back to article BBC Trust moots new licence laws to cope with net

The government is likely to change TV licensing laws to address the increasing number of viewers who choose to watch only via the internet, according to the BBC Trust. In its review of TV licence collection (pdf) this week, the Trust said it was watching closely whether the availability of iPlayer and live streams of BBC …


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  1. Mark

    To confuse things even further.

    If I use my PS3 and the webbrowser to view iPlayer services on my plasma, via it's RGB connection, or even muddier, boot PS3 Linux, and use Firefox to view iPlayer catchup, do I need a TV licence???

    The PS3 is a console AND a computer, my TV is a TV and a computer monitor....

  2. Kevin Gurney
    Thumb Down


    So will the BBC apply the same ruling to the internet as they do to TV ?

    If you have an internet connection you HAVE to buy a license as you have the ability to watch BBC programmes even if you choose not to ?

    Thats pretty much the TV situation in that if you have a dish or an aerial, you HAVE to have a BBC license because you have the capability to watch BBC regardless of whether you choose to or not.

    Am I right in thinking that the BBC are the only private company in the UK which has a law to say that you have to buy from them even if you don't use their product ?

  3. g e

    Internet tax for UK folk

    That'll be it... the BBC will refuse to stand on its own two feet and ask to levy an internet tax to pay for its continued existence.

  4. Steven


    Sounds like more money grabbing to me. Our business (which has no tellys) has to pay for 3 colour TV licenses; one per office (nearly £400 a year), just incase any staff watch a live stream on a laptop (not that anyone ever does). Frankly it's ridiculas. The beeb shouldn't get any kind of fee and should just have adverts like everyone else (i fast forward them on my sky+ anyway).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I might actually buy a licence...

    I might actually buy a licence and watch TV if it were actually worth watching. The highlight in the listings these days appears to be imported American stuff repeated ad nauseum.

  6. Lee Sexton
    Thumb Down

    roll on the day

    when the bbc put their money where thier mouths are and encrypt the bbc and make it a subscription based service, they claim nobody minds paying for it, so prove it. When the digital switchover takes place they have no excuses, encrypt the bbc and stop this absolutely philestine tax (window tax anyone).......

  7. Waggers


    The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee while he was working at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). On April 30, 1993, CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone, with no fees due. Neither the government nor the BBC Trust have the authority to change that decision. If the BBC choose to post their programmes on the web, that's their decision. I didn't ask them to do that, and I shouldn't have to pay for it.

  8. David Pollard

    Telly ownership on the wane

    And TV Turnoff Week is coming up soon, 20-26 April.


  9. Bassey

    Re: Mark

    Your TV is capable of receiving a TV signal (i.e. it has a tuner built-in) so you need a license, no matter how you feed it a signal. Not having an aerial plugged in is no defence. This is the BBC remember. You are guilty until proven innocent and then, tomorrow, you will be presumed guilty all over again!

  10. Ed


    It's certainly happening for students, but I think general households are safe for a while yet... Give it 5-10 years maybe... The BBC's Canvas project appears to be aimed at providing on demand TV, once that's available I think we may see a big increase in the number of households that don't recieve traditionally broadcast TV, assuming Canvas is supported by a wide range of broadcasters.

  11. Man Outraged

    What The BBC Bullies Don't Tell You

    BBC Licence Bullies don't tell you is that you can watch the BBC live streaming service so long as you use a laptop with a self-contained and removable battery and a WfiFi link (with built-in antenna). Check out the conditions.

    The idiots at the BBC Trust refuse to acknowledge this fact and tone down their dire warnings on their website.


  12. Terry Pears

    More powers for the License Gestapo

    Oh great. On my uni placement year I didn't have a TV (let alone aerial socket) and can attest to the sheer amount of badgering and "we're going to get you" love from the TV Licensing "people". All I had was my computer and an internet connection (the break away from TV was bliss), and this was before broadband (so no streaming, etc).

