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The Office Depot retail chain yesterday submitted a High Court petition asking to be exempted from paying license fees on the television sets it holds as stock in its stores across the country.

A spokesman for the company admitted that the law requires any household or business in which there is a television set to pay a license fee to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but insisted that unless the television is ready for use, it should not be subject to the fee. In the case of Office Depot, the company claims that the sets in question are still in their original packaging and are not connected to the any power supply.

The attorneys representing Office Depot claim that the word "possession," which appears in the text of the law, has never been accurately defined by the IBA. The petitioners claim that the IBA's interpretation of this problematic word - that even a household in which the television is not in use must pay the license fee -is the most extreme and unreasonable interpretation of the letter of the law.

Office Depot says it was asked to pay the license fee retroactively for the six years to 2002 - over NIS 50,000 for around 250 television sets in the company's various outlets. Last year, when the company's CEO, Tzachi Fishbein, told the IBA that he refused to pay, the televisions were confiscated until the debt was paid.

The IBA is currently demanding a payment of NIS 11,000 for 2003. Fishbein says that thus far, he has refrained from "getting into a quarrel with the IBA," preferring simply to pay the license fee. Now, however, he says that it is a matter of principle, and that since the IBA has not responded to his entreaties, he had no choice but to ask the High Court to intervene.

Legal analysts believe that this case could set a precedent for private citizens who do not use the television set in their homes.

Asked for her comments on the case, IBA spokeswoman Shlomit Golan would only say that "the IBA will make its case in court."