A nonprofit is bringing local broadcast television to the online masses for free, but who knows how long that will last. The organization, Sports Fans Coalition, launched the streaming site Locast.org on January 11th, letting anyone in New York City's five boroughs watch content from 15 local channels without paying a dime -- at least until the lawsuits start flying.
That's because a similar service, Aereo, tried to snag over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them as their own $8 per month subscription service. The Supreme Court deemed that illegal for violating copyright law back in 2014, and Aereo shut down. Locast may run afoul of that argument since it's technically live-broadcasting other channels' content without their approval. But it's otherwise different, only providing local channels to users in New York City, streaming content for free (though they encourage minimal donations to cover costs) and operating as a nonprofit. The Locast team believes the site performs a public service:
"You wouldn't guess it from the size of your cable or satellite bill, but over-the-air broadcast was always supposed to be free to the public. Even if you try to get that over-the-air signal using a regular indoor antenna, that often doesn't work if you live in a basement apartment or somewhere else the signal can't reach," states Locast's site. "You deserve unfettered access to your local broadcast. We're here to give it to you."
In the Sports Fans Coalition's view, Locast operates like a traditional relay station, sending over-the-air broadcast signals only to New Yorkers. David Goodfriend, cofounder of the new service, told Bloomberg that Locast should be able to legally retransmit broadcasts thanks to a part of US federal copyright law that permits nonprofits to do so without the approval of stations or owners. This section was added in the 1970s to assist folks living in places with bad reception, Bloomberg pointed out. Locast is just gathering broadcasts using an antenna in Long Island and retransmitting them online.
Goodfriend is a law professor at Georgetown, former executive at Dish Network and was a legal adviser to the FCC. In fact, while there, he urged the agency to eliminate a rule barring local broadcasting of NFL games that weren't sold out, Bloomberg reported: In other words, he's not walking into this issue blindly, and 'expects an angry call from lawyers at CBS or NBC any day now.'