    I can almost imagine they've been gunning for people with big TV's running media centres/computers, now if this goes through then anyone with a net connection is a viable target. They won't bother with the "well I can't get iPlayer" excuse or anything else. My only thought is instead of continually penalising people who validly don't have licenses, is to have people who do use their license code tied to a username/email so they can access the iPlayer (would help to be able to watch abroad too), but somehow I don't see that happening.

    I tell you what though, after my placement I have a much bigger dislike for the TV License in general, this really does take the biscuit.

  13. James Pickett

    Grey areas

    "watching live TV via the internet requires a licence"

    What about watching recorded TV via an aerial? I don't mind running my PVR in 'catch-up' mode if necessary...

  14. Simon

    Re: Bassey

    You don't get around it by removing the aerial, you remove the plug when they come knocking. Without a plug it's incapable of recieving a broadcast signal.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    @Kevin Gurney

    "Thats pretty much the TV situation in that if you have a dish or an aerial, you HAVE to have a BBC license because you have the capability to watch BBC regardless of whether you choose to or not."

    Not true - you only need a license if you *use* 'TV Receiving Equipment' to 'receive or record television broadcast services'.

    i.e. it's perfectly legal to have a TV aerial, as many TV sets and VCR's, computer TV Cards as you like, so long as they are not used to receive live TV.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    From the TVLA...

    "You must be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV. It makes no difference what equipment you use - whether it’s a laptop, PC, mobile phone, digital box, DVD recorder or a TV set - you still need a licence. "

    However, the attitude that is taken is "if you do NOT watch or record tv programmes, but have something that could receive them, we're gonna tell everyone you're breaking the law and watch as you try and prove you're not whilst we obfuscate the fact that the burden of proof is supposed to be on us to prove you're guilty".

    Having been on the receiving end of the TVLA and this nonsense bloody tax (apparently because the previous owners of my house had a Sat dish, this meant I was lying when I said I had no TV), I have nothing but contempt for the BBC's stance and those tossers at Capita!!

  17. Steve Potter


    So watching live streamed content requires a licence, is it really LIVE? media caches must add a certain amount of latency to the stream... I wonder what the official determination of LIVE content is.

    So, easy option, as you select a LIVE stream, press pause, wait a few moments, then press play... and watch in time shift, not live and licence free....

    we would never be allowed to get away with that though...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Kevin Gurney

    A common misconception but you are incorrect.

    You are allowed to by a 32" tv to use with your ps3 dvd player or whatever, and you do not have to have a tv license for it, but you have to be able to prove you are not using it to recieve live tv i.e don't have it plugged into an aerial, or put a blanking plate over where the aerial comes into your house.

    @ Mark as long as it is not live tv , you are fine with that method (as long as you obey what I said above)

    either way they will always hound you for it.

  19. Charles Silver badge

    Re: I might actually buy a licence...

    Speaking as an American, it might interest you to know that it goes both ways. Some of your shows are recycled from us. And some of ours are recycled from you. Personally, though, I don't watch that much TV anyway, sticking to specialty cable networks and avoiding the big networks during prime time.

  20. Charles Silver badge

    Re: Freedom

    The Web itself is free and open, but that says nothing about the content that is transmitted upon it. It's like roads. Public roads are free to use, but you still have to pay for some form of conveyance to employ it.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Not rocket science

    So you enter your tv license number as a userid when watching BBC streaming services, easy. No license, no BBC service.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    The Beeb needs to accept the age of the licence fee is coming to an end. Whether they like it or not, they are going to have to find another way to fund themselves.

  23. Charles Silver badge

    Re: Grey areas

    Seems your PVR would count, especially since it's designed to be attached to the TV. Thus it becomes an indirect means to watch over the air--probably enough to satisfy the conditions. Similarly for non-aerial-capable monitors that happen to have tuner boxes attached.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    throw it all in the land-fill

    @ steven,,,

    If your office does not have a television set, or any equiptment to recivetelevision signals,,, tell them to fuck off.... why the hell would you pay for stuff you do not need !! I have never heard anything so rediculous in my life....

