Big Four Broadcasters Sue Streaming Video Provider Locast, Claim It's 'Aereo 2.0'
from the when-at-first-you-don't-succeed dept
The nation’s four biggest broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Comcast NBCUniversal and Fox) have filed suit (pdf) against a streaming video nonprofit they say is “illegally using broadcaster content.” New York based Locast offers viewers access to over the air broadcasts via the internet to roughly 13 cities (about 31% of the US market). Its website notes the operation is funded by donations and that access to this content (again, already accessible for free via an antenna) should be a consumer “right” given that US consumers technically own the airwaves these programs are broadcast over.
“Locast is simply Aereo 2.0, a business built on illegally using broadcaster content,? the lawsuit reads in part. ?While it pretends to be a public service without any commercial purpose, Locast?s marketing and deep connections to AT&T and Dish make clear that it exists to serve its pay-tv patrons.”
Aereo, you may recall, attempted to set up a bunch of cumbersome micro-TV antennas which it could then use to stream broadcast TV to paying subscribers. The company’s technical approach was intentionally designed to be arguably ridiculous in a bid to comply with the law and a number of historically just as ridiculous copyright case rulings. The Supreme Court ultimately demolished Aereo with a dubious ruling that made numerous assumptions and provided zero guidance for companies who wanted to enter the space but comply with the law.
Enter Locast. The company was developed by former FCC lawyer and media executive David Goodfriend, who, we noted previously, designed the service entirely from the ground up in a bid to try and comply with (and test the logic of) the current legal minefield. It’s funded in part by AT&T and Dish Networks. But unlike Aereo, Locast is a non-commercial entity offering access to over the air broadcasts via the internet for free. In an interesting New York Times profile piece last January (a good read to fully understand what Locast does), Goodfriend had this to say:
“We really did our homework,? he said. ?We are operating under parameters that are designed to be compliant within the law.”
Of course Aereo also thought it had designed a system that would comply with the nation’s muddy laws on this subject, and yet here we are. Goodfriend (quite correctly) notes that the public technically owns the airwaves and that initially, over the air broadcasts were designed as a free, public good, something that’s been lost in a mad scramble for cash in the years since:
“Our society got way over-commercialized in the ?40s and ?50s, when media policy was being hammered out,? he said. ?As a result, we don?t have stuff for the public anymore.?
?The American people have given you something really valuable, the airways, for free,? he said, talking about the broadcasters, his eyes popping at the word ?free.? Slowing down for emphasis, he added: ?So shouldn?t we get something back for free? Which is great television. That?s the social contract, right?”
The difference being that Goodfriend designed Locast after teaching the Aereo case to law students at Georgetown. It’s built from the ground up with a solid understanding of what happened to Aereo, and the expectation that the operation would likely be sued. Whether that matters of course will depend entirely on the Judges that hear the case. The lawsuit leans heavily on the claim that because AT&T and Dish have helped fund the project, it’s little more than a ruse to help some companies avoid paying retransmission fees (ignoring that both companies pay these fees to stream this content via other services already).
This should be a very interesting one to watch.