ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC sue free broadcast streaming service Locast

The major networks have filed a lawsuit against free broadcast streaming service Locast, alleging the service infringes upon exclusive rights under the Copyright Act.

The lawsuit, spotted by the Wall Street Journal, was filed with the United States District Court in southern New York by ABC/Disney, Comcast/NBCUniversal, 20th Century Fox and CBS against David Goodfriend and his non-profit Sports Fans Coalition NY, the group that operates Locast. The broadcasters are asking the court to prohibit Locast from operating its service, and to award damages connected to Locast’s operations.

Locast is a free service that streams full-power broadcast channels in local markets to anyone with an internet connection located within the relevant Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA). Locast’s operational costs do not include licensing fees paid to broadcasters. The organization relies on a statute within the Copyright Act that allows a non-profit organization to retransmit local broadcast signals.

The lawsuit contends that Locast is not merely boosting broadcast signals for those who can’t receive them. It accuses Locast of operating with its own commercial benefit in mind as well as the commercial benefit of large pay TV operators including DirecTV and Dish Network.

RELATED: AT&T backs free broadcast TV service Locast with $500K donation

“Locast is not the Robin Hood of television; instead, Locast’s founding, funding, and operations reveal its decidedly commercial purposes,” the lawsuit reads.

AT&T recently integrated Locast’s application into its DirecTV and U-verse TV platforms, allowing subscribers to use the app to access local broadcast television in markets where Locast operates. AT&T also donated $500,000 to Locast to support the service’s “mission to make free broadcast content available to consumers and offer them more choice.”

Complicating this relationship are recent broadcast channel blackouts on AT&T’s TV services including DirecTV Now that have resulted from carriage disputes with CBS and Nexstar Media. AT&T has been sharing alternative means of watching CBS with its subscribers, and one of the more prominent suggestions is Locast.

The lawsuit against Locast is similar to actions taken against Aereo, a streaming service that was forced to shut down after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Aereo was violating copyright laws by retransmitting broadcasters' signals without compensating them.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Aereo was a free service.