[ubuntu-uk] Ubuntu & TV licensing

john levin john at technolalia.org
Sat Sep 23 21:16:35 BST 2006

Sean Hammond wrote:
> In reading up a bit on TV licensing in Britain, the phrase "streaming
> media" came up a couple of times.
> For example, this site:
> http://www.taith.org.uk/tv/index.html
> seems to be a good site for advice on the TV license. And on there, this page:
> http://www.taith.org.uk/tv/quickguide.htm
> mentions "streaming media", but seems to be referring to hardware
> (i.e. a TV card) as opposed to software applications. From the same
> site, this page:
> http://www.taith.org.uk/tv/faq.htm
> says "if you receive or record any television broadcasts (e.g. any ITV
> channels, Channel 4, Sky, cable, streaming media), you will need a TV
> licence" and further down "A 'television receiver' as defined includes
> ... TV-enabled PC ... streaming media, broadband, etc." although  "If
> you do not use these for receiving broadcast TV signals, you do not
> need a licence." And lastly on this page:
> http://www.taith.org.uk/tv/safeguard.htm
> as part of their advice on what to do if an Enforcement Officer is
> coming round they suggest you delete any software from your PC that
> receives streaming media.
> It seems pretty obvious that if you have a TV card and are using your
> computer to watch TV you need a license. What's not clear is whether
> in the absence of a TV card software capable of showing you streaming
> video over broadband accounts. For example:
> * Does a default install of Ubuntu, plus broadband connection, require
> a TV license because of Totem Movie Player? (note that you can't watch
> BBC stuff online with Totem because you need Real of Windows media
> format)
> * What if I install Realplayer, so I can watch the BBCs videos online?
> * Does installing MPlayer, Xine, VLC etc., or additional codecs (e.g.
> w32codecs etc.) from Restricted Formats, make a difference?
> Does anyone have any experience of this?
> Other good sites of TV licensing info seem to be:
> http://www.marmalade.net/lime/
> http://www.tvlicensing.biz/leaflets/pdf/tv_licence_guide.pdf

Interesting question. I think (insert standard IANAL disclaimer here) 
that only hardware devices require a license. Given how new both the 
provision of 'tv' programs over the net, the spread of broadband, and 
the use of computers for tv reception, this is probably a legal grey 
area. I haven't heard of any prosecutions, although some are hinted at here:
(But it seems that only live broadcasts - not shows made, put on a 
server, and downloaded at leisure - are included.)

The relevant legislation (or part of it) is the Communications Act 2003:
And the relevant part of that is Part 4, Section 368: Meanings of 
"television receiver" and "use":

	    (1) In this Part "television receiver" means any apparatus of a 
description specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State 
setting out the descriptions of apparatus that are to be television 
receivers for the purposes of this Part.

   	    (2) Regulations under this section defining a television 
receiver may provide for references to such a receiver to include 
references to software used in association with apparatus.

So, software is only considered "in association with apparatus" i.e. 

Finally, from statements made by (then) Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, 
and the Green Paper on the future of the TV license fee, it seems that 
acomputers are not licenseable in general:

I am not a lawyer. Nor do I play one on TV.


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