On Wednesday, four Major Broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC have filed a copyright lawsuit against free TV streaming app Locast. It is a much-hyped New York-based digital app that streams over-the-air television stations. In the lawsuit, the four major broadcasters allegedly say that Locast violates their copyrights by retransmitting their programming without permission and compensation.
Likening it to Aereo, the TV retransmission startup that shut down in 2014 as the result of a similar lawsuit. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news of the complaint. The lawsuit against Locast, which recently earned a $500,000 donation from AT&T, figures to become a follow-up to the Supreme Court’s Aereo decision in 2014 and could influence the future of cord-cutting.
Gerson Zweifach, who is a partner at Williams & Connolly representing ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in the lawsuit, commented about the filing, “Locast is simply Aereo 2.0, a business built on illegally using broadcaster content, We are confident that like Aereo before it, Locast will be found in violation of the law and shut down.” The streaming app does not charge for the streaming access, instead, it encourages users to make donations in order to keep the service running.
Locast was founded by David Goodfriend, a former Dish executive who also once worked at the Federal Communications Commission. Since its launch, Locast has attracted tens of thousands of users, most users who have canceled cable service and are looking to supplement streaming subscriptions with local stations delivering news and live sports. Goodfriend has been a daring major broadcast to sue, he along with the Sports Fans Coalition are hoping a court will bless his service based on an exemption in the 1976 Copyright Act adopted to support nonprofit services.
“Locast is nothing like the local booster services contemplated by Congress in creating this narrow exemption,” states the complaint filed in New York federal court. “Locast is not a public service devoted to viewers whose reception is affected by tall buildings. Nor is Locast acting for the benefit of consumers who, according to Locast when promoting its purportedly free service, ‘pay too much.’ Locast is not the Robin Hood of television; instead, Locast’s founding, funding, and operations reveal its decidedly commercial purposes.”
However, the broadcasters have insisted upon the license to retransmit copyright television programming. Otherwise, such retransmission of content violates their public performance rights. After months of speculations, the broadcasters would go after Locast in court and risk publicizing the upstart app by doing so, the broadcasters target Goodfriend’s argument that his tech service is exempt from copyright liability.
The free TV streaming app can be accessed in 13 metropolitan areas, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. The service is available through mobile apps as well as on streaming devices like Roku and Fire TV. It frequently asks viewers for donations to cover its operating costs. AT&T added the Locast app to DirecTV and U-verse set-top boxes back in May and has contributed funding to the service. Because this level of integration seems a step too far for the networks.
This situation is somehow similar to that of Aereo, a paid subscription service that provided access to the big four broadcast networks. But Aereo’s defense was different as it gave every subscriber their own mini-antenna and insisted this strategy adhered to the law.