    The thing that pisses me off big time....Me and my partner run a guest house... we have televisions in all the rooms... we have to pay on a sliding scale depending on how many units we have capable of reciving television transmissions... with the up and coming switch over to digital.. each room now has two units... the digital reciver and the television set... that doubled the amount we have had to pay for our licence fee..

    What i cant get a straght answer for is when the switch over takes place. the television will no longer be able to recive the signals, so will the fee go back down....

    Its not fair we get a penalty for just getting a set top box, instead of replacing the tv, which over the next few years will work out cheaper if we had of replaced the TV... so much for thinking of the enviroment !!!

    domestic users need to watch out too.... I belive a current licence covers you for 4 units... so add it up... main tv,,, & digital set top box, tv and set top box in the bedroom, thats your lot.... how many kids do you have with a tv in the bedrooms.... oops... your over the allowance....

    and to watch what.... nothing.... the bbc has lost all its credibility over its unbiasd reporting... and the kids watch eastenders.... pfft.... they wanna get sponsorship for it.... prozac will be up for it !!!

    mines the one with the netbook, with iplayer as my default page, in the pocket

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Some comments...

    I think the watch later on the VCR/PVR scenario has been challenged in the courts, and the viewer lost.

    The EU directive requires I believe, that internet and broadcast of AVM be treated the same, from the end of 2009, so presumably the iPlayer (and others) will have to be made available for all systems/versions (within the limits of the operating system)

    Re licensing, the French model of putting the TV on the same bill as the equivalent of the council tax , and you opt out if you wish, (which will probably result in a swift visit), would probably remove the need for a vast TVLA, just a load of heavies to check you dont have a tv.

    Finally, last time this was discussed on El Reg, a number of people winged about johny foreigner watching UK telly, well you can watch theirs, so embrace the other EU cultures!!!

  26. Kerberos

    Re: Re: Freedom (@ Charles)

    I think you missed the point. I myself do not have a TV, have no TV recieving equipment and do not watch TV, yet if the TV licensing people had their way I would still have to pay £140+ a year for having broadband. I would have *no choice* in the matter at all.

    Being forced to pay something irrespective of if you want it, need it or use it with no control over how the money is spent is a tax.

    So far I have had 3 people come round in the last year and a bit to harass me, countless letters, threats (it's possibly borderline illegal) simply because they cannot believe someone would have no TV.

  27. DR

    live recording or not the answer was actually above

    You need a TV Licence to use any television-receiving equipment to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV. These include programmes on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, cable and satellite television. Television-receiving equipment includes:

    * TV sets

    * set-top boxes

    * DVD recorders

    * video recorders.

    You don't need a television licence if a TV set cannot receive TV programmes and is used only:

    * for close circuit monitoring

    * for watching pre-recorded videos or DVDs

    * as a computer monitor – see under heading You don't use your television set or other device to watch or record broadcast programmes.

    You do need a licence to watch TV on a mobile phone or other battery-operated device.

    so if you use a desktop computer that plugs into the mains then have a tuner card you'll need a license,

    if you have a laptop and either watch online or have a USB tuner card then you don't because it's a portable battery operated device.

  28. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down


    > Public roads are free to use, but you still have to pay for some form of conveyance to employ it.

    Yes, but I don't have to pay the Government for permission to ride a bicycle (or a horse) on the highway.

    Nor should I be obliged to pay them for permission to download content which is provided for free.

    As for those who trot out the tired old "the BBC should take advertising", try doing some research and look at the state of the advertising market at the moment. There is simply *not* enough advertising money around and I have little doubt that more than a few of the smaller "commercial" channels will go to the wall over the next year or so as their major source of revenue dries up. Now imagine that the advertisers took most/ all of their money and put it into the BBC instead because that's where the bigger audiences are...

  29. Someone
    Thumb Down

    No, no, no, scrap the licence fee!

