying 6 months ahead of your decision?

    And I wonder, statistically, how many people really get those 6 months back?

    As a secondary reason, I don’t disagree with the concept of the licencing fee, but I think we should have the option of choosing between the fee or advertisements. I hate having to watch films without a loo/tea/fill the dishwasher break every now and then. I think DVDs should have an “interval” option too.

  33. Oh damn, it’s probably licensing. Anyone know how to turn on UK-English spillchucking?

  34. I had a visit from TV license officer today. She attempted to view my tv and gain entrance. I recognized her name from previous letters where they had convicted me of not having thus specific tv license on three separate occasions. All three were retracted from court later. The lady was the one who kept sending me letters further after the three convictions were retracted asking for the tv license and threatening more court convictions. I sent her away saying I did not watch tv. I unplugged all the cables and reset all the channels because I’m frightened of them. Last time to get there convictions they falsified that my personal tv license was a forged license. I did some checking on tv license fees and it seems aside from paying 6 months in advance they also add on 6 years previous to your fee and the total tv license fee consists of 7 1/2 years viewing fees over 1 years license.

  35. There’s an interesting point here regarding the “more traditional” video on demand services i.e. Virgin Media.


    If I own a TV set, then in virtually all cases, that TV is physically capable of receiving broadcast channels that are subject to the TV license. However, as has been discussed, if I choose not to watch those live broadcast channels, yet still own that equipment (for alternate uses), then I don’t need the license.

    The interesting question that arises is what happens when you subscribe to say Virgin Media? They integrate the broadcast channels right into the interface, but if you choose to only watch the on-demand services, then in sync with the TV set rules, surely you still don’t need a TV license, even though your equipment is capable of receiving them.


    Admittedly, there’s a question of trust here – one more specific than when you just own a TV set. If a visiting enforcement officer can see that your TV has not been tuned to any of the broadcast channels, and there’s also no aerial to be seen, then there’s a pretty good argument that a license isn’t needed. However, if by a few remote-control button pushes the broadcast channels appear, then there’s only the word of the home-owner to go upon.


    I find myself in this exact situation. I love my DVDs, retro video games and YouTube etc., but really don’t care much for scheduled broadcast TV. Presently I’ve got a few Macs, and no license.

    From watching my friend’s Virgin Media package, I’d really like to have those on-demand documentaries and films too, but to access them, I don’t want to have to also buy a license for the bundled broadcast channels that I just wouldn’t watch.


    Various Google searches haven’t specifically told me the law on this one either way… this blog post coming the closest.

    Sooo…. can anyone enlighten me on the rules here? If I subscribe to Virgin Media, and only watch video on demand, do I need a license?

  36. Maybe we could lobby Virgin to supply a “no-licence” bundle? I’d be interested in that too.

  37. It’s all in the database? – You bet it is!

    I created a tool called TVL detector ( Basically it’s a database, which holds information on the whereabouts of TVL enforcement staff and their illusive TV detector vans. You can submit TVL sightings and register to receive email notifications whenever someone reports a sighting near to where you live.

    Erik Oostveen

  38. I phoned the licensing authority today and was told I could watch iplayer without a licence because it is not a live tv broadcast.

  39. Roo,

    I just wanted to say thanks for the article, I pretty much knew most of it anyway, but with an impending visit from the ‘licensing authority’ it’s useful to have the facts … particularly as I retain a de-tuned TV in my de-arialed home for watching DVD’s and playing games.

    Seems the TV licensing site has keeled over!



  40. The whole idea of a licence for watching TV is archaic.
    Like the rest of the broadcasting firms, they should go the Advertisment route.
    For one thing they would make far more money and it would give us the chance to make a cuppa, when the ads come on.
    As no other country (worldwide) has this stupid rule, it should be stopped immediately.
    Especially considering we have to pay considerable pennies for the priviledge of watching Satellite programs.
    And for another thing, ‘why do we need a licence to watch’. Are they saying we need to be sure we have the experience to watch/turn the tv on, like a licence for a car?
    If everyone flately refused to pay it, there would be nothing they could do; they would have to go the Ads route.
    So, come on everyone, make a stand….

  41. I prefer the ad model too. I gather the balancing argument is that for quality documentaries you need cross-subsidy. So, for example, no one funded by ads would ever make high quality stuff like, Planet Earth.

    Having sung in some very painful re-re-re-re- takes for “Songs of Praise” with excruciating degrees of perfectionism by the production team, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the beeb to lower the bar on some of their quality requirements.

    But I admit Planet Earth and Blue Planet were pretty fabulous. I wonder how many more of that kind of thing are we likely to see?

  42. PS In case it isn’t obvious, I did own a licence at the time when I watched Planet Earth & Blue Planet.

  43. I don’t have a TV license. Its much cheaper to just buy the DVDs when they come out. There are only a few good programs which are worth watching so you save loads. Although now iPlayer has been invented you don’t even need to do that! (although the good stuff I buy to watch again anyway)

  44. I think the most sensible option, given the very high user rates for BBC content (TV and Radio) is to have the current fees for licenses absorbed into income tax and specifically budgeted for the BBC. This is essentially what happens in Australia, the ABC gets funded by the government through taxes and can thus broadcast ad free content.

  45. The BBC has it’s own fund raising powers, specifically so that it can hold the government to account. If the fee was a normal part of income tax, the government could do whatever it liked with it with impunity.

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