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Locast, the streaming-TV nonprofit sued by media giants, suspends service

eddygates1 | September 2, 2021

Boy in front of a broken TV playing static

Broadcasters sued Locast, a nonprofit TV-streaming startup.

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Locast — a small, nonprofit service that streamed over-the-air channels free online to more than 3 million US customers — is suspending operations immediately, the company said Thursday, just a day after its lawyer said the company “remains committed to its mission” following a court setback. 

“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,” Locast said in its statement Thursday. 

The four big broadcasters in the US — Disney‘s ABC, CBS, Fox and Comcast‘s NBCUniversal — have been suing Locast over copyright infringement. The media giants scored a legal victory over Locast Tuesday when A New York federal judge’s order essentially undermined Locast’s main legal defense. 

Locast, which grabs over-the-air channels and makes them available to stream, was seen by many as the spiritual successor to Aereo. A for-profit streaming service that offered consumers livestreams of broadcast channels for a paid monthly subscription seven years ago, Aereo arrived at the height of broadcasters’ anxiety about cord-cutting and consumers forsaking them for streaming services. The media giants sued Aereo as well, and in 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo was illegal, leading to its demise. 

One difference between the cases, however, was Locast’s nonprofit status. Locast streams live channels free with sporadic interruptions soliciting donations; users who donate have uninterrupted streams. US copyright law has allowed certain nonprofit institutions to grab over-the-air TV signals and retransmit them to nonpaying viewers, such as a university setting up an antenna that can retransmit to students in its dorms. Aereo, as a for-profit company, used a different, technological loophole when it argued its service was legal. 

But Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton ruled in a summary judgment that Locast’s fundraising from donations, and then using some of those funds to expand into new markets, meant that it didn’t meet the definition of a nonprofit that would be exempt from copyright law. 

After the order Wednesday, Locast lawyer David Hosp, said in a statement that Locast “remains committed to its mission of delivering free, local broadcast TV service to all Americans.” A lawyer for the networks said that with the broadcasters’ legal victory, they would pursue a permanent injunction to halt Locast’s service. 

Locast didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the suspension of operations was temporary or permanent, nor whether it would continue fighting the broadcaster’s suit while the service is offline. 

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