End User piracy

TV detector vans – the truth

Was listening to the Jeremy Vine show on my way to the shops this lunchtime. They were talking about TV detector vans and were there really such things.
Someone came on an said that he used to drive one but that there was no equipment inside, or at least nothing switched on. The TV license people used to use them to scare people into buying a license and they would have a team of people blitz an area checking on addresses that had not been registered as having a license.

We didn’t have a TV until my oldest son Tom was 13 years old and I do recall a knock on the door once from someone who declared himself to be working for the licensing people. I told him we didn’t have a TV and he went away. Simple as that. Check out my other TV license story (previous story about TV license).

Wind the clock forward a few years and one question I have been asked recently is whether you need a TV license to watch TV on tinterweb.

The answer is yes if you’re talking live TV.  However I am not aware that anyone has ever been done for not having a license whilst watching TV in this way.

There are probably two factors in play here. Most people do have a TV license and therefore are already covered. For those rebs that don’t have a license then it isn’t an easy thing to track you down.

The music industry, which is through the Digital Economy Act, going to be sending letters to people it believe has been infringing copyright (ie downloading stuff without paying) tracks down the alleged miscreants from the IP address being used for the torrent. Prior to the DEA it needed a court order to obtain the name and address of the subscriber.

The Licencing Authority can probably source similar information in a similar way from the BBC. It would need separate court orders for Sky, Virgin et al but would find it very difficult to deal with any overseas entity, of which there are many. The effort would have questionable value remembering that the LA doesn’t know who already has a licence and who doesn’t in these circumstances.

This will be an interesting situation to follow as more and more people rely solely on online sources for their media fix.

Tapped and dictated into my SGS4 whilst the boys see if my hard drive really is dead!

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

5 replies on “TV detector vans – the truth”

I listened to the same phone-in and there was a man speaking who said that he used to drive one of the vehicles for the Post Office… he definitely said that they could tell if a TV was on and what was being watched.

The PO detector vans detected harmonics of the frame flyback signal. This meant that they could detect whether you had a TV and whether it was a 405 line or 625 line. Since the only use in pre VHS days for such a TV was watching on-air programmes, detection of such a signal was pretty well cast iron indication of guilt. These days with mostly flatscreen TVs (no flyback transformers) it is much more difficult (if not impossible) to detect a TV. And of course with many TVs only being used for watching DVDs, even if you could detect them, it’s not an indication of watching on air TV.

I didn’t hear the whole section of the show but the guy I heard speaking definitely said that they could detect a signal in some way. He described how people would hide their TVs when they noticed the van, so he would come back the following day and park round the corner before knocking on the door and catching them unawares. Sneaky!

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