Networks Sue Online TV Service for Copyright Infringement

Major broadcasters Disney-owned ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC Universal have filed a lawsuit against an upstart online TV service offering free over-the-air digital TV service.

The suit — filed July 31 in U.S. District Court in New York — alleges Locast owner, New York-based non-profit advocacy group Sports Fans Coalition NY, violates broadcaster copyrights streaming content to users for free.

The suit is similar to 2013 litigation brought by studios against Aereo, the defunct OTT service that transmitted digital signals to subscribers via over-the-air antennas.

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The litigation also pits broadcasters against AT&T, which owns and operates WarnerMedia — although the telecom is not party to the lawsuit.

Aereo, unlike Locast, charged subscribers for access. The latter asks users for a $5 monthly donation. AT&T last month gave Locast a $500,000 donation.

“This donation will support SFCNY’s mission to make free broadcast content available to consumers and offer them more choice,” AT&T said in a statement.

Broadcast plaintiffs aren’t buying the charity.

“Locast is not a public service devoted to viewers whose reception is affected by tall buildings,” read the complaint. “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.”

Locast counters its service provides a free, public service retransmitting free over-the-air broadcasts permitted under the Copyright Act of 1976.

“We look forward to defending the claims — and the public’s right to receive transmissions broadcast over the airwaves — in the litigation,” Locast lawyer David Hosp told Consumer Reports.

Broadcasters disagree.

“Locast is simply Aereo 2.0, a business built on illegally using broadcaster content,” read the suit. “While it pretends to be a public service without any commercial purpose, Locast’s marketing and deep connections to AT&T and Dish make clear that it exists to serve its pay-TV patrons.”

Plaintiffs are seeking unspecified financial damages, including Locast’s profits, in addition to “maximum statutory” damages.

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