Detector vans can't tell you're watching TV streamed to your PC

Licensing authority admits the obvious

The Television Licensing Authority seems to be admitting defeat in the quest to winkle out viewers illegally watching TV programs on their computers in the UK, writes Chris Ward-Johnson.

The TVLA has issued a statement to the Reg saying: "A licence is required to install and use any equipment capable of receiving TV signals - including PC-TVs. If an address already has a licence this would cover the watching of television programme services via a PC on the premises.

"Our ability to use both detector vans and hand-held equipments forms part of our enforcement activity. We have a comprehensive database detailing the licence status of 26 million addresses nationwide. This database includes information from dealers who are legally required to inform TV Licensing of sales and rentals of equipment capable of receiving TV signals, including PCs with TV cards. We are able to cross reference the information supplied by dealers with that on our database. Where we suspect some (sic) is watching TV without a licence an enquiry officer can visit the property. Anyone caught without a licence faces a visit to a magistrates court and a £1000 fine."

Of course, this wasn't the question - that was, "How do you propose to detect people watching TV programs via streaming media on PCs which AREN'T equipped with tuner cards?" to which we added the supplementary line, "Or should (we) take your response to mean that you're avoiding the question because it can't be done?"

The Authority's response to the re-posing of this question was, simply, "Currently, our detection equipment is not designed to pick up signals given off by PC monitors and laptop screens. However, as the statement says, detection equipment is only one tool available to us. An address that already has a TV Licence would not require an additional licence if, in addition, a PC was being used in the house to watch TV."

Of course, their problem then is proving that you're actually watching something from, for example, the BBC website on your PC. At the moment their system works by cross-referencing addresses with the database of those who've bought a licence and/or a TV (or video or, in the case of one reader, a DVD player which Tesco insist is the same as a VCR for licensing purposes) then sending round the lads in anoraks with the fake aerials on their van roof to see if you're watching Coronation Street on your unlicensed receiver.

They simply can't do this because - unless they have some technology unknown to our readers (and what are the odds on that?) - their detection equipment won't pick up what's on your PC screen. Or are those guys out in the front garden using some special kind of x-ray specs to see through your curtains? ®

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