Locast loses legal battle against ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox

Locast, the streaming service that offers live access to local broadcast channels, has been dealt an unfortunate blow in a copyright infringement lawsuit by the four major U.S. broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Deadline reports that a judge has thrown out Locast’s claim that it is legally exempt from copyright infringement. The judge denied Locast’s motion for summary judgment, which would have kept it from going to trial against the broadcast networks.

This isn’t the end of the road for Locast, but it’s certainly not good since the next step is a trial against all four major broadcast networks in the U.S. Locast has been streaming local broadcast networks to its users, without permission from broadcasters, for several years by claiming it is protected by an old U.S. copyright law. The law states that a non-profit organization, which Locast is, may redistribute broadcast channels as long as the organization has physical over-the-air antennas in the areas that it services, which Locast does.

Locast debuted on Fire TV devices in early 2019 with support for 9 U.S. cities. That number has since increased to 36 cities and their surrounding neighborhoods. The Locast app streams channels for free but interupts the stream every 5-15 minutes with a request to donate. A donation of $5 or more per month removes the interuption entirely.

It is that recurring donation that allowed the judge to refuse Locast’s exemption claim, stating that Locast “made far more money from user charges than was necessary to defray its costs of maintaining and operating its service,” which is a requirement for the exemption. It probably didn’t help matters that Locast is, reportedly, partially backed by AT&T and Dish Network. Sling TV, which is owned by Dish Network, does not have a deal to stream the four major broadcast channels and, instead, integrates with Locast for those channels and pushes the service in the Sling TV app.

If you use Locast, enjoy it while you can. Given that it looks like the case is going to trial, the result probably isn’t going to be good for Locast or its customers.

27 comments
  1. Russ says:

    Interesting, I was wondering how they got by with re transmitting the locals. It’s amazing, the idea’s people come up with, and then the big money that follows, at least for a while!

    • Dave says:

      They are a non-profit. Their books are subject to careful scrutiny. There is no “big money” chasing with them. There is money involved, sure, but they legitimately use that money to expand the service to more users. I honestly believe they are a legitimate service, and have a strong argument under the law in question.

      The judge’s finding in this particular ruling is nitpicking and petty. Any broadcast translator that receives more funds than it needs for immediate operations is of course going to use that to improve its operations. In the bad old days, and RF-based broadcaster would have used it to improve the power of their transmitter, or beef up their antennas. How is this any different?

  2. Nicholas Cannon says:

    Wish the big networks were required to provide broadcast free through an app locally since antennas don’t always work. It’s a safety issue and they still make money from the ads.

  3. Y2Bogus says:

    Since these networks are out there for free for people with antennas, what is their issue with streaming?

    • Dave says:

      Because they charge cable companies a per-user fee to retransmit their signal. If an ip-based relay is considered a valid “broadcast translator” under existing law, then they risk losing that extra revenue, which presumably has been propping up their business model as advertisers move to other platforms.

  4. Chris says:

    I don’t understand why anyone wants to eat into data caps on internet service for channels one can get with an antenna. Throw in a HDhomerun tuner and it works on the FireTV.

  5. TechyChris says:

    Saw this coming, with their shady “non-profit donations” Never bought into it. This is the same thing Aereo TV tried to get away with a few years back. Though the technology and execution differed, the end result was the same: Illegally rebroadcasting copyrighted television programs.

  6. Doug Freshner says:

    suggest maybe the point is being missed …the cable operators are the ones who are charging the end user who do not have antenna access to the free channels… they are the enablers who are charging for services that others cannot receive thru a antenna thats right they charge for FREE CONTENT….locast shot it self in the foot it says here … force tuning its customers to its donation page every 15 minutes was annoying and almost seemed like it was the price you had to PAY (full disclosure I am a user of their service) even pbs and other public media services fund raise in less obtrusive manners
    locast made it seem like it was a obligation to donate …. In the end they could not convivence they were not in it for the money….just a thought

    • Red says:

      You are wrong. The content is NOT free to the cable cos. They pay hefty and ever rising fees to the “locals” for the ability to retransmit.

      • Doug Freshner says:

        Sir I am not wrong the content is free if you have a antenna you pay nothing!!! one more time they (cable cos. satellite etc )have to pay retransmission fees (to said locals ) because they (cable companies sat guys) charge their customers for the service thats free to anyone with a antenna!!! …so for charging for what is ostensibly free the cable operators had to pay the copyright owners ….. if said cable operators or satellite where not to charge their customers for the locals programming then the copy right owners would not deserve any money for a service they charge NO ONE ELSE for ….what a cozy little plan that only works for them…

        • Red says:

          Again, you are wrong. If the cable companies said that they won’t charge for “local” channels (not for profit?) they would still not be given permission to retransmit without paying the “locals” a fee. The cable cos can pay for permission or not retransmit, no other option. This could change but only via changes to current law/legislation. Of course hell could freeze over and the “locals” could decide not to demand a retransmission fee. Unlikely

        • Red says:

          They may not “deserve any money” yet they can and do and there is nothing cable cos can do about it in the current legislated construct of laws governing this. Very cozy for big media and no one else.

