Goodfriend expects an angry call from lawyers at CBS or NBC any day now.
been a week and we haven’t heard anything,” Goodfriend, 49, said in an
interview. “I don’t know how long that will last, but it’s been longer
than I’d ever thought.”
is bracing for battle because his new TV service, Locast.org,
streams broadcast channels for free without permission from the owners.
It debuted Jan. 11 in New York City and has “thousands” of users so far.
It’s likely to gain even more traction in the coming weeks -- if it
doesn’t get shut down -- as cord-cutters look for free ways to watch the
NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Fans Coalition, launched the service by placing an antenna on top
of an office park in Long Island. It captures and retransmits 15
broadcast channels from the air, and does that without the approval of
station owners such as CBS Corp., Comcast
Corp.’s NBC, 21st
Century Fox Inc. or Walt Disney Co., parent of
service sounds like Aereo, which used tiny antennas to capture
over-the-air TV signals and then streamed programming to subscribers for
$8 a month. Broadcasters sued, saying Aereo violated copyright law by
not paying for the rights to their programming. The dispute went to the
U.S. Supreme Court, where Aereo lost in 2014 and then filed for bankruptcy.
insists Locast.org is different because it operates under a section of
federal copyright law that lets nonprofits retransmit broadcast signals
without the approval of the stations or program owners.
adopted the provision in the 1970s to help viewers who lived in areas
with poor reception. A university, for instance, could place an antenna
on top of its building to help people in remote areas watch broadcast
channels. The only thing that’s different about Locast.org is that it
retransmits those signals over the internet, Goodfriend said.
isn’t some zany entrepreneur walking cluelessly into a legal battle.
He’s a former legal adviser to the U.S. Federal Communications
Commission, which regulates the media industry, and lobbied the agency
to end a rule that barred local telecasts of NFL games that weren’t sold
out. He’s also been an executive at the satellite TV giant Dish Network
Corp. and teaches law at Georgetown University.
the service is free now, Locast.org will likely ask for donations to
support operating costs, Goodfriend said. A wealthy benefactor he won’t
name is the sole investor, helping to cover the $200,000 cost of getting
the service off the ground.
says he’s actually helping broadcasters who have been hurt by the
growing legions of people who have dropped their pay-TV subscriptions.
With Locast.org, CBS or NBC can reach even more viewers so they can sell
more advertising, he says.
however, see it differently.
are deeply skeptical that this service will survive legal scrutiny where
its predecessors have failed,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the
National Association of Broadcasters, which represents networks like
CBS, ABC and NBC.
Goodman, a former general counsel for the NAB, confirmed there is an
exemption in copyright law allowing nonprofits to retransmit broadcast
signals. But the courts haven’t interpreted that exemption for the
digital age, he said.
Locast.org eventually starts charging, it would need to get consent from
broadcasters, Goodman said. And if it remains a free service, “I don’t
know how they can afford to do it.”
California service that tried a
similar model in 2015, Telletopia, shut down last month after running out
New York chapter of the Sports Fans Coalition, which runs the new TV
service, has three board members: Goodfriend; Habiba Alcindor, the
daughter of basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Phillip
Berenbroick, a public interest lawyer.
says he’s trying to restore the social contract between the public and
broadcasters, who were given a license to use airwaves that belonged to
Goodfriend awaits a potential legal challenge, he’s also dealing with
smaller concerns, like people accidentally typing in the wrong URL for www.locast.org.
careful it doesn’t autocorrect to ‘locust,” he told a reporter. “I’ve
been having trouble with that.”