back to article Big Media drags 142,000 through UK's courts in a year

Not one Hollywood studio or record label company has ever incarcerated anyone merely for not paying for media consumption. A few years ago the entertainment industry filed civil suits against individuals, but received so much criticism it stopped. Now they target industrial-scale pirates, or push for milder sanctions such as …


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      1. MonkeyBot

        Re: Re: I don't care what they do...

        There's a world of difference between advertising upcoming shows and advertising other people's products.

        1. Mr Nobody 1
          Thumb Down

          Re: I don't care what they do...

          No there isn't - you are splitting hairs.

    1. Sir Cosmo Bonsor

      Re: TV Tax Evasion

      No, you're absolutely right. The only way they can get a prosecution is if they can prove some wrongdoing. The only way they've ever managed to do that is if the viewer signs a confession.

      And this is what happens, because they pick on the vulnerable and stupid, pretend to be, essentially, law enforcement officials rather than the door-to-door salesmen they actually are, and bully people into signing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Erm, his point is that elitism is a bad thing?

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I don't care what they do...

      "the fact that the BBC can craft their programs without having to work on a five minute timescale"

      Just watch any recent (say, last 5 years or so) BBC programme, particularly documentaries, and every 15 minutes or so there will be a re-cap and "coming next". Carefully crafted? Yes, with ad breaks in mind. Crafted for the commercial market where they are either expecting to be one day or for overseas/sat channel sales.

      There also seems to be more "dead" space just begging to be cut out so as to shorten the 50 minute program down to 40 to fit in those ad breaks to bring it back up to 1 hour strip scheduling standards.

    4. Neil Greatorex


      "I literally watch zero BBC programmes"

      Well do you or don't you?

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    don't have a telly then

    *sigh* Can’t stand the TV license myself, I hate paying it, BUT you do have a choice if you don’ pay it don’t have a TV simple as that. And the 74 people locked up for non-payment is nonsense, you don’t go to prison for non-payment of a TV license straight away, you’ll be given chance after chance after chance to pay it! Reduce your spend on fegs and booze and pay the fecking license otherwise don’t have a telly.

    1. Citizen Kaned

      Re: don't have a telly then

      well, say someone is 24 and doesnt watch the BBC. they are unemployed. should they really be made to pay a full months dole? maybe this person isnt a scrounger but was made unemployed recently.

      1. Kerry Hoskin

        Re: don't have a telly then

        And that is really likely is it? I think not. As I said I don’t like paying the bleedy thing but if you want to watch TV you have to have one, pay up or don’t have a telly. It’s what £12’ish per month ( 2 packets of 20 fegs) Be interesting to know the personal circumstances of the “TV license” 74

        1. Keep Refrigerated

          Re: don't have a telly then

          I find it very bigoted to assume that all working class poor spend money on "fegs" and booze. Particularly the ones unfortunate enough to want but not able to afford a few simple pleasures in life - especially as TV and radio can be a source of education and news.

          People who don't have broadband (to watch iPlayer), a car, the latest mod cons, gadgets or fashion. They don't have money to eat and drink out every week, entertain friends with large parties or go abroad once a year. They certainly can't afford to piddle all their money away on "fegs" and booze.

          Speaking as one who grew up in a working class poor environment, I can affirm the fact that many working class are non-smoking, moderate drinking, decent, honest and reliable people - far more so on average than middle class people I encountered as I caught up with it.

          Walk around the average town or city on a Friday or Saturday night; most of the people p*ssing in doorways, throwing large quantities of their money about and getting arrested are middle class - the decent working class can be found behind the bar, cleaning the toilets or the streets after they've gone (for some their 2nd job as the first doesn't pay enough).

          Personally I prefer the company of either the poor or the rich, but middle class people in general are far too snobbish and judgmental. Sure, I have many middle class friends but I find spending too much time around them to be nauseating. Middle class people are often too self-obsessed to even see - let-alone understand - real hardship or the need for charity.

          Right, think I've upset enough of the El Reg readership, bring on the downvotes...

          1. DJ Smiley

            Re: don't have a telly then

            "Speaking as one who grew up in a working class poor environment, I can affirm the fact that many working class are non-smoking, moderate drinking, decent, honest and reliable people - far more so on average than middle class people I encountered as I caught up with it."

            The other 74 werent.

        2. yeahyeahno

          Re: don't have a telly then

          "Be interesting to know the personal circumstances of the “TV license” 74"

          Indeed, courts don't lock people up for none payment when the reason for none payment is because they cannot pay. That practice ended with The Debtors' Act of 1869, which abolished imprisonment for debt unless you could pay and just didn't, as best as I know the law remains basically the same today.