    The licence fee will become untenable. There are two criteria that currently determine whether you need a TV licence. You need a licence if the programming is broadcast. This means broadcast into the UK. It used to be that broadcast meant broadcast from the UK, but lots of people turned up from around the world and started watching their own local TV via satellite. You also need a licence for programming that is narrowcast when it is narrowcast simultaneously or near simultaneously to a broadcast.

    It is impossible for a person to know whether they need a TV licence to visit any particular foreign web page, when that page includes streaming content that could possibly be being broadcast. Enforcement would also be impractical. Requiring ISPs to monitor what their customers are watching and report any transgressions to TV Licensing is a non-starter.

    This leaves the options of turning the TV licence into an Internet one or scrapping it entirely. I’m a big supporter of the BBC and highly value its content. However, when I consider all the options in a world with increasing media convergence, the least worst is scrapping the TV licence.

  30. Jacqui

    400UKP per year for laptops


    If the device is portable (battery operated) and self contained (laptops with built in PVR have batteries and can operate stanalone then they do not require a TV licence.

    Cannot find the relevant section of the rules but TVL will insist laptops DO need a licence until

    you quote the relevant section then they go away for three years.

    I recommend you speak to someone in the legal profession and claim the past few years

    400UKP back....


  31. Adam Foxton

    Isn't this really REALLY easy to solve?

    Just login to the iPlayer site using your unique TV License ID number. Up to 4 simultaneous connections per IP (99% of the time there's only the one internet connection for a house). Dynamic IPs and / or a policy against logging details for longer than the user's logged on would allow the problem to be solved without impacting on privacy any more than could reasonably be expected.

    Et voila, no requirement for an Internet Tax and no loss of revenue- in fact a small increase in it- for the BBC. Plus it's more effective than the GeoIP service as even assuming someone sets up a proxy from home they can only allow up to 4 people to watch TV over their connection.

    For people who want to watch more channels, there could be some sort of extra levvy imposed. This is justified as, unlike Broadcast TV, there's an increase in costs for the BBC if you watch more video.

    Wouldn't cost the Earth to implement, either.

  32. The Mighty Spang
    Thumb Down

    me too

    dont have a telly, moved into a place last year. after 11 months of no correspondance from license fee people (as I don't watch the thing i don't own), got standard threatening letter about a visit. like to see them try. nobody randomly knocks on my (flat) door, they always call before heading in (gotta pay to park), so I'm not going to be answering to anybody... let them waste their money.

    mind you if you needed a license to listen to radio 4 all day i'd be bang to rights...

  33. Anonymous Coward

    The solution is staring them in the face!

    The BBC is a subscription service - just like Sky / Virgin etc.These companies have managed to come up with a solution to get everyone to pay for the services they require, out of all the people who choose to subscribe. Why is it so difficult for the BBC?

    The BBC need to replace the 20th Century paper licence with a 21st Century smartcard solution, linked to secure login details for Internet / Mobile use - oh, just like Sky already has!

    It's a shame that when Freeview came along that they didn't mandate that the set-top boxes should still have CAMs built in like ITV Digital STBs did before them. As a result, it will now take a lot more effort and money to go down this route. How very short-sighted of them...

  34. Anonymous Coward

    I did consider buying a digital STB for my parents at Christmas...

    ...but considering that I have neither TV nor license at my own address and you're required to give your address when buying TV equipment, I considered the wheels that would be set in motion if I made the purchase, and thought better of it.

    If 704x576 isn't the legal 720x576 for CCTV according to a story earlier in the week, then I'm sure by the same logic a three second delay on a stream wouldn't be "live" either.

  35. Chris
    Thumb Down

    TV License isn't the problem

    Tbh I dont have too many issues with paying for a national TV service, what I do have an issue with is how they collect the money. After graduating uni I was staying in a shared house where the landlord had claimed he was paying the TV license (he wasn't). Anyway late one night a TV licensing man turns up demanding that we pay the TV license now or risk court action and a fine. He also explained that many collectors (not him) are legally allowed to enter your house and confiscate any TV or Computer equipment that could be used to recieve TV. We explained the situation and he said thats not a defence its the responsilbity of the people living in the house and we had to sign a direct debit there and then.

