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.

Eight Charged Operating Illegal Video Streaming Services in the U.S.

A federal grand jury in Las Vegas has returned indictments on eight individuals who allegedly operated two of the largest illegal movie streaming services in the country.

According to the indictment, Kristopher Lee Dallmann, 36; Darryl Julius Polo, aka djppimp, 36; Douglas M. Courson, 59; Felipe Garcia, 37; Jared Edward Jaurequi, aka Jared Edwards, 38; Peter H. Huber, 61; Yoany Vaillant, aka Yoany Vaillant Fajardo, 38; and Luis Angel Villarino, 40, allegedly operated an online SVOD service dubbed Jetflicks based in Las Vegas.

The service allegedly enabled subs to download and stream copyrighted movies and TV shows without consent resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in license fees and revenue-sharing.

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According to the complaint filed by Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Jetflicks boasted a content slate of more than 183,000 TV episodes.

One of the defendants, Polo, created a separate service — iStreamItAll — which had more than 115,000 TV episodes and 10,000 movies.

Polo allegedly used many of the same automated tools that Jetflicks employed to locate, download, process and store illegal content, and then quickly make those television programs and movies available on servers in Canada to ISIA subscribers for streaming and/or downloading.

The two services offered access to content for a monthly fee, with ISIA allegedly bragging it had more content than Netflix, Hulu, Vudu and Amazon Prime Video.

According to the indictment, Jetflicks allegedly obtained content from file-sharing platforms notorious for harboring pirated content, including The Pirate Bay, RARBG and Torrentz.

Using specialized  software, the defendants were able to upload and repurpose content for their own operations. Some of the movies offered by ISIA were only available theatrically.

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.

Netflix, Amazon, Hollywood Studios Seek Millions in Piracy Damages

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and several Hollywood studios are seeking default judgement regarding millions in damages from a shuttered Florida-based streaming service accused of copyright infringement.

The SVOD services and studios last year — through their Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment anti-piracy coalition — filed litigation against Set Broadcast LLC, which had marketed an online set-top device dubbed “Set TV Now” affording 260,000 subscribers access to preloaded movies and TV shows.

“Defendants market and sell subscriptions to ‘SeTVnow,’ a software application that defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” read the complaint filed last April in U.S. District Court in Central California, Western Division.

The complaint cited 51 copyrighted works illegally distribution causing more than $7.6 million in statutory damages. Defendants include Jason Labossiere, owner of Set TV, and employee Nelson Johnson.

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After reportedly hiring legal representation to answer the lawsuit, Labossiere and Johnson allegedly failed to respond to legal inquiries or pay their legal bills.

“Though the Setvnow service appears to no longer be available, Set Broadcast’s apparent cessation of its willful and flagrant infringement does not and should not prevent this court from exercising its discretion to permanently enjoin Set Broadcast from infringing plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” read the amended complaint first reported by TorrentFreek.com. “There is a significant threat of continuing irreparable injuries to plaintiffs.”

Whether Netflix & Co. see any damages paid remains to be seen. Dish Network already has a $90 million judgement against Set TV that must be paid.

A hearing on the default judgement is slated for July 29.

VidAngel Hit With $62.4 Million Damages Ruling for Copyright Infringement

A California District Court jury June 17 ruled bankrupt VidAngel must pay Disney, Warner Bros., Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, among others, $62.4 million in damages for illegally altering/filtering plaintiff’s DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies for its proprietary streaming video service.

VidAngel, based in Provo, Utah, had taken the discs and filtered out content it deemed objectionable, including nudity, profanity and violence, and then made the content available for streaming to subscribers.

“We disagree with today’s ruling and have not lessened our resolve to save filtering for families one iota,” Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel, said in a statement. “VidAngel plans to appeal the District Court ruling and explore options in the bankruptcy court. Our court system has checks and balances, and we are pursuing options on that front as well.”

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Studios in 2016 filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Vid Angel, alleging the service circumvented anti-pirating safeguards embedded on DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies.

VidAngel responded with an antitrust counter-suit, which was denied. A federal judge ordered a preliminary injunction against the service, ordering it to remove the studio movies. An appeal by VidAngel to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals failed as well.

