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Locast Loses Major Ruling in Fight Against Broadcasters

(Image credit: Locast)

It appears Locast might suffer the same legal fate as the broadcast signal streaming service that preceded it a decade ago, Aereo.

A New York federal court on Tuesday threw out Locast's argument that it's exempt from copyright infringement liability because it's a nonprofit.

“Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment is granted. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is denied,” wrote Judge Louis Stanton of the Southern District of New York in a ruling Tuesday.

The four biggest broadcasters, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, are suing Locast, which takes feeds from local stations and streams them in a service that festoons users with ads — unless they pay at least $5 a month in the form of what it calls a charitable donation.  

Judge Stanton, however, refused to buy the notion that the payment is “merely a recurring gift to a charitable cause.” Locast “still solicits, and receives, substantial amounts in charges from recipients for its uninterrupted service," he said.

"The federal court’s ruling is a victory for copyright law, vindicating our claim that Locast is illegally infringing copyrights in broadcast television content in violation of federal law. We will now seek a permanent injunction to stop Locast’s copyright infringement of the programming that the broadcasters and their partners work to create," said Gerson Zweifach, counsel for the plaintiffs.

"We are disappointed in the ruling today and disagree with its conclusions and reasoning," said Locast's attorney, R. David Hosp, in a statement. "Our client is in the process of evaluating the decision and formulating next steps. Locast provides a valuable service to its over 3 million users who are otherwise unable to access the over-the-air broadcasts to which they are entitled by virtue of their location or economic circumstances.  Our client remains committed to its mission of delivering free, local broadcast TV service to all Americans, and particularly for those consumers who can’t afford pay-TV services like cable, satellite, or streaming, or who can’t get their local broadcast channels using an over-the-air antenna."

Added the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "We are disappointed that the court ruled against Locast on its copyright defense. The court interpreted the law in an artificially narrow way. Congress wrote copyright’s nonprofit retransmission exception to make sure that every American has access to their local broadcast stations, and expanding access is exactly what Locast does. This ruling that nonprofit retransmitters can’t use viewer contributions to expand access will do the opposite of what Congress intended. Over 3 million people use Locast to access local TV, including many who can’t afford cable and can’t pick up their local stations with an antenna. This ruling threatens their access to local news and vital information during a global pandemic and a season of unprecedented natural disasters. And it treats copyright law not as an engine of progress but a moat protecting the privileged position of the four giant broadcasting networks."

Nine years ago, startup Aereo was shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its attempt to do largely the same thing — stream local broadcast stations in a subscription streaming bundle. 

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!