Sports Fans Coalition’s Streaming Service Tests Copyright Law

The coalition's Locast service will stream NFL games to New York audiences without a license from broadcasters. The group cites an exception to copyright law for nonprofits.

Athletes are known for their bold moves. But the boldest move in the sports world at the moment, in the midst of the NFL playoffs, may be one being undertaken by fans.

The Sports Fans Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that has raised concerns about viewer access to local games, is trying a new tactic to help local, cord-cutting sports fans keep an eye on the action.

SFC recently launched a service called Locast, which will stream local broadcast networks in the New York City area over the internet for free—without paying for a license. The coalition argues that the service is legal because a narrow exception to the copyright law allows nonprofits to rebroadcast programs as long as there is no commercial motive. The section in question:

The secondary transmission of a performance or display of a work embodied in a primary transmission is not an infringement of copyright if … the secondary transmission is not made by a cable system but is made by a governmental body, or other nonprofit organization, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.

SFC opened up a New York arm last year specifically to test this idea. The group will accept donations to cover the costs of video streaming, Multichannel News reported.

“Every cent you contribute gets reinvested into this site,” SFC says on its website.

The move isn’t winning fans from broadcasters, which pay lots of money for the content deals they have with the various sport leagues, and the National Association of Broadcasters says the service is likely illegal.

“Over the years, numerous services from Aereo to FilmOn have tried to find creative ways to skirt the communications and copyright laws that protect local broadcasters and our tens of millions of viewers,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement. “Without more details, this effort by the Sports Fan Coalition sounds like the latest such effