A nonprofit group called Locast has been offering users live streams to local broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. It was perfect for cable cord-cutters who wanted to watch their NCIS without waiting for the new season to appear on Hulu. It was also convenient for any streamer who didn’t want to sign up for 17 independent streaming services or didn’t want to get caught in the middle of carriage disputes like the one happening between DirecTV and CBS.
The service started in New York City and expanded to other cities from there. Normally, rebroadcasting other network’s shows without their permission would violate copyright law, as demonstrated by Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed startup that charged users $8 a month to beam TV signals directly to their computers, claiming it was a fair use of the copyrighted material. The Supreme Court disagreed, though, and in 2014, the service subsequently shut down.
Locast learned from Aereo’s mistakes by making use of an exemption in copyright law that lets nonprofits retransmit broadcasts to the public. As Fast Company reported back in January, Locast appeared to be legal, although that theory had never been tested in court—until now.
Today, the four major U.S. broadcast networks teamed up to file a lawsuit against Locast. Interestingly, they don’t seem to make a copyright argument but instead focus on Locast’s status as a nonprofit. The networks accuse Locast of presenting itself as a nonprofit “Robin Hood of television,” (does that make them the Prince John of television? And their lawyers the Sheriff of Nottingham of television?), but actually having “decidedly commercial purposes,” Deadline reports.
The networks argue that Locast gathers customer data to advance commercial purposes. Those commercial purposes allegedly include working with Dish and AT&T, which owns DirecTV, to circumvent contracts. As Deadline notes, earlier this year, AT&T donated $500,000 to Locast (it is a nonprofit, after all). It has also been recommending Locast to its subscribers during its ongoing carriage dispute with CBS, which surely ticked off CBS. Similarly, Dish Network, which is arguing with Fox-owned regional sports networks, is sending viewers to Locast.
Now the networks have filed suit in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, with the hope of blocking Locast’s streams of local signals.
In a statement, Locast insisted that it is a legal nonprofit service and said it looks forward to defending those claims. You can read the full statement below:
Our statement on today’s news about the Big Network’s lawsuit against us. pic.twitter.com/N5ZRaheT9C
— Locast (@LocastOrg) July 31, 2019