And another one bites the dust. Locast, a service that gathered local terrestrial television signals to stream them over the internet, has been felled by the lawers of said TV stations and their owners. The service had streaming apps on every major platform, including Android and Android TV, now unceremoniously shut down.
Locast, a portmanteau of local and broadcast, got its start more than two years ago. It gathered over-the-air signals from most of the major TV markets in America, then streamed them to mobile and TV devices, checking that the user had the right to view them by accessing location data. It was free to use and operated as a non-profit, but did ask users for donations with periodic interruptions to the service. While not especially hi-fidelity, the service included a full digital guide and easy access. It was extremely convenient, especially for those who lived in said markets but couldn’t receive free TV because of geography or interference.
Alas, the biggest broadcasters in the US didn’t see it that way. ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC all sued Locast in 2019, claiming that its status as a non-profit did not protect it from copyright law, and that it wasn’t entitled to rebroadcast content without the networks’ permission. The case moved slowly (not surprising given the pandemic), but earlier this week a federal judge agreed with the networks and ordered Locast to cease operations to its 3 million+ users. The rise and fall of Locast mirrors a similar company, Aereo, which did much the same as a standard commercial business.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation assisted with Locast’s legal defense, on the basis that a Congressional exemption to copyright law applied to Locast for its rebroadcasting service, and rebuked the judge harshly. The EFF claimed that the ruling “does the opposite of what Congress intended: it threatens people’s access to local news and vital information during a global pandemic and a season of unprecedented natural disasters.” While appeals are being prepared, it seems unlikely that Locast will ride the airwaves again anytime soon.
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