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BBC to Brits: Need a license to watch us online, too

British TV-licensing authority responds to criticism of fee for watching BBC broadcasts (such as World Cup games) online.

The United Kingdom's television-licensing authority has responded to criticism from Silicon.com readers over its warning that people watching online BBC broadcasts on a PC face stiff fines if they don't have a TV license.

TV Licensing, or TVL, issued the warning last week on the eve of the World Cup finals in Germany, which the BBC is broadcasting live online as well as on TV.

That provoked a furious response from many Silicon.com readers. "If the BBC chooses to broadcast on an international medium, why should the national license payer subsidize this?" said one IT consultant, who wished to remain anonymous.

Other readers claimed that a pure Internet feed not involving a tuner and received by a computer is not covered by TV-licensing legislation and therefore does not require a TV license to watch it.

But TVL told Silicon.com that the definition of a "television receiver" is contained in Regulation 9 of the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 and covers any apparatus used for the purpose of receiving--by wireless telegraphy or otherwise--any TV program service.

TVL said this means that the TV-licensing regulations cover Internet broadcasts on PCs, PDAs and mobile phones but said this would not be an issue for most people, as it is covered by the standard household TV licence.

"A valid license entitles the license holder and anyone who lives with them to watch live television on any device at that address, for example on a television set or on a PC, and on any device powered solely by its internal batteries, such as mobile phones or PDAs, away from home," a TVL representative said.

The same single-license rule also applies to businesses, except hotels, which have different licensing requirements.

The TVL spokeswoman was unable to give a breakdown of prosecutions by device but said it has caught and fined license fee evaders using PCs to watch TV in the past.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.