  2. Andy Roid McUser

    License Fee


    The thing I never really understood is that private users, i.e. the great general public ( not business ) all have to buy a licence per household. They've widened the scope of what a TV is to encompass Monitors and personal computers so there's basically no way you could ever claim that you don't own a TV. Tried it as a student a few decades ago and failed.

    So if this is a tax that everyone has to pay for public service broadcasting and we are in an age of austerity, surely the leanest way to collect the tax is to lump it into PAYE, so that everyone who is earning pays for the service. Kill off the individual billing systems and the countless staff required to enforce it and hey presto, cheaper to run, elderly people are automatically excluded and no one ends up in court for non payment. I'd like to know the cost to the state of prosecuting 150,000 people. PAYE may not be the most effective or popular system , but I seldom understand why a flat rate charge that everyone has to pay, must be paid separately and not deducted at source, the only people who loose are the poor and the only ones who benefit from such a system are the legal profession.

    As a side note, it upsets me that a state funded broadcaster like the BBC is contributing to the decline of modern society by putting out crap like Eastenders. Populist drivel is why ITV exists, the BBC should be there to educate and inform, so Radio 4 is just about spot on.


  3. Semaj

    "The silence is deafening. Could anyone tell me why that would be?"

    Umm, maybe because it's all been tried (and ignored) before and for many years.

  4. Evil Graham

    What about commercial TV?

    This article does raise some really good points, but what about the way that commercial TV is funded? This is possibly an even more insidious levy because there's an advertising cost built into many of the goods and services we buy.

    ITV for example is approximately a £2bn per year business and we are all funding it. No-one gets dragged through the courts because you can't avoid paying - even if you don't have a TV.

    1. Greg 16

      Re: License Fee

      Why is everyone so obsessed with making sure that EVERYONE pays for it - I DONT WATCH OR LISTEN TO THE BBC. I own a TV for watching my own films and yet I'm forced to pay for 'your' BBC.

      What is the problem with introducing set top boxes with viewing cards for those who want the BBC? The technology is there, and it's not particularly expensive, especially when compared with the current costs of licence fee collection and enforcement.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: License Fee

        No, you're not forced to pay the licence because you own a TV for watching your own films. The licence is for receiving/watching/recording broadcast material, not owning a TV to watch your own content.

      2. Tim Parker

        @Greg 16 Re: License Fee

        "I own a TV for watching my own films"

        Then you don't need a license.

        " and yet I'm forced to pay for 'your' BBC."

        No you're not.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: License Fee

      You sure about that? TV Licensing site says you need a licence if

      "You watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV - online, on a TV, or on any device (even a laptop)"

      so in theory, provided you weren't actually watching or recording TV on your PC, you wouldn't have needed one.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: License Fee

      The TV Licence is NOT a licence for owing a TV, monitor or computer. I own all of the above yet certainly don't pay the licence. The licence is for receiving/watching/recording BROADCAST material. Despite owning a TV, monitor and computer, I don't receive, watch or record broadcast content.

    4. Vic

      Re: License Fee

      > They've widened the scope of what a TV is to encompass Monitors and personal computers

      No. There was talk of such a thing a few years ago, but by and large, it failed.

      What we have now is this:

      "If you don’t watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV, on any device, you don’t need a TV Licence."[1]

      Note, however, "You need to be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record TV as it's being broadcast. This includes the use of devices such as a computer, laptop, mobile phone or DVD/video recorder."[2]

      So you only need a TV licence if you're watching broadcast TV - even if you're using a PC to do that watching.




    5. Neil Greatorex

      Re: License Fee

      "state funded broadcaster like the BBC"

      This is the sort of drivel I despise, in no way is the BBC "State funded", yes there is a licence fee and, yes, it is compulsory if you watch broadcast television. But the BBC is not "State funded" it's "licence fee" funded. Gah!

      1. Drewc (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        Re: Re: License Fee

        state enforced licensing = state funding in my book. What am I missing?

        1. CowardlyLion

          Re: License Fee

          It's to keep it separate from the government, as with the police and the courts. One of the BBC's prinicpal duties is to be a publicly owned body reliably and accurately reporting to the British people what the government are doing and why. It's one of our safeguards against fascism. Becoming a directly funded media arm of the government itself would be a very, very bad thing.

    6. CowardlyLion

      Re: What about commercial TV?

