Please note: it is unlawful to plug in your device in our stores if you are watching live TV or downloading or watching programmes on demand on BBC iPlayer.​By using the WiFi, you agree to the terms of use

This is the warning that appears in Starbucks' Wi-Fi network captive portal (this is not in the UK (this is in France, but this very much looks like a generic worldwide warning than anything else, BBC iPlayer is geo-blocked here), tagged because it seems to more suit the warning)

What law are they referring to?


plug in your device in our stores

Is watching iPlayer/Live TV on battery legal, then?

  • 3
    I can imagine that they don't want you to do that, because if everyone was watching TV over the Wifi in a restaurant, it would quickly be overloaded. But that would be a breach of their terms of use, and not illegal.
    – PMF
    Feb 11, 2023 at 15:32
  • 1
    If it's not in the UK, where is it?
    – bdb484
    Feb 11, 2023 at 16:03
  • 3
    @PMF This isn't a ban on using the store wifi to watch iPlayer, but on plugging your device into the power while doing so.
    – dbmag9
    Feb 11, 2023 at 22:18
  • 1
    Is this the actual text you see when connecting to a French Starbucks' Wi-Fi? In English? If so it does not exist from a legal perspective.
    – WoJ
    Feb 12, 2023 at 20:34
  • 1
    @WoJ Yes, it is in English, and copied verbatim from the portal Feb 12, 2023 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


I suspect this relates to the UK TV Licencing provisions as listed here,

Specifically :

Can I watch TV on my mobile phone without a TV Licence?

If you’re using a mobile device powered solely by its own internal batteries – like a smartphone, tablet or laptop – you will be covered by your home’s TV Licence, wherever you’re using it in the UK and Channel Islands.

However, if you’re away from home and plug one of these devices into the mains and use it to watch live on any channel, TV service or streaming service, or use BBC iPlayer*, you need to be covered by a separate TV Licence at that address (unless you’re in a vehicle or vessel like a train, car or boat).

I've said "I suspect" as I don't know for certain what Starbucks are doing, but it looks like this is means that either they are not providing you with use of their Licence at those premises, or that they don't have one for those premises (particularly likely if they're not in the UK, also possible if they are). Without mains power connection (ie. batteries only) it would be the user's home Licence that was relevant.

TV Licencing is covered by Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003.

[Edit : The official source of the summary at my first link can be found at Schedule 1 paragraph 2(c) of the Statutory Instrument. Thanks to Carcer for the comment.]

  • 5
    The TV Licensing Authorities interpretation of the law is always interesting. Do you know which clauses of the Communications act support their claim that you can use a homes TV license outside the home? Plugging it in seems a weird distinction. Feb 11, 2023 at 21:29
  • 8
    Could they really enforce this British law in France?
    – SegNerd
    Feb 11, 2023 at 22:34
  • 4
    @SegNerd in theory, yes, they could fine someone and gain the french court's assistance of getting that money. But since the BBC blocks itself from France, the matter is moot.
    – Trish
    Feb 11, 2023 at 23:21
  • 8
    @DanielHatton to save anyone else the trouble, link here and the relevant text is "for the use anywhere of any television receiver powered solely by its own internal batteries by the licensee or by a person normally living with the licensee at the specified location." So it's not exactly a situation where the law has to be creatively interpreted to get to what TVL says. If a device is being powered solely by its own batteries it's okay, and if it's being currently powered by anything else it's not.
    – Carcer
    Feb 12, 2023 at 0:25
  • 8
    I suppose a literal reading of that regulation would mean that someone watching on a mobile phone plugged into an external powerpack while sitting in the park would mean that the park would require its own TV license, since the regulation distinguishes between internal and external batteries. Feb 13, 2023 at 5:42

I checked what the BBC site has to say, mostly about iPlayer. Note that they are sometimes a bit vague, not aimed at lawyers but at the general public.

It seems that ones you pay the licence fee, everyone living in your home is covered, except other people who rent a room within your home; they need their own license. You are covered when you are away from home, so you are allowed to use iPlayer. There are exceptions, for example students who live in a second home.

That only allows you watching iPlayer within the UK for on demand streamed or for live programs. If you go abroad, you are allowed to record programs onto your device in the UK, and then watch abroad. So it is indeed not legal to watch streamed programs through iPlayer in France (but legal in the UK, assuming you have a TV license in the first place). How much legal responsibility a restaurant would have, for example, is not clear to me. And obviously providing video streams has some amount of cost, so the restaurant wouldn't like this even if legal.

After thinking about it, the BBC could probably easily go after the customer who streams BBC videos in France, assuming that customer has a UK license, but probably wouldn't be able to go after the restaurant.

  • 1
    providing video streams has some amount of cost - if this was a factor, it would mention "online streaming", not explicitly iPlayer - no mention of Netflix/Prime/Disney+/etc
    – fdomn-m
    Feb 13, 2023 at 11:39

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