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Wi-Fi Beeb viewing may break law

Live net telly could be licensing foul

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Users of the BBC's trial of TV-over-Wi-Fi networks will break the law if they plug in their mobile phones in locations not covered by a television licence, the TV Licensing Authority has warned.

The BBC has begun a beta trial of live television over Wi-Fi networks. The owners of phones with Wi-Fi connections can go online and see live streaming of BBC One, BBC Two and six other BBC stations, displayed as an image measuring 176 x 144 pixels. Radio stations are also available.

The service requires a TV licence and anyone who uses it whose home is not covered by a licence is committing an offence. But under a licensing quirk, so is anyone who plugs their handset into the mains electricity at a site which is not covered by a licence.

"You would have to have a TV licence already if you use your mobile phone to watch live TV," said a TV Licensing Authority spokesman. "That home licence covers you unless you plug into the mains."

The location of the mains must also have a TV licence or the law has been broken, the spokesman said. He said that it is the smartphone user, and not the owner of the premises, who is liable for the infringement.

Users are allowed, though, to plug their devices into the mains without breaking the law on a train, plane, boat or in a car. "If you plug into the mains at any address other than your home, that address would need to be covered. But licensing regulations cover you for when you are travelling," he said.

No warning is given by the BBC of the fact that users of the service who have a TV licence at home could break the law.

"In order to use BBC LiveTV/Radio, you must have a full colour TV licence," said the BBC's guide to using the service. "It is a criminal offence to watch ‘live’ television without a TV licence or to possess or control a device which you know or reasonably believe will be used to watch ‘live’ TV without a TV licence."

There is no mention of the law being broken if a handset is plugged in at an unlicensed premises.

The BBC did not say why it had not told users of the trial service of the danger of breaking the law.

"The BBC has been running a public beta to test live TV/Radio, on a limited number of Wi-Fi enabled handsets, via the mobile homepage since last September," said a statement. "The purpose is to test uptake and quality and assess how we might be able to stream live services to an increasing number of mobile devices in the future."

The TV Licensing Authority said that 98 per cent of UK households have televisions, and that the licence evasion rate is five per cent.

It is a criminal offence to watch TV without a licence and the penalty is a fine of up to £1,000.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

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

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