September 2, 2021
Locast, a non-profit organization founded by lawyer and former FCC legal advisor David Goodfriend, streamed local TV to those who couldn’t access local signals, declaring that U.S. copyright law allows third parties to boost local signals. Major broadcasters ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX disputed that claim, believing that Locast simply wanted to avoid carriage fees, and have now won a court battle finding that Locast violated their copyrights. The court also stated that Locast cannot use its non-profit status as a defense against further action.
Engadget reports, “the court found that Locast’s policy of expanding into new markets runs contrary to the aim of a non-profit, where cash should be used to cover running costs only.” Judge Louis Stanton said Locast’s $5 per month “donation” was used to pay for further expansion and was “far more money from user charges than was necessary.” Also harming Locast’s cause were TV providers in carriage disputes citing Locast as “a way of still accessing that content.”
Locast called the court ruling “disappointing,” pointing out that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stated that the “court interpreted the law in an artificially-narrow way … [adding that] over three 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.”
EFF stated that, “this ruling threatens their access to local news and vital information during a global pandemic” and that the ruling “treats copyright law not as an engine of progress but a moat protecting the most privileged.”
Deadline reports that the broadcast networks “asked a judge to throw out Locast’s claim that its online service is legally exempt from copyright infringement liability because it only seeks donations, not fees, from users, and only enough to keep its business running.” With a minimum $5 donation, Locast provided a “monthlong uninterrupted service,” but the judge would not recognize that as “merely a recurring gift to a charitable cause.”
Instead, he said that Locast “still solicits, and receives, substantial amounts in charges from recipients for its uninterrupted service.” He also noted that”Locast has also been expanding into new markets” and that “under the statute, income made from charges to recipients can only be used to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the service, not of expanding it into new markets.”