Politics Technology

Thoughts on “The iPlayer Loophole”

In the UK, one requires a licence to watch television as it is broadcast live, which costs around £145/year. However, no such licence is required to watch television programmes on catch-up services such as the BBC’s iPlayer. Of course, in the eyes of the BBC, this is a Bad Thing, as sales of DVD box sets of series will fall.

So the BBC have announced that from 1 September 2016 the “iPlayer loophole” will be removed.

Interestingly, according to the guidance from TV Licensing, you won’t need a licence to watch catch-up TV from ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 – proving that despite everyone who watches live TV having to buy a licence, the licence fee is not shared between the broadcasters. Why is it that this change will only apply to BBC programming?

The change only applies to iPlayer, so how will TV Licensing enforce it? Of course, they could ‘protect’ iPlayer by requiring a login, authenticating those watching with a licence, but that doesn’t deal with the fact that it is households that are licensed, not people – and what would stop me from sharing my login details with the neighbours?

Potentially iPlayer could have a list of IP addresses that have paid for a TV licence – but then again, most consumers are given dynamic IPv4 addresses which can change fairly frequently. In addition, your home TV licence covers watching television via a mobile device (ie a smartphone or laptop) so long as it is not ‘installed’ (essentially, not plugged into mains) in another property; thus there could be several IP addresses under the same licence. Similarly, mobile operators tend to operate CGNAT (Carrier Grade Network Address Translation), where one public IP address is shared between several subscribers – so there could be a mix of licence payers and non-payers all appearing as the same address.

I suspect that it will be ‘enforced’ in the same manner that the ‘live TV’ licence is currently: TV Licensing will assume guilt and send numerous aggressive letters to those who do not hold a licence, pressuring them into buying one. Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem – you could just ignore the letters! At present, if you go to watch live TV via BBC iPlayer you are met with this notice: 

Upon clicking “I have a TV Licence. Watch now.” there is no authentication, no box into which you must type some form of ID number – it just trusts that you haven’t lied. The BBC is using the honour system to administer its licensing online!

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