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This blog is to highlight the unjust persecution of legitimate non-TV users at the hands of TV Licensing. These people do not require a licence and are entitled to live without the unnecessary stress and inconvenience caused by TV Licensing's correspondence and employees.

If you use equipment to receive live broadcast TV programmes, or to watch or download on-demand programmes via the BBC iPlayer, then the law requires you to have a licence and we encourage you to buy one.

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Saturday, 5 March 2016

Opinion: Closing the BBC iPlayer Loophole

The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale MP, has signalled that legislation to close the so-called BBC iPlayer loophole could be on the statute books before the summer Parliamentary recess.

Before going any further, we should mention that we despise the term "iPlayer loophole" as it falsely suggests the use of underhand tactics to bypass the need for a TV licence. Despite our reservations, we shall stick with the term iPlayer loophole as most people are familiar with it.

Under current legislation, anyone viewing non-live catch-up programmes are well within their rights to do so without the need for a TV licence. In our opinion complying with the letter of the law is not a loophole, but more of a workaround. If a person uses the motorway to avoid having to pay train fares, it that a loophole? Is it a loophole to buy fish at the supermarket, so you don't need to pay for a rod licence?

As it stands, a TV licence is only needed for those properties where equipment is used to receive TV programmes at the same time (or virtually the same time) as they are broadcast to the wider population.

Catch-up programmes, which can be viewed on-demand using services like the BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, are not considered TV programmes within the meaning of the current legislation, so there is no requirement to have a TV licence to view them.

The BBC views licence-free users of the iPlayer as having a free ride. According to the BBC (so take with a big pinch of salt) these perceived freeloaders, which account for a paltry 2% of all iPlayer viewers, will be costing around £120m in lost revenue by 2020.

Here at the TV Licensing Blog, we are astounded that the Government would consider for one moment a funding compromise with the BBC. In recent years the BBC has faced swingeing criticism of its top-heavy management structure, eye-watering executive pay-offs, gold-plated pensions, overpaid "talent", failed initiatives and sordid sex scandals.

This mismanagement has cost the BBC hundreds of millions of pounds - money that should have been spent on quality programming and would have been if the BBC had simply kept its house in order.

It is no exaggeration to say that the BBC squanders far more revenue than it could ever hope to claw back from the tiny proportion of licence-free iPlayer users. Instead of buckling to the BBC's pleas of poverty, the Government should surely be forcing the bloated Corporation to live within its limited means? That's what everyone else has to do.

When the BBC launched its iPlayer service back in 2007, it was fully aware and acceptant of the fact that the content would be exempt from TV licence requirements. It's a bit rich that the BBC, with public confidence low and cricitism high, is crawling from under its rock and demanding payment for a service it has willingly provided gratis for the past decade.

We find Whittingdale's decision to close the so-called iPlayer loophole particularly galling. Such a move is ill-conceived and inconsistent.

As we understand it, the new rules will only apply to the BBC iPlayer service, meaning catch-up viewers of the ITV Hub, All 4, My5 et al, will still be exempt from needing a TV licence. Such a system, with different rules applying to the on-demand content of different broadcasters, will understandably lead to confusion.

As the Internet Service Providers cannot legally provide customer information to the BBC, how does the Corporation intend to enforce the new rules? Will it simply be a case of TV Licensing amending the text of its famous threatograms? Or is the Government proposing additional legislation that will allow the BBC to snoop on the web viewing habits of anyone it suspects of TV licence evasion? Given TV Licensing's incompetence and widespread abuse of process, should it really be given additional tools to assist with enforcement?

It has been suggested in some quarters of the media that the BBC might seek to enforce the new rules by password protecting on-demand iPlayer content or somehow making the user input their TV licence details prior to viewing. We consider that very unlikely for the following reasons:
  • At the moment there is no password protection for licensable "live" streamed content on the BBC iPlayer.
  • A fairly common situation would arise where a person was covered by a valid TV licence, but was unaware of the licence or password details. For example, young children within a licensed property couldn't be expected to know the relevant licence or password details; people using their laptops/tablets in a licensed public area (e.g. pub, hotel, cafe etc.) couldn't be expected to know the relevant licence or password details for that particular establishment.
  • Such a system would undoubtedly be very expensive to introduce and maintain. If the BBC is to believed, it currently doesn't have two ha'pennies to rub together - indeed times are so hard that BBC executives are having to forego lobster, caviar and foie gras.
Even if TV Licensing was somehow able to confirm that the BBC iPlayer had been used on a particular device - which they should never be able to do, as even with a search warrant they have no legal right to inspect the electronic contents of any password protected device - that would offer no evidence whatsoever that the device had been used for a licensable purpose in an unlicensed property. The statement "I was using my [device] at a licensed friend's property" would immediately account for any history of iPlayer usage.