      Exactly. I can't find a citation at the moment, but some years ago a research group did the maths for three consecutive years. It turned out that "free" ITV was, in effect, funded by a hidden sales tax of about £230 a year added to your grocery bill. At least if you don't have a TV you don't need to pay the licence fee, try asking Tesco for your TV subsidy back. As I recall the group in question were forced to stop publishing the numbers under pressure from the commercial broadcasters. Shame because I would love to see updated figures.

    7. M Gale

      Re: What about commercial TV?

      I call shenanigans.

      Those companies have an advertising budget. TV or no TV, that money would be spent on trying to persuade people to buy more of their produce. If it works, it brings in more than it cost, so that "hidden tax" that isn't, is SAVING you money, if you want to play that way.

      The BBC and Crapita on the other hand, survive on extortion and threats.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BBC = Middle Class?

    It's just as easier to make the opposite case: Radio 1 (Chris Moyles!), most of BBC1, Top Gear, East Enders, celebrity that & that, sport, sport, sport, sport and sport. - not noticeably aimed at the middle classes.

    The reason why Radios 3, 4 & 6 enjoy vocal support is because most of the rest of the Beeb's output is guff. The total of Radio 4 & 6's budgets is £115m - the same as BBC3 which is loved and watched by nobody.

    The justification for Radio 3, 4 & 6 is higher than that for BBC & Radio 1 et al as it's content that the commercial providers won't provide. So, the solution may be to let the commercial channels provide Strictly Come In the Jungle on Ice-type fodder, and have a smaller, cheaper, smarter BBC.

  6. Piloti

    Just what do we want the BBC to be ?

    So, as I see it, this is where we are : we accept that we have a national broadcaster which produces a lot, a huge amount of content, most of which is very, very good, through a series of medium, [TV, Internet and of course Radio…..] and we pay a nominal fee up front for this, or, we turn the BBC into an advertising supported pay per use / view service, on all outlets. As a nation we need to ask ourselves what we want from the BBC and how we want to pay for it.

    Personally, I am in favour of the former.

    I've been to Germany and I have watched too much French TV, South African telly has more adverts than a sheep munches grass. Watching the recent France / England game on TF2 [France Telly] only have the top third with pop up 'sponsored by ….' flashes, and the bottom third having scrolling banner line 'information / adverts' frankly drives me insane. I am happy for the BBC to be ad' free, but it must be paid for. Radio content also comes from the Telly licence and frankly, I have never heard better radio that the BBC. OK, I've not listened to Radio 1 for a long /long/ time, but Radio 4 has some excellent documentaries and comedies / quizzes etc, R3 some wonderful concerts and the Today programme and John Humphries is worth the fee by himself.

    Boot licking over, but this is important. If we want to get rid of the Licence fee, then we can. It is pretty simple, but, then forever more, we will have a Sky TV-esque service forever more, adverts up and content down on Radio services adverts galore on the BBC website which is, still, happily, ad-free, if you are in the UK.

    Remember this : once you bin the fee and move to pay-to-view, it will be impossible, almost utterly impossible, to go back.

    The BBC will be lost forever.

    And finally, I am tired of people simply opting out of their responsibilities. The fee is there for all because there services are there for all. If people deliberately avoid paying the fee and still listen to the footy scores on a Saturday afternoon on Five Live, then stuff 'em in 't clink and throw away the key…...

  7. Christoph Silver badge

    What you don't mention there

    There's also a very large number of entirely innocent people who get harassed over and over again by the TV licence people banging on their door and demanding to know why they haven't bought a licence for a TV that they do not have.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What you don't mention there

      my old dear used to have this as the TV licence people had a typo on her details. They showed up at her door several times, mum never let them in (she always had a licnese) The typo was sooooo obvious as well.

    2. Refugee from Windows
      IT Angle

      Re: What you don't mention there

      If you haven't a telly they automatically assume guilt and persue you with threatening letters, or rather they just keep bombarding addresses on their database with these. It's nothing personal.

      I can't figure that folk pay the BBC and then pay even more to watch a lot of the content again on Sky. The digital revolution has given us a lot of choice but quite frankly most of that is either recycled from an earlier age or just made to fill up the gaps in the schedules.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What you don't mention there

        I phoned them up once about 4 years ago and told them I didn't need a licence - haven't heard a peep out of them since.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What you don't mention there

          You're not the droid they are looking for?

    3. snowlight

      Re: What you don't mention there

      Every sodding year they keep bugging the hell out of me despite the fact that for the past 7 years running I've told them time and time again that we don't watch live TV, don't want to watch live TV and will they please fuck right off and leave us alone.

