A federal judge overseeing a copyright infringement case brought by the four big broadcast networks issued a permanent injunction this week that bars Locast from operating its streaming service for the foreseeable future.
The order issued on Thursday opens the door for Locast to appeal an earlier decision in which District Judge Louis Stanton rejected the streaming service’s affirmative defense and denied its motion for summary judgment against the broadcast networks.
In that decision, Stanton said Locast acted beyond the scope of certain exemptions of the U.S. Copyright Act by using excess donation revenue to expand its service into new markets.
Locast, a registered not-for-profit, offered major broadcast networks and some digital-only channels in three dozen markets over the Internet. The service quickly found a following, with more than 3 million customers using the service to stream their local ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS stations, among others.
Unlike cable and satellite companies, Locast chose not to reach re-transmission agreements with the broadcast networks or local station owners, citing an exemption in the U.S. Copyright Act that allowed not-for-profits to act as “secondary transmitters” of broadcast signals.
Locast did not charge users, though it did interrupt live feeds of its streams until a customer paid at least $5 a month to support its operating costs.
In an opinion first reported by Fierce Video last month, Stanton said the donation scheme amounted to a cable-like charge on users.
One day after the judge denied Locast’s request for summary judgment, the service said it would stop interrupting the live feeds of non-paying customers. Less than 24 hours after that move, Locast announced it was suspending its operations indefinitely.
Last year, the broadcasters and Locast signed an agreement that said if Stanton found the streaming service to fall outside the scope of the Copyright Act’s exemptions, “the Court should immediately enter a permanent injunction barring [the defendants]…from operating Locast.”
Locast still has the right to request a stay of the injunction, though it was not clear if the service would do that as of Friday morning. David Goodfriend, the founder and CEO of Sports Fans Coalition New York, the parent company of Locast, told the New York Times he will appeal the judge’s earlier decision.
“Locast always was meant to be a public service for people who want to watch their local broadcast TV stations, can’t get them over the air, and can’t afford expensive cable, satellite or streaming services,” Goodfriend told the newspaper. “Locast showed that millions of Americans fit that category. They deserve something better than the status quo.”
Locast has the support of the Electronics Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group that routinely provides advocacy and legal defense resources in lawsuits involving new technology.
“The ruling…does the opposite of what Congress intended,” two EFF officials wrote earlier this month. “It threatens people’s access to local news and vital information during a global pandemic and a season of unprecedented natural disasters…it treats copyright law not as an engine of innovation benefiting the public but a moat protecting the privileged positions of the four giant broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.”
The broadcast networks see things differently.
“The federal court’s ruling is a victory for copyright law, vindicating our claim that Locast is illegally infringing copyrights in broadcast television content in violation of federal law,” Gerson Zweifach, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case, said in a competing statement.