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Locast Shuts Down Free Online Access to TV Following Copyright Battle

A federal judge initially backed ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC on their allegations of copyright infringement.

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Photo: Tim Boyle / Staff (Getty Images)

Things are looking grim for Locast, a streaming service that once provided free online access to broadcast TV stations. A federal judge just sided with the Big Four broadcast networks in a lawsuit that accused the nonprofit of copyright infringement.

Locast suspended operations immediately following a ruling by U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton on Wednesday during which he granted a motion brought by ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC to dismiss Locast’s defense of its service as exempt from liability under existing copyright law. In that defense, Locast had argued that that law, which was enacted in 1976, makes exceptions for secondary transmissions by nonprofit organizations, so long as they receive no “commercial advantage” and decline to charge users except for what’s “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

Stanton ruled that Locast’s conduct fell outside of that exemption specifically because the nonprofit had used payments from viewers for its own commercial advantage—specifically to fund its expansion into new markets. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Locast had run ads every 15 to 20 minutes during its programming to ask viewers for donations of up to $5 per month, which it had used to to help keep the service running.

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“Since portions of its user payments fund Locast’s expansion, its charges exceed those ‘necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service,’ which is the only exemption granted in Section 111 (a) (5),” Stanton wrote in his order Tuesday.

In a message emailed to users on Thursday, Locast said that while it disagreed with the ruling that had been handed down, it had no choice but to go dark as a result of the decision.

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“As a nonprofit, 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,” the company wrote.

Locast, which launched in 2018, had sought to stream local TV stations to users who did not have access to a cable or satellite TV service. The streaming service had been available in 36 local markets across the U.S., which had reached a combined total of more than half the country’s population.