      This year I decided that I wouldn't respond to any of their letters as I wanted them to waste their time and money taking us to court, sadly my housemate caved in and phoned them up. Roll on them being annoying gitbags next year :|.

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        Re: What you don't mention there

        I have never answered any of their letters. Why should I? I don't answer letters from any other salesman trying to sell me crap, they are no different.

        I told the callers several times that I have no TV. They just kept coming. Now I tell them to get off my property.

        They cannot take you to court without evidence that you have a TV. If they don't have a record of you buying one and can't detect one, they have to enter your house and search. If you refuse entry they can only come in with a warrant - and they can only get that by perjury, which they are unlikely to risk for a single hit.

  8. George 8

    Andrew does debate...

    Andrew, I have great respect for everything you do. I smiled at this piece.

    I personally believe its one of the best things we do as a society. With the licence fee in place we are able to ensure we have the best quality TV, that is envied across the globe.

    The radio 4 jibe is good, but in days gone by, blind people used to get a £1.25 reduction on their licence fee as the £1.25 represented the cost of radio and this was offered free to them. Radio, *all* BBC radio does not cost *that* much of the BBC fee and given the number of national and local channels I cant say I begrude this. I personally have *Never* listened to Radio 4, but do listen to Radio 1.

    I dont watch much TV att all. I have SKY, but have to, to watch the football. Other than football, I only really watch BBC, Top Gear, Something for the Weekend (Channel 4 here I come...), The News, Question time and Match of the Day. Thats pretty much it. I can find nothing of interest on the 1000+ Sky channels I have and to be honest never really have -- Oh Idiot Abroad, that was excellent.

    I used to work at the Post Office when TV Licences used to be issued there. We would take the complaints on the cost from people. Generally then as it is today, the cost of the TV licence is about or less than the cost of a newspaper -- 40p per day at current rates. I simply cant see how anybody would begrudge paying this small sum for the quality TV, radio and web we get from the bbc.

    Compare that to the Murdoch Football Tax. Andrew, now theres an analysis I'd love to see you do.

    The Gorilla in the room is doing a great job. I'd love to see it be able to compete for football, F1, golf, keep the Grand National and Derby... They are the best at this, they really are. Its an interesting concept. Bring it on. I'd pay.

  9. jacobbe

    My problem with the BBC is the shear size of the output, which has ballooned in the last few years. It clearly crowds out the private competitors. There are at least 8 TV stations and 7 national radio stations. This is far too much content to be considered "public service" ; it is every bloody service.

    Cut the BBC to the core, half the unaffordable licence fee.

  10. Pat 11



    The salient point of this piece is that the BBC's competitors are in favour of the license fee as the sole funding source. Do you have any evidence for this, or is it just what you reckon?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      WTF are you smoking jacobbe? It's £12.13 a month!

      The licence fee is £145.50 a year from April, and is fixed until 2016.

      To put it another way, it's approximately half what the very cheapest Sky TV pack costs.

      The monthly cost is less than a 20 pack of cheap beer from Tesco, or a meal for two from KFC.

      It's even less than taking two people to the cinema. (In London that's even before you buy any popcorn!)

      I'm sure you can come up with other comparisons.

      If (as an extreme example) you really did only watch and listen to an average of one hour of BBC TV and radio a day, that's 40p an hour - less than iTunes.

      Are you really saying that nothing the BBC makes is worth that to you?

  11. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    I like the BBC. I enjoy their programming. I like the fact that it has no adverts.

    However, I would completely agree that the TV license is regressive. TV has become a large part of everyday life for most of the population. In fact, you could argue that it is more important for the poorer sections of society as the richer end of the scale have much more entertainment options open to them.

    There are only 2 ways to address this:

    1) Spin the BBC off into a commercial broadcaster, removing all restrictions and the TV license (and, I think, destroying the BBC in the process), or

    2) Get rid of the license fee and roll the amount generated by it into income-based taxation.

    I actually believe 2) should be done with most taxes. Take the current total tax income gathered by the govt and roll it all into an income-based tax increase. The books balance, but it is completely progressive.

    It won't happen, though. The government prefers having lots of complicated taxes so people can't see how an increase will hit them till it's too late.

  12. MonkeyBot
    Thumb Down

    So what if it's high-brow?

    The purpose of the BBC is to "inform, educate and entertain".

    It's not supposed to just produce mass-market commercial shows.

  13. Jon Press

    Let's abolish tax altogether. Or maybe not.

