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3's mobile phone TV service could land users in trouble

Plug it in and break licensing laws

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Users of 3's just-announced mobile television service will break TV licensing laws if they view the service on a mobile while it is plugged in at unlicensed premises. While the phone runs on its own batteries it does not need its own licence.

Users of the service also run the risk of violating the terms and conditions of broadcasters if they use the service. Terms and conditions for a subscription to BSkyB's Sky satellite television service, for example, forbid the viewing of the content outside of the registered address.

Mobile network 3 will launch further details about the service, including prices, next week. Last week it launched the X-Series service, a series of pricing packages based on two handsets which will offer the use of services such as free phones calls for Skype users, Microsoft instant messaging, and access to content stored on their PC.

The network has teamed up with Sling Media, which makes Slingbox, a set-top device that sends all of the television which a user receives in their home on to a server for remote viewing. X-Series will allow subscribers to watch either recorded or live television on their handsets via the Slingbox.

The TV Licensing Authority said that a user's home TV licence would cover users while watching on a handset that was battery powered. As soon as that handset is plugged into the mains electricity, though, a TV licence must exist for the premises supplying the electricity or the user has committed an offence.

"In the UK, you need to be covered by a valid television licence to use any device (including mobile phones) to watch or record television programme services as they are being broadcast or distributed," said a statement from the TV Licensing Authority. "If there is a valid licence at the address where you normally live, then you will be covered to use any device powered solely by its own internal batteries (for example, a mobile phone) away from that address. But once any TV receiving equipment (such as a mobile phone) is plugged into the mains to watch or record TV programme services, then the place where that equipment is plugged in must be licensed."

Users of the service could also breach agreements they have made with broadcasters and TV supply companies. In previous mobile television trials the broadcaster or content provider has usually been an active partner in the trial, but with X-Series, users can watch any television which they receive in their home, including subscription services such as Sky.

Sky's terms and conditions forbid the use of a service such as that proposed by 3. "You will not use the service or any part of it other than to view the channels in private for non-commercial purposes at your address," say the terms and conditions. Viewing the services on a phone outside of the address would break that content.

A spokesman for 3 said that retailers did not have to inform TV Licensing if a handset capable of receiving television is sold in the same way that they do for televisions. "Sling Box is included in the 'TV equipment capable of receiving television programmes'," said spokesman Ed Brewster. "So this applies to Sling boxes, but not to 3 handsets."

Sky did not comment before publication.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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