The four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) have emerged victorious in a major legal ruling against Locast. On Tuesday, a New York federal court granted partial summary judgement to broadcasters in the high-profile copyright case.
Locast is a digital app that live streams over-the-air television stations without a cable or satellite TV subscription. Locast currently covers roughly 55% of the US population and operates in 36 markets. New markets are being added just about every month. Locast has a few million users.
The operators of Locast have presented their streaming service to the public for “free.” Under § 111(a)(5) of the Copyright Act, a nonprofit organization is allowed to operate a secondary transmission service. The major broadcast networks are arguing that Locast steals the local TV streams and that Locast is not exempt from copyright infringement.
Locast claims that is exempt from liability because it only seeks donations, not fees, from users, and only enough to keep the business running. A judge has ruled against Locast’s claim that the minimum $5 monthly fee is categorized as “merely a recurring gift to a charitable cause.” The judge stated that Locast, “…still solicits, and receives, substantial amounts in charges from recipients for its uninterrupted service.”
Locast’s legal Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued a statement regarding the ruling:
“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.”
While the ruling deals a major blow to Locast, the case is not quite over yet. The case may still go to trial regarding the company’s ultimate liability for copyright infringement. We will keep you updated on any major updates regarding this situation.