Locast, the service launched in 2018 that enables viewers to access free internet streams of local TV stations’ signals, has filed a counter-suit against ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, alleging “classic copyright abuse.”
The two sides have clashed over the service, which bills itself as a “signal booster” fully compliant with copyright laws. Broadcasters maintain it is a phony not-for-profit supported by satellite operators looking for a work-around in the increasingly pitched battles over retransmission consent. Even though broadcast signals are beamed free over the air, under laws revised in the 1990s, pay-TV operators are forced to negotiate retransmission consent, paying fees for broadcasters’ programs.
Seeing a clear threat to those fees, which have grown manifold over the years, the networks filed suit in July, seeking to shut down Locast. David Goodfriend, a former media executive and lawyer who has worked at the FCC, founded Locast and is named in the broadcast networks’ complaint.
In the Locast counter-claim, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in New York, the company calls the broadcasters’ claims “objectively baseless” and says they “constitute an unlawful sham.”
The friction with Locast recalls a previous clash between traditional TV powers and Aereo, a Barry Diller-backed startup that was beaming TV signals directly to computers and claiming fair use. That threat went by the boards in 2014 after the Supreme Court found it was violating copyright laws. The service subsequently shuttered.
“Plaintiffs have colluded to limit the reasonable public access to the over-the-air signals that they are statutorily required to make available for free,” the counter-suit asserts, “and have opted instead to use their copyrights improperly to construct and protect a pay-TV model that forces consumers to forgo over-the-air programming or to pay cable, satellite, and online providers for access to programming that was intended to be free. A large portion of the fees paid by the public is then handed over to Plaintiffs in the form of retransmission consent fees. This is classic copyright abuse.”
According to the complaint, Google warned Locast that it faced “punishment” by the big four broadcast networks if its YouTube TV streaming bundle were to offer access to Locast.