    It would suit me fine - I pay way more in tax than I receive in services, a lot of which goes on the health care, education and benefits that subsidise the sprogs even of the wealthiest in the land. I'm alright, Jack.

    I suspect that the same people who bemoan having to pay the TV licence would be amongst the first to complain if their free education, hospital services, child tax credit or child benefit were withdrawn because poorer people were contributing to them.

    The TV licence is a tax. The only thing different about it is that it is entirely hypothecated which means that everyone who doesn't want to pay it can call it out as a separate line item in their budget. The solution is to stop pretending it's a licence fee.

    As a representative of a communal freehold, I have recently received a letter from TV Licensing asking for a pass key to our block of flats so that they can harrass potential defaulters even when they've been told to go away via the door intercom. Collecting via the Inland Revenue would also put an end to that kind of attempted abuse of authority.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's abolish tax altogether. Or maybe not.

      though HMRC have wide ranging powers, including I think forced entry and arrest, which potentially makes them the more determined and equipped to get the licence fee off people.

      Of course they wouldn't need these powers just to collect the BBC funding....

  14. Desk Jockey

    You are off your rocker! Granted, the licence fee is the worst payment mechanism there is, apart from all the other ones! Sky or Virgin media cost more per year than the BBC and although occasionally they produce good stuff, their general output is less than the Beeb and considerably worse quality. I bloody hate adverts too, I am willing to pay money to avoid adverts on TV, that is how much I hate them! Against that, the Beeb is good value.

    Who makes most of the decent documentaries? Who tries at least to provide unbiased media coverage? Who was the first to put TV and catch up services on the internet in the UK? Which single organisation does that despicable man Murdoch hate so much? All these arguments support the BBC being funded on a non-commercial basis.

    For those who don't want to pay the licence fee - DON'T WATCH LIVE TV THEN! You are allowed to watch catch-up services on the computer, read the bloody website/guidance which tells you this. You don't have to pay if you don't want to. Just like you don't have to pay if you don't want Sky. No one is forcing you, really!

    1. Seb123

      That's all great until you dare to buy a television to play games on or to watch DVDs and so forth.

      Have you ever tried to buy a TV without having a license? So no, you cannot just "choose not to pay the license, like you can choose not to have Sky". What if I am not planning to watch television? Or, even more so to the point, what if I am not planning to watch BBC or listen to BBC radio? Why should I be paying for this so that you can watch new episodes of Dr Who when this is something that I have no interest in whatsoever.

      I live with my wife on the south coast and we have a tv license for that property, but I also own an apartment in London. I do not have a TV there because it’s pointless. I don’t watch television. Yet, as soon as I moved in, I started to receive letters about my tv license. They become more and more threatening over time. The final straw was when I discovered that one of these tv license inspectors had slipped a note under my door saying things like, “We warned you we would be coming. You weren’t here, but we will be back. Big fines, jail time and other scary stuff to come.” There are no options to tick, “I don’t have a TV so **** off” on any of these friendly correspondences.

      I ended up phoning them and told them very firmly that I do not have a television and that they are welcome to come and check, but you need to come in the evening when I am not at work. They then removed my name from the magical list and the letters stopped coming, except for one a year checking if I still haven’t bought a TV.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So what is your problem?

        You rang them explaining you didn't need a license and they stopped coming.

        And I have never had to prove I have a license when buying a TV and I only bought a new 42" in October so it can't be a new requirement.

        1. Seb123

          Re: So what is your problem?

          I am not sure where you bought your TV from, but the retailer is meant to either check your license or share your details with the tv licensing bureau . If you don't have a license registered to the address you provided, then you'll get a letter from the tv licensing people.

          1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

            @Seb Re: So what is your problem?

            Al the TV's and monitors in my house are less than 5 years old. I have never been asked if I had a license for them.

            The retailer might be supplying my details - I certainly am not.

        2. JohnMurray

          Re: So what is your problem?

          Nope, you don't need to prove licence payment.

          But your purchase of a television/device capable of receiving television, has to be notified by the shop selling you same. By law. Even a usb tv-tuner adaptor needs to be notified.

    2. MrZoolook


      "For those who don't want to pay the licence fee - DON'T WATCH LIVE TV THEN! You are allowed to watch catch-up services"

      So because I don't want the SOLE BENEFICIARY of the fee to get the money for a service I don't use, I can't watch the services of the providers who WON'T receive the money? That sounds very much like the argument given in a certain web browser anti-trust law case... You can use whatever service you like, but only if you pay for the service you don't use.

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