To the studios, the issue wasn’t censorship as much as it was infringement.

“The jury today found that VidAngel acted willfully and imposed a damages award that sends a clear message to others who would attempt to profit from unlawful infringing conduct at the expense of the creative community,” studios said in a statement.

Dish Network Sues Univision Over Streaming Video Patents

Dish Network, owner/operator of online TV pioneer Sling TV, has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV broadcaster.

The suit, filed Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court in Delaware, alleges Univision’s online TV and related over-the-top video platforms – such as the $9.99 monthly Univision Now and UniMás– are using Dish’s streaming patents without a license.

In an era of OTT video, traditional pay-TV operators are scrambling to offer subscribers and consumers streaming video options – often utilizing licensed third-party technology.

Dish said it informed Univision last July that it needed to pay license fees for patents owned by Move Networks, which Dish/EchoStar acquired in 2011 for $45 million.

The software helps reduce buffering and auto-adjusts video resolution bit-rates depending upon user’s screen size and broadband connection, among other features.

With Dish and Univision currently involved in a carriage fee dispute, Dish also claims Univision offers Univision Now for less than it charges Sling TV subscribers – an allegation Univision denies.

“As we previously informed Dish, we deny that we are in violation of any of its patents. As such, we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims,” Univision said in a statement.

 

Spotify Settles $1.6 Billion Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Brought by Music Publisher Representing Tom Petty and Others

Spotify has settled a $1.6 billion IP lawsuit alleging the music subscription streaming service failed to get physical clearances and properly compensate artists, among other issues.

New York-based Spotify, which reportedly has 75 million active subscribers and 170 million monthly users, and Wixen Music Publishing – whose clients include the late Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and Rage Against the Machine – mutually agreed to dismiss the case after both sides came to an undisclosed business resolution.

In a joint statement, Wixen and Spotify said they agreed to a final dismissal of the lawsuit filed by Wixen in late 2017.

“The conclusion of that litigation is a part of a broader business partnership between the parties, which fairly and reasonably resolves the legal claims asserted by Wixen relating to past licensing of Wixen’s catalog and establishes a mutually-advantageous relationship for the future,” said the companies.

The recently enacted Music Modernization Act signed by President Trump in October hopes to negate future similar litigation by streamlining the clearance process enabling artists to get compensated more quickly by digital music services.

Notably, the legislation also meant artists and songwriters would – for the first time – receive royalties from streaming services for content recorded and published before 1972.

 

 

Parent Group Calls on Congress to Pass ‘Family Movie Act Clarification Act’ as Christmas Gift

The Parents Television Group, the longstanding censorship advocacy group founded by Christian conservatives, Dec. 5 called upon House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the “Family Movie Act Clarification Act of 2018” (H.R. 6816) before lawmakers break for the winter holidays Dec. 14.

The bill seeks to amend the “Family Entertainment and Copyright Act,” which included the “Family Home Movie Act of 2005,” enabling third-party software to edit playback of Hollywood movie DVDs containing up to 14 different categories of objectionable content.

The amended resolution seeks to include technology capable of editing streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

“With the quickly approaching end of … this session of Congress, we call on our elected leaders in Washington immediately to pass the Family Movie Act Clarification Act and present it to the President [Trump] for his signature, thereby providing an important and urgently-needed Christmas present for parents and for families,” Tim Winter, president of PTC, said in a statement.

In 2016, studios won a court decision against VidAngel, a company selling software enabling users to filter out language, nudity, violence, and other mature content from movies and TV series. The studios said the software was a form of copyright infringement.

The PTC claims 30 pro-family groups support the new bill, including Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk, Bishop Harry Jackson of ICC Churches, and Ted Baehr of Movieguide.

Winter questions studios’ motives for fighting home entertainment editing software, claiming doing so deprives the industry much-needed sales of packaged media and digital content.

“The legislation is a no-brainer,” said Winter. “It simply brings the Family Movie Act – which allows families to filter explicit content from DVDs – onto contemporary streaming media platforms used by most Americans today. The pending legislation is consistent with, and perfectly honors, the congressional intent expressed when the original measure became law in 2005.”