    Seriously what idiot signs a direct debit on the doorstep might as well post your bank account details, password, mothers maiden name and general life history on facebook. After 2 hours of him insisting we had to pay he realised he wasn't going to get anything out of us and agreed to speak to the landlord. I thought the whole thing had been a scam and forgot about it, until the TV license came in the post 2 weeks later.

    The BBC's behaviour in collecting the TV license is pretty much equivliant to a bunch of thuggs and scammers out for a quick buck.

  36. Anonymous Coward


    Without a plug it's incapable of recieving a broadcast signal

    Without getting in the door they can't check anything, plug or otherwise.

    @Someone - Requiring ISPs to monitor what their customers are watching and report any transgressions to TV Licensing is a non-starter.

    And who said Phorm is dead?

  37. John Savard Silver badge

    Why hasn't this been rendered moot?

    Surely if the British electorate made it clear to both the Conservatives and the Labor party that no party that did not include in its electoral platform a promise to abolish television license fees (and thus require the BBC to support itself largely through television commercials, just like private TV broadcasters, but perhaps with some small additional measure of government funding derived from general revenues reflecting the additional services the BBC provides) would stand a chance of being elected... that would solve the problem.

    Of course, there are other pressing political issues of the day which, in a two-party system (as opposed to one where the electorate could choose from nearly any combination of policies) make it difficult for the electorate to address forcefully things viewed merely as petty annoyances.

  38. Nev Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Sales Tax on Displays

    Anything bigger than 17" Add a BBC levy. Sorted.

    Here in France it's automatically added to your council tax.

    And the TV & Radio programmes SUCK.

  39. John Bayly
    Thumb Up

    @Adam Foxton

    Obvious isn't it. I had the exact same thought (think I chose an arbitrary 3 users though), but it'll never happen. It would also mean that people who pay for a TV license could use iPlayer abroad.

  40. Anonymous Coward


    I think that should be annually

    Anonymous Pedant

  41. Stewart Haywood

    Let's be sensible.

    The age of blasting MegaWatts of RF in all directions from multiple sites should have passed.

    It must cost a fortune in electricity bills alone, never mind maintaining the blooming great masts and towers.

    What is wrong with the TV broadcasters renting space on satellites? They can collect their fees just the same as everyone else with channels on the satellite.

    If the government needs a public service channel to feed the view screens in every home, then let them negotiate a rate with the satellite companies and put up a free channel.

    The same goes for domestic radio channels.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    (the old chestnut)

    (the old chestnut)


    Do I need a TV Licence?

    You must be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV. It makes no difference what equipment you use - whether it’s a laptop, PC, mobile phone, digital box, DVD recorder or a TV set - you still need a licence.

    You do not need a TV Licence to view video clips on the internet, as long as what you are viewing is not being shown on TV at the same time as you are viewing it.

    If you use a digital box with a hi-fi system, or another device that can only be used to produce sounds and can't display TV programmes, and you don't install or use any other TV receiving equipment, you don't need a TV Licence.

    Therefore, *theoretically* you could buy the Tv Times , wait till the programme is no longer available to receive *at time of broadcast* and you'd be fine on IPlayer etc.. TVL Bloke turned up at my door a while back and cocky S.O.B that he was, thought he'd try it on :) now I dont have a TV at all and people never can get their heads round the fact I dont want to watch the majority of the shite thats on ,nothing to hide - nothing to fear is my 'maxim' invited him in , and offered him a cup of tea (at which point he knew he was on a loser.... :) ) showed him around and he was ticking his sheet off quicker than a blue rinsed granny at Gala Bingo - at which point I had to ask him what his uptake of my situation was - and quoted the above - he concurred - I stated then that if that was the case then I'd not be hearing from them again then - or that would be sort of ... 'tantamount' to 'harassment' - he sloped off..and a couple of days later I received a quite NICE letter confirming this and that they would again call in three years time 'just to see if i'd changed my mind'

    happy days :)

  43. Dennis

    Re: Not rocket science

    "So you enter your tv license number as a userid when watching BBC streaming services"

    Er ... what TV License number?