In our opinion, the only way the new iPlayer rules could be enforced is by asking users to tick a box confirming they are covered by a valid TV licence, as is currently the case for people wishing to view "live" iPlayer programmes.

Closing the so-called iPlayer loophole could easily become Whittingdale's poll tax. It's unjust, unfair and unenforceable. The whole idea is a myriad of potential legal pitfalls. By pandering to the BBC's every whim, Whittingdale has created abysmal legislation to cure a virtually non-existent problem.

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Edit (2/8/16): You can read more developments on the closure of the so-called iPlayer loophole here and here.

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Anonymous said...

This doesn't require a change in legislation. All the BBC needs to do is require a user name and pasword to log into iPlayer—with the user name being associated with your Licence number.

They must have thought of this at the time so there is more going on here. Perhaps their market research along the lines "would you buy a TV Licence just to watch iPlayer?" came out with a resounding "NO"

But I would not be surprised if a licence was required for iPlayer, then the number of extra licenses sold will be zero.

Anonymous said...

Username / password is the only sensible way to "enforce" it, given that allowing TVL staff to examine your web history is - as the original blog post states - fraught with risk when you consider both the antics of the so-called "Enforcement Officers" and (as has been shown on various videos) the fact that they are not always the most technically gifted of individuals.

No doubt the BBC will claim that it is "too expensive" to set up, though, despite the system being common throughout the web even on small websites.

They'll sell a few extra licences but I don't think they'll get more than a tiny fraction of the £120m they keep claiming - most people will probably switch exclusively to Netflix and/or Amazon Prime with maybe the odd second-hand DVD purchase instead. It sounds like they're trying to prepare the ground for the licence fee to be required for Internet access which is a dangerous move to make when you consider how vital the Internet is in the modern world.

Shady Pete said...

"This doesn't require a change in legislation. All the BBC needs to do is require a user name and password to log into iPlayer"
.......which could be the number of a current TV Licence. There's still the problem of splitting iPlayer in two because no TVL is needed for radio.

For proof whether a given IP address is accessing TV content on iPlayer, look no further than May's "Snoopers' Charter". ISPs will have to keep records of all broadband subscribers' online activity for 12 months for inspection by police, local authorities, GCHQ and I suspect, TV Licensing.

Anonymous said...

For starters John Whittingdale as culture secretary is laughable; I can't believe he'd know culture if it trod in him and tried to wipe him off.

Pretty much as you've written here; his comments are wide of the mark in terms of accuracy. Iplayer 'loophole' is no different to cyclists being road users who don't need to pay road tax.

It was actually a fair situation to have catch up services available regardless as the BBC got a chunk of money from general taxation anyway.

Again his portrayal of the BBC as some kind of victims, from the TV license not being conceived to deal with iplayer is just as laughable.

Its the BBC that created iplayer itself, not a man in the shed using BBC content. They were completely responsible for developing the placement of the technologies and driving the rest of the industry to follow them. To claim they couldn't conceive the technology wouldn't be widely adopted is absurd. Mass, wide deployment would have been they're goal.. why would they not aim for that?

I'd go further, and say that the BBC has deliberately not put access control(aside from geographic) on the iplayer from the outset. By encouraging proliferation of the technology the BBC then puts itself in an (unjust) position to claim it needs a media or computing device tax at the next license review. Basic securing of the iplayer using a TV license serial number, wouldn't have been bombproof, but would have deterred a large number.

The BBC has massive advantages in a good few media sectors (TV, News, Internet, Arts, Radio) and with a guarenteed income how can anyone else ever have a chance?

Whittingdale also has opinions on Adblocking, which sound just as one sided...

AndyH said...

Good post. What would really be useful is a source list of free TV resources. I don't have a TV myself, nor do I ever watch TV, but I am sure many would benefit from the list.

Admin said...

Thanks for your kind words AndyH.
We have previously written a post about the top 3 TV licence alternatives, which you can read here - http://tv-licensing.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/top-3-tv-licence-alternatives-for-telly.html
That said, there are a lot more than 3 alternatives out there. I think you've struck on a good idea for a future post, so please stay tuned.