 

 

Redbox Says It Will Still Sell Codes to Disney Movies — Just Not the New Ones

A federal judge on Aug. 30 granted the Walt Disney Co.’s request for a preliminary injunction against Redbox selling digital codes to Disney movies.

However, the ban only applies to newer “combo pack” releases with a revised disclaimer on the package. Redbox says this means it may continue selling digital codes to earlier Disney releases such as Frozen and “Star Wars” movies.

Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney’s amended language accompanying packaged media combo retail releases (which include digital codes) sufficiently prohibits private parties from selling copyrighted content without permission.

“Because Redbox did not obtain an ownership right to any digital content when it purchased combo Packs, Disney has adequately shown that it is likely to succeed on its claim that Redbox encouraged Redbox customers to infringe Disney’s copyrights by redeeming codes in violation of the license terms set forth on the redemption sites,” Pregerson wrote.

In February, a federal court denied Disney a preliminary injunction against Redbox after the studio alleged the kiosk vendor committed copyright misuse on 19 of its most recent movies. Disney and subsidiaries Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios in April filed an amended complaint against Redbox, including changing user-guidelines on its packaged-media releases, beginning with Black Panther.

In a statement to Media Play News, Redbox said, “In a second attempt to obtain a broad injunction against Redbox regarding the sale of digital codes, Disney asked the court to retreat from its prior ruling that Disney abused its copyright on some 19 Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel titles. The court previously found that Disney’s copyrights for these titles were unenforceable against Redbox.

“Nothing disturbs that prior ruling in favor of Redbox. Redbox remains free to sell codes for those prior titles. This morning’s ruling is limited to digital codes for certain titles, like Black Panther, that contain new disclosures, but were distributed after the 19 titles listed in Disney’s complaint. Redbox has never attempted to sell, and had no plans to sell, digital codes for Black Panther. Disney, therefore, has not been damaged by Redbox’s business practices, and the ruling compels no change in Redbox’s business practices.

“The same isn’t true for Disney. In addition to having been forced to change misleading language on its packaging and its websites, Disney now must offer consumers the ability to return digital codes or combo packs for a refund if they disagree with digital license terms. In fact, the court’s order expires in 90 days unless Disney ‘clearly and prominently indicates’ that consumers can obtain a refund if they do not agree with Disney’s restrictions.

“The court’s decision once again maintains Redbox’s stance as an advocate for the consumer. We look forward to finalizing our victories in court.”

Disney is the only studio that won’t sell discs directly to Redbox, forcing the company to buy them at retail. Last year, Redbox also began offering for sale the digital codes that come with its purchased Disney discs, citing the First Sale Doctrine to federal copyright law, which provides that someone who lawfully acquires a copyrighted work is allowed to sell or dispose of it however they want. Video retailers in the early 1980s successfully argued that First Sale gave them the right to rent videocassettes they had legally purchased and pocket the rental fees.

British Man Given 16-Month Jail Term for Selling Pirated Streaming Content

A British man has been sentenced to 16 months in jail for selling streaming media devices embedded with pirated content from satellite TV operator Sky.

Warren Gleave, 51, was sentenced Aug. 16 by Burnley Crown Court in the U.K. after pleading guilty in May to violating provisions of the Fraud Act of 2006. Specifically, Gleave generated more than £200,000 over a three-year period selling pirated content on streaming devices online via Facebook Marketplace and on his website.

“This case sends a clear message that piracy, in whatever form it takes, is illegal, and the repercussions for engaging in it can be severe,” Matthew Hibbert, head of litigation at Sky, said in a statement.

The case underscores government and private sector’s increased efforts to combat video copyright infringement on social media and digital distribution.

Earlier this month, a Scottish national was fined £50,000 for selling set-top devices with subscriptions for pirated Sky movies and sports content.

“Private prosecutions are being used increasingly by rights holders, which means it is no longer just the police and other state authorities investigating and prosecuting these crimes,” said Gareth Minty, with the white-collar crime group at London-based law firm Mishcon de Reya.