A licence to print money?

The Internet is no different to Auntie

People watching the BBC on their PC, whether via a PC card or by streaming it from the BBC's web site, should pay for a TV licence. But only if they're in the UK. This led to discussions on why the Brits pay for a TV licence anyway, how TV detector vans work and can you avoid them with an LCD monitor, and the 1949 Wireless Telegraphy Act.

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

TV licence needed to watch the BBC on your PC

[This one's a biggie - our postbag was full]

<rant>The Television Licencing authorities have long pushed their technological ability to pick up licencing evasion and prosecute. Not actually being in possession of a Television set, and knowing how amazingly accurate their highly sophisticated equipment is, you wouldn't really expect to hear from these authorities.

So after several increasingly threatening letters from them, and several letters back stating that I do not posses a Television, nor a TV Tuner, nor cable nor a wap phone with delusions of grandeur, nor a radio, nor any other form of receiver, I've come to the unavoidable conclusion that their amazing equipment is in fact a access database with postcodes, which the cross reference, I mean, who could possibly survive without a television, if the don't have a licence, they must be evading. As far as I'm concerned, they are full of s**t. Just thought I'd add that. </rant>

If you doubt it, just ask around, most individuals who don't have a TV have received letters. No doubt the radiation from their light bulbs confused their equipment. Thanks. I feel much better. <grin>


TV detector vans work by picking up the electromagnetic signature given off by a component called the local oscillator, present in your TV or satellite/cable/digital terrestrial decoder's tuner circuitry - nothing to do with the CRT I'm afraid so LCD or no LCD they'll still be able to detect you!


The main method of detecting TV receivers is from the 'local oscillator' which is a standard feature of most 'standard' radio receivers. This is used to 'beat' against the incoming signal to produce a much lower 'intermediate frequency' (IF) which is easier to deal with in amplifiers, filters etc.

Most TVs 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. As the IF is fixed, there is a fixed relationship between the local osc and the TV channel being received, which is how they know which channel you are watching!


If License Detector vans are able to detect /what/ you are watching on your computer monitor (as suggested by Mr Hardwell in the article), then doesn't this mean they are able to see what is on your screen?

If so, surely this is a gross invasion of privacy?

I think we must be told!

Doug Winter

TV detector vans do not work by picking up radiation from the cathode ray tube

They work by detecting the tuner's local oscillator which always leaks a small amount of radiation back up the aerial.

If you've got a tuner connected to an aerial you can be detected, regardless of what your display device is.

An Engineer. B.Sc (Eng)

Which again reminds me of the stunned seconds I spent watching an advert for beeb.com on ITV which was heavily branded as being by the BBC

Why the beeb will publicly stuff cash into doing something they hold themselves (as a station) as being way way above while charging Joe Bloggs for the privilege of watching (or not watching) their programme content is beyond me.

I guess the BBC thought it was well beyond the capacity of most people to even think 'Oh.. the BBC on ITV' never mind the fact that 'most people' are the guys paying for that which the beeb will not subscribe to hence the reason they're paying in the first place....

It's one small step (ahem) to see you'll soon be 'legally required' to have a damned license for a puter, too... almost certainly based on the fact that you have an ISP account...

Bye bye free internet in the UK ... hello BBC.net in the UK....

(Paranoid? I think not.... much weirder shit has happened than this simple scamming of the muppet UK public)

Guy Eastwood

I'm sure I'm not the only Yank confused by this "TV Licence" thing. Presumably, a TV licen[s]e is like a pet license, where you pay some fee for your first or for each as a tribute to the government acknowledging their right to run your life?


TV detection works by detecting leakage from the receiver of the oscillator used to convert the received frequency down to the intermediate frequency used inside the receiver. Since each channel is on a different frequency that's how they can work out what you were watching.

This is an interesting ruling for 2 reasons...

The first is that it has traditionally been argued that owning equipment that could be used to receive the licensed services required a license so people with satellite that only watched foreign programmes were caught. The new ruling that if you don't use your PC to watch TV you are exempt appears to kill this one off.

The second reason is the provision of RIP that allows tapping people's internet connections without a warrant for the purposes of detecting evasion of taxes or other charges due to the government. It seems to me that the change to the TV licensing regulations could be used as an excuse for blanket snooping under cover of the tax provision.

Paul Stimpson.

