Locast Suspends Operations Following Court Ruling In Favor Of TV Networks
Following a preliminary federal district court ruling in New York this week against local broadcast TV internet re-transmission service Locast’s counter copyright infringement claims, the service announced Thursday that it has suspended indefinitely its TV redistribution operations.
In a terse communication to donor/users this morning, Locast stated:
“As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately.”
Locast is a non-profit streaming television service that allows users to view live streams of over-the-air television stations in local markets without the need of an antenna. These free-to-air broadcast signals were sourced from antennas by Locast in each market it served and relayed via a video streaming app to viewers.
The service was intended to help local viewers who did not have access to an antenna, could not receive signals with antennas in their area or couldn’t afford or didn’t want to pay steep fees for cable/satellite/telco TV packages to view their otherwise free local TV stations available over public VHF/UHF spectrum.
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Locast’s announcement followed by several hours another communication from the streaming service that said it was ending its practice of continually interrupting programming with requests for donations that required viewers to agree to a $5.50 monthly “contribution” to avoid having to go through aggravating restarts to get back to the live program.
This came after a federal district court in the Southern District of New York on Monday issued a ruling in a copyright infringement case brought against Locast by several national broadcast networks, seeking to stop the service from allegedly violating their copyrights.
Locast had sought to test the law by claiming its non-profit status allowed it serve free-to-air signals to the public they are intended to reach. But the court concluded that by interrupting programming to ask users for donations, and by suspending those interruptions based on whether a user makes contributions, Locast actually was charging a fee, not merely seeking a voluntary contribution.
“The court then concluded that revenues Locast collects in this manner exceed the cost of operating the service because funds are used to add new markets, rendering Locast ineligible to use the copyright exemption for non-profits (17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5)),” Locast told its donors. “Although we disagree with this interpretation and are exploring our legal options to contest it, out of respect for the court’s order, Locast is suspending immediately all programming interruptions to request donations. This means that anyone located in a market we serve who signs up for Locast will get the service without interruption, regardless of whether or not they donate,” Locast stated.
Locast went on to “humbly request that you continue to do so. And if you don’t contribute, we hope that you will do so if you can afford it.”
The ruling against Locast was the second time an organization had unsuccessfully tested OTA broadcast copyright law to provide redistributed OTA signals to subscribers via streaming platforms.
On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against Aereo in a similar case brought by broadcast networks. Aereo, however, had charged a fee for its service that delivered OTA channels to mobile device users. The Court found that Aereo infringed upon the rights of copyright holders because it used a business model that amounted to “public performance”, which would legally require it to obtain permission from the copyright owners of any programs it transmits.
In effect, the ruling meant Aereo would have to negotiate for and pay the same re-transmission licensing fees that broadcasters charge cable and satellite TV operators. Aereo filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.
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By Greg Tarr
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