Viewing this month's visit stats I noticed that one of the top queries on Google is "can TV Licensing tell if you're watching programmes online?"
The short answer is not unless one of their employees physically catches you in the act.
TV Licensing is widely despised for the way it deals with non-licence holders, however legitimate their licence-free status might be. The only way they could possibly "detect" people watching TV on the internet is if the internet service providers (ISPs) provided them with information about the browsing habits of their customers.
Understandably the ISPs refuse to divulge that information, because doing so would be both illegal and immoral. It would also make terrible business sense, because who would want to deal with an ISP that gossipped about the private business of its customers?
The BBC has previously disclosed to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee that it has secured the conviction of unlicensed online viewers, but has also admitted it doesn't have any special strategies for detecting such viewers. It therefore follows that, in common with all other TV Licensing prosecutions, evidence has been obtained directly from the viewer, either by way of an incriminating statement or the direct observation of an offence being committed.
Remember that a TV licence is only required for properties where equipment is "installed or used" for "receiving or recording a television programme at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public". It is perfectly legal to watch non-live catchup services without a TV licence, including previously shown programmes on the BBC iPlayer.
Remember these key points when dealing with TV Licensing:
- You are not legally obliged to respond to any of their intimidatory and deceitful mailings and we recommend you don't. If you tell them anything they could potentially use it against you later on.
- You do not need to say anything to them and we strongly recommend you don't. Simply close the door or put down the telephone on their employees. Do not be fooled into thinking these people have more legal rights than they actually do, however much they pretend otherwise.
- Visiting TV Licensing employees should always identify themselves when asked to. Unless they are executing a search warrant they should always leave when requested
- TV Licensing employees have no legal right to enter your property without invitation, unless they have a search warrant. Search warrants are difficult to obtain if TV Licensing follow the correct legal procedures, so they will never have one on a first visit.
Should you be correctly licensed and wish to enjoy watching TV online then we can recommend TV Catchup. Again, this service provides no information whatsoever to TV Licensing.
Happy online viewing!