Paywall By Force: Swedish Public Television Starts Webcasting, Demands TV License Fees From All Computer Owners
Infopolicy – Rick Falkvinge
Swedish Public Television will start demanding license fees from every Swedish person connected to the Internet. They claim that since people on the net have the ability to see their webcasts, that counts as a television set. This is a technophobic overreach that will call the existence of public service TV as such into question.
In most states in Europe, there are governmentally-run television channels that are funded by license fees on television sets. The British BBC would probably be the most well-known example worldwide. It works like this: if you own a television set, you pay the public service channels a fee every month or year, and this money goes to produce independent, noncommercial programming. For the UK, the fee for owning a TV set is about €150 per year that goes to the BBC.
Thus, the funding of the public television channels is funded by the theoretical ability to receive them, whether you actually watch them or not. This has been under fire for some time, but has general acceptance, mostly because of lack of an alternative.
Now, as the Swedish Public Television SVT starts webcasting, they have decided to take this to a whole new level by reading the law text that says that they can collect fees from anybody with a theoretical capability to watch their programming, and demand fees from everybody connected to the Internet – all computer owners, as well as owners of pads and tablets. How’s that for a paywall?
There’s a significant amount of craniorectal interaction in this re-interpretation of the law. The television set is a one-purpose device – it can receive television programming, and that’s it. The general-purpose device is just that – a general-purpose device. It can be instructed to receive, process, store, distribute, and display any type of information. While it lies in its nature that it can receive and display any type of TV programming available to it, that doesn’t make it primarily intended to do so. A television set, by contrast, can do little else.
While the SVT’s interpretation of the law would subject people worldwide to their desire for funding, the laws enabling them to collect TV license fees are only in force up until the Swedish borders, so this would just apply to Swedish residents.
This is dumb greed, and just dumb, for three reasons:
First, this amounts to an innovation tax. By requiring €150 from every household that wants to have a computer, you are stifling the economy in a way that hinders innovation where it’s needed the most – on the long tail in small scale, where the successful enterprises start: never forget that Apple and Google both started in garages less than half a human lifetime ago. Allowing the public service television to externalize this friction on the overall economy is not acceptable.
Second, it’s plainly not reasonable to equate a general-purpose computer or tablet with a dumb TV. It paints the entire public service television staff as technoretards in a time when a need for independent and critical reporting is actually quite significant.
Third, public service funding has been under fire for some time, which makes it doubly important to appear reasonable and balanced. This is neither, risking the public service funding as a whole for a few extra theoretical per cent of licenses from households that have no TV set but do have broadband.
This move is bound to bring about a discussion whether we need public service television at all, and if so, what for.
For myself, I will be blocking the SVT in my firewall as of right now, making my computer incapable of receiving its programming. (I haven’t owned a TV set in 15 years.)