Advanced Television

EFF joins Locast defence team

March 31, 2020

By Colin Mann

Digital civil liberties advocacy body the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has joined the legal team defending Sports Fans Coalition NY (SFCNY), the non-profit organisation that runs Locast, a free, local TV streaming service facing copyright infringement claims by broadcast giants ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.

Locast enables TV viewers to receive local over-the-air programming—which broadcasters must by law make available for free—using set-top boxes, smartphones, or other devices of their choice. Locast is available in 17 metro areas and has more than one million users, including people who can’t get local channels through an antenna or can’t afford a pay-TV subscription.

The four broadcast giants filed suit against Locast in 2019, a year and a half after Locast launched, claiming it violates their copyrights in programming. But Locast clams it is protected by an exemption to copyright law, put in place by Congress, that allows non-profits to retransmit broadcast TV so communities can access independent, local stations offering news,  foreign-language programming and local sports. It contends that there is no infringement if non-profits make non-commercial transmission of copyrighted works, using donations to cover their costs.

“Broadcast TV is a vital source of local news and cultural programming for millions of people which matters now more than ever because of Covid-19,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “But some broadcasters want to use copyright law to control when, where, and how people can receive their local TV broadcasts, and force people to buy expensive pay-TV services just to get their local news and sports.”

EFF joins the case as co-counsel alongside law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. EFF has a long history fighting what it sees as copyright abuse and defending innovation that benefits the public. It claims that broadcast giants, which already reap billions from charging users for programming, are attempting to use their copyrights to maintain market power and force consumers to pay for programming that’s supposed to be free.

“EFF has worked for many years to defend people’s right to access and use content with the devices and technologies of their choice,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “Defending Locast’s ability to stream local TV broadcasts using the Copyright Act’s non-profit provision is part of that goal.”

“I am grateful beyond words to EFF for representing our non-profit and the consumers who rely on Locast,” said SFCNY Chairman and Locast founder David Goodfriend.  “Especially during the Covid-19 crisis, when Americans need emergency news and information from their local broadcasters, and when so many of our fellow Americans are suffering economically, Locast provides a critical public service.”

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