Use of satellite decoder cards intended for EU audiences from 1 January 2021

Guide

Last updated 30 January 2021

From 1 January 2021, it became an offence to use satellite broadcast decoders, intended for EU audiences, to access programmes in broadcasts from the UK with the intention of avoiding charges for them. This was already the case for satellite decoder devices intended for non-EU audiences.

If you did this in the UK you must:

  • stop using EU satellite decoder devices to avoid committing an offence
  • consider instead purchasing the relevant UK satellite broadcast package to view the programmes

Using EU decoders for purposes other than to avoid a charge

Those who use EU decoder devices to access programmes included in UK broadcasts for purposes other than the avoidance of a charge are not affected by this change.

For example, expats living in the UK who use decoder devices intended for EU audiences to view programmes in their native language are not, nor will they be, covered by the offence of Section 297 (fraudulently receiving programmes), provided there is no intent to avoid any charge associated with the programmes.

Background

Satellite broadcasters often restrict their broadcasts on a territorial and paid-for basis by encrypting their transmissions. To access a broadcast, consumers buy or lease ‘decoder devices’ (such as set top boxes), which convert the encrypted transmissions into a watchable form.

Illicit (for example, cloned) decoder devices or decoder devices intended for use in another country are sometimes used to access programmes that are otherwise available via a legitimate UK broadcasting service. Section 297 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) makes this a criminal offence when done dishonestly to avoid paying a charge to the UK broadcaster.

What has changed

The government disapplied provisions on freedom of establishment and the free movement of services from 1 January 2021. See The Freedom of Establishment and Free Movement of Services (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 for further information on freedom of establishment and freedom of services.

Under these changes, the existing restriction to the criminal offence defined in section 297 of the CDPA ceased. It became an offence to use satellite broadcast decoder devices intended for EU audiences to access a programme included in a broadcast made from the UK with the intent of avoiding a charge.

This change does not weaken or change in any way the illegality of illicit decoder devices for the acts specified by section 297 (for example, cloned, counterfeit, or stolen decoder devices).


First published 26 November 2020