          • Doug Freshner says:

            RED I will not insult you and tell you again that you are still not correct ..there is no LAW that says a cable company has to charge for their (so called) Broadcast tier …you only need to provide a retransmission fee if you are charging for the service …no one can make you or anyone pay for a service thats FREE (unless you want to donate ) … YOU DO NOT NEED PERMISSION TO RETRANSMITT A FREE SIGNAL IF YOU ARE NOT CHARGING ANYONE …..THERE is no legal construct that allows for that type of usery …either your service is free or its not ..if someone is profiting off of your efforts then you have the right to be compensated…however if your service is free to the public in a certain geo. area and if I or anyone (THIRD PARTY) attempts to/or charge for that service .. then you would be well within your rights to be compensated for same and the law would back that up ..not so in this case particularly when the bcast right were bestowed upon bcaster(local) for free by the public ….. i must admit i do enjoy chopping it out with you

            retransmit it for no charge you cannot force them to pay you

          • Red says:

            Publicly built out systems tried that Doug and failed, in court. Including arguments re coat of the buildout. Your theories do not translate into real world.

  7. Red says:

    No donation ask interruptions for now. Email from locast below:

    “Locast Nation

    As you probably know, the federal district court in the Southern District of New York issued a ruling in the case brought against Locast by the big media companies. The court concluded that by interrupting programming to ask users for donations, and by suspending those interruptions based on whether a user makes contributions, Locast actually was charging a fee, not merely seeking a voluntary contribution. The court then concluded that revenues Locast collects in this manner exceed the cost of operating the service because funds are used to add new markets, rendering Locast ineligible to use the copyright exemption for non-profits (17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5)).

    Although we disagree with this interpretation and are exploring our legal options to contest it, out of respect for the court’s order,

    Locast is suspending immediately all programming interruptions to request donations.

    This means that anyone located in a market we serve who signs up for Locast will get the service without interruption, regardless of whether or not they donate.

    Of course, it is up to you whether or not to contribute to Locast. But if you currently contribute, we humbly request that you continue to do so. And if you don’t contribute, we hope that you will do so if you can afford it.

    Thank you.”

  8. Red says:

    This case (like aereo) will go all the way to SCOTUS if they choose to hear it. David Goodfriend is no lightweight, then again neither was Diller.

  9. TechyChris says:

    A stop-gap measure but as Elias pointed out the uphill battle Locast really faces is legal costs. Cases like this go on forever and attorney fees can be millions (and millions) of dollars. It doesn’t matter who is in the right and who is in the wrong. They will eventually run out of cash, go bankrupt and disappear in the wind… in the end the only winner will be the law firm that represented them.

    • Red says:

      Have you read up on Mr. Goodfriend and sports fan coalition (& their countersuit)? They are in it for the long haul and have the resources & knowledge of “the system”. They may go away but it won’t be anytime soon.

      • Doug Freshner says:

        it says here that as long as they (locast) are making money or there is some indicator that they are irrespective of their knowledge acumen guile or otherwise …the copyright holders will do everything thats available to protect the wonderful protected economic niche they and the cable satellite folks have carve out for themselves at the expense of people who dont have antenna access to FREE services …..follow who is making the money ..who is paying … who is not

    • c ag says:

      Yes.
      That is I think a common strategy.
      The “big guns” no matter who, the networks in this case, have hordes of lawyers on a permanent payroll and can drag this out purposely,indefinitely, until Locast has to throw in the towel for legal expenses reasons.

    • c ag says:

      Yes.
      That is, I think, a common strategy.
      The “big guns” no matter who, the networks in this case, have hordes of lawyers on a permanent payroll and can drag this out purposely,indefinitely, until Locast has to throw in the towel for legal expenses reasons.
      All they wanted to do was get it to trial, which will likely never occur.

      • Red says:

        The hoards of media lawyers had to go all the way to SCOTUS in Aereo case. I think that Goodfriend and company have the resources to do the same should they choose to.
        Aereo case is interesting study for law students these days. The Simone Biles level legal gymnastics that were gone through to validate the decision without invalidating betamax decision is absolutely Olympic level distortion.

  10. spiffyone says:

    Update: they’ve suspended operations as of today (Sept. 2, 2021):

    “We are suspending operations, effective immediately

    As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately.”

  11. Doug Freshner says:

    SHOT THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT …..now they are gone at least (temporary) note to next group …know the problem ….know what it is your solution solves …. if your a not for profit act like it …. when you take a 500,000 donation from one of the broadcaster (copyright holder) big customers …there is going to be a reaction …..force tuning your customers every 15 mins. and asking/demanding a contribution clearly does not mimic the fundraising techniques of other media not for profits …knee jerk reaction we are now going to stop the interruptions (after judge ruling?) wtf?… case study time ….just a thought btw great topic

  12. Rik Emmett says:

    I would think that if Locast took in more money than they needed to operate, the judge would just order them to issue a refund to the customers instead of shutting down the whole business.

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