    When I pay my TV License all I get is a receipt from PayPoint saying that I've paid the bill. If you pay online you don't even get a printed receipt. A real license with a serial number disappeared several years ago.

    Anyway, it's not just BBC streaming services. It will need to be the streaming services from all TV channels. But perhaps only UK channels.

  44. Rob Strzelecki
    Thumb Down


    'You do need a licence to watch TV on a mobile phone or other battery-operated device.'

    'if you have a laptop and either watch online or have a USB tuner card then you don't because it's a portable battery operated device.'

    That make no sense at all!

  45. Anonymous Coward

    BBC stuffed with ads

    BBC schedules are stuffed with advertising. The only thing that makes it different from commercial channels is that all the advertising is for itself. The BBC now appears to be a self-promotion outfit with a programme-making department attached as an afterthought. Relentless trailers, promos, TV License bullying announcements, lengthy puffs for this series or that, endless aren't-we-wonderful ads for BBC news/natural history/comedy/whatever, the same trailer you saw 25 minutes ago at the beginning of the programme back again at the end, ads for BBC telly on the radio and for BBC radio on the telly and for BBC News 24 everywhere.

    And all on my wallet. And if I chose to watch none of it, I still have to pay for it.

  46. Poopie McStinklestein

    @ Steven.

    "The beeb shouldn't get any kind of fee and should just have adverts like everyone else (i fast forward them on my sky+ anyway)."

    No. No, no, no. The moment a company starts chasing ratings/sales, they start dumbing down, and appealing to the masses. Just look at the dross that's on ITV or 5.

    Let the BBC stay independently funded. That way, they can strive to educate, and stretch our artistic/creative limits.

    I wish they'd stop all the Dancing/Ice skating shit they show. But fair's fair. I get stuff I like, and I have to put up with stuff I don't like. I don't moan that I pay taxes for the fire brigade, and have never had to call them, after all.

    Oh, and not all of us have Sky+.

  47. Miami Mike

    You guys PAY to watch TV??????

    Considering the "quality" of 99.99995% of what's on TV both in the UK and the US, I'd be willing to pay NOT to have to watch the crap!

    But I understand the BBC's license model - if you have eyes you MIGHT see/read our content, so you must pay for it unless you can prove yourself legally blind, and expect to re-prove this every few years, whether you read/see our stuff or not, because if you have eyes you MIGHT so send us money!!!!

    That's what you get for being SUBJECTS - darn few rights and no constitution.

    Tea party time - I just happen to have a book "How to stage your very own tea party" which I will sell you for just $29.95 + P&H - but then, if you BORROW a copy and possibly see/read MY content, you'll owe me the $29.95 in any event, so expect a bill and follow-up visits from Vinnie and Bruno, my collection agency! In fact, if you are even ABLE to borrow a copy, or MIGHT borrow a copy, or had someone GIVE you a copy, you owe me the $30. Pay up or die, deadbeats!

  48. David Shaw

    Don't mention the Germans

    if I recall correctly , Germany was about to slap a TV license style tax on Smart Mobile Phones, partly on the basis that they could theoretically watch some form of streamed ARD or ZDF and partly on the basis that nearly everyone has a mobile phone. Don't mention this to.. oops

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC with a guest house

    Simply unsolder the RF De-Modulator from your existing TV sets and use your STB into the scart socket.

    Only one fee is then payable.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I like BBC

    I'd rather pay £142-50 for the BBC channels than substantially more for the dirge that's on Sky.

    Actually I'd pay that just for 'Dave' !!


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