[RE: Whether detector vans can pick up signals from LCD monitors]

It is my understanding that only works for 50Hz and possibly 100Hz pictures. I assume that they look out for things like the flyback of the electron beam to sync their detections. This is fine, except if you display it on a monitor with a different refresh rate (i.e.most of them :-) I do have a TV licence, and I don't have a TV card, but I'd be interested to know how they would expect to detect a TV signal displayed at a random refresh rate on a monitor at a random size? The best they could do would be to use the flyback as a sync, and pick up the whole image on screen, and look at it to see if it looked like TV. There must be a huge legal quagmire around that in terms of invasion of privacy, and Human Rights.


The daft thing is that even with a 2Mbps connection you still only get to watch Newsnight and any other feed at 38kbps, i.e. less than the maximum speed of a modem and they want you to have a TV licence in the UK? Mad...


At the end you stated that the Detector works by the radiation off of your CRT....This is not true. If you are watching a DVD on your TV or Computer, the CRT would emit the exact same type of radiation.

The way the TV detectors work is by detecting the internal Oscillator in your TV. It emits an EMI signal on the same frequency as the TV channel your are watching. They can detect the EMI frequency outside your house. If it matches a TV broadcast band, they just check to make sure that the house has paid the TV tax. IF you haven't, you are busted!

If they say "Finally our detection equipment is capable of picking up television reception via computer." they are just saying that their detection equipment is finally sensitive enough to detect the internal oscillation of a TV card inside the metal box of your computer case. A TV doesn't have the same type of shield. A detector couldn't tell the difference between Quake or the BBC from the CRT. If you are not using a TV card, there is no way that they could know you are streaming from the Internet unless they check your IP address from the BBC and cross that with your ISP to locate where you live.


A couple of thoughts. If I'm not mistaken TV licensing is a provision of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1947. The key word here is "Wireless". Most, but not all internet comms is by Wireline. Certainly so far as individuals are concerned.

TV detector equipment works, if it works, by detecting the line scan signals emitted from the TV. These are synchronised with the transmitted TV signal. It's the synchronicity which provides the "proof" of reception. On the other hand the line scan of a PC is not synchronised to the TV signal, is usually a different frequency, and is independent of what is being displayed. Thus TV detector vans will definitely not be able to detect TV received over internet. Neither will they be able to detect your receiving a TV signal using a PC card wireless receiver.

Dick Middleton

Has anyone actually been seen what a TV detector van detects? Could it be that it's just a van, with a large aerial atop, and inside is a man with a PC. On this PC, could there be a list of all the addresses in the UK and just perhaps the tv licensing database? Could it be to cynical to suggest that all they do is check the licensing database against a uk addresses database? hmmm, how could they find you????

Emitted radiation - ok, we believe you!

Craig Johnson

For your non-UK readers:

What the hell is a TV License???
You have to have a license to have a TV set?
And you have to PAY for it???
What about using a TV to strictly watch DVDs or VCR tapes?
Is this a joke?
Or is British law even more insane than I already thought?

Mike Burkey

So does this mean I should deinstall any streaming-video software from my laptop before I visit the UK, lest I be charged the TV license fee while going through customs? :-)

- Bill

I believe that in fact the whole "TV detection" thing is mostly a scam, what they _actually_ do is compare the complete list of addresses with the list of addresses with TV licenses, and then turn up on the door of the folks without licenses.

I knew someone a while ago who claimed to have been involved in building the detector vans, and said that on some of them the "aerials" are just silver painted wood !

Why bother to go to a deep technological solution when a simple database intersection is enough ?

Of course, this means that they can "detect" your PC too, since all they're looking for is houses without TV licenses.

-- Jim

Although the TV licensing authority has been projecting an image of Uber-tech 'vans' that patrol neighbourhoods scanning for the telltale signal of an unlicensed TV set, the reality is slightly more down to earth in that you generally have to supply your name and address while renting or buying a new TV set. This is then cross-referenced to a database that matches names and addresses.

I played with the licensing authority a few years back when I moved house. The license is in my name, so therefore follows me rather than my address, but I didn't update the address for a time, although I did update my address with the TV rental company. Within days the letter duly arrived informing me that I didn't have a license for the TV. This was remedied by telling them the old address and getting their database updated.

It is possible to remain outside of the database by buying only secondhand sets, but this is a bit of a kludge.

One thing has struck me of late, though. The BBC has complained that it doesn't receive enough money, but collects nearly one hundred pounds per household registered in the UK and has talked about raising the cost to people owning satellite equipment. There appears to be something odd about this picture.


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