Only UK viewers have to pay for the BBC on the PC

Don't know how they'll catch you though

Following The Register's revelation that the TV Licensing Authority are out to nail those of you geeky enough to only watch television programmes via streaming media on your PCs, the TVLA have now said that they'll only be chasing people watching those programs in the UK, writes Chris Ward-Johnson.

Foreigners and ex-pats watching Jeremy Paxman give the Newsnight third-degree to another sweating politician can carry on doing so for free, but any UK PC owners doing so who don't already have a TV licence need to run, not walk, down to the Post Office and shell out £104 (or, presumably, £34.50 if you have a monochrome monitor) for a licence.

The licence, for those of a foreign persuasion, is collected by a British Government agency and used to fund the BBC - it pays for all their TV and radio programming. You have to have a licence even if you never watch the BBC - even if you only ever watch independent TV (which funds itself via advertising) you have to have one.

Until now, anti-licence campaigners like Advocacy for Licence Fee Abolition and the Campaign to Abolish the TV Licence say the licensing authority has based its prosecutions on the 1949 Wireless Telegraphy Act, and that people were being prosecuted for owning sets without a licence.

Now, however, the TVLA say the Act contains no definition of what's a telly at all, and that they can collect from anyone who's watching any UK-broadcast programs while living in the country.

"The Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 (as amended) is the primary legislation," says Anthony Hardwell, Policy Manager of the Post Office Policy Group. "Within this the licence fee is permission to receive or record television programme services using television receiving equipment, there is no definition of receiving equipment and...it doesn't matter how you receive the signal, it's whether or not you do. A simple statement in writing from a customer stating that they do not wish to receive or record television programme services is sufficient for our records, the simple fact of owning a television set does not and never has required licence cover. It is true that certain people may wish to try and 'cheat' the system however our regular checks of properties using detection equipment reveal who is breaking the law."

If, he goes on, you only use your telly for watching videos or playing Donkey Kong on your Sega, you don't need a licence. "The use of equipment for viewing pre-recorded videos or for that matter as a monitor for a game playing computer does not and never has required television licence cover."

At the time of going to press The Register had still not received an answer to the question of how exactly they plan to track who's using a PC to watch TV programs, but thanks anyway to all those engineers who wrote in to say that detector vans don't use Van Eck phreaking methods to work out what you're watching - instead they work by detecting the TV tuner's local oscillator which always leaks a small amount of radiation back up the aerial.

Most TVs, apparently, are sufficiently poorly designed such that the local oscillator signal is effectively transmitted for a short distance, but far enough to be picked up by the detector vans (that'll teach me to rely on science fiction books for my technical knowledge).

And, the tall-foreheads who wrote in added, because there's no tuner in a PC watching Paxman or Big Brother re-runs via some form of streaming media, the odds are that the blokes in the anorak in the van in the street wouldn't have a clue what you're up to inside. Even the ones who, the TV licensing website claims, are lurking outside your front window with hand-held detector devices wouldn't have a clue, apparently.

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