Free TV Streaming Service ‘Locast’ Fights Back Against Major Broadcasters With Countersuit

Locast, the free New York-based service that streams broadcast television feeds online, on Sept. 27 filed a lawsuit against NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC, alleging the major broadcasts colluded to undermine its business, among other claims.

The service claims to have about 700,000 registered users/donors across 13 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, N.Y., is counter litigation against against a civil complaint filed by broadcasters in July against Locast and its non-profit advocacy group Sports Fans Coalition NY parent, alleging the platform violated the content copyrights and revenue streams from pay-TV distributors.

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Locast founder David Goodfriend, in his countersuit, claims the networks colluded to put pressure on pay-TV operators in an effort to undermine his business model.

Under federal law, broadcasters must make their signals available to the public through a digital antennae. But pay-TV operators pay networks retransmission fees to distribute their signals.

Locast, as a non-profit, argues it merely acts as a “signal booster.”

“This is classic copyright abuse,” read the complaint. “[Networks] have misused copyrights to expand their market power beyond what those copyrights were intended to protect.”

Unique to the case is the fact Locast has received funding from major media companies such as AT&T ($500,000), which owns WarnerMedia, and Google’s YouTube.

The suit alleges the networks threatened YouTube with litigation if it enabled Locast to operate on its servers.

Yet, when AT&T’s DirecTV satellite distributor and U-verse pay-TV channel had a retransmissions fee dispute with CBS this summer, it directed its 6.5 million subs blacked out from CBS content to use Locast.

Indeed, Dish Network offers the Locast app to its satellite and Sling TV subs as alternative on its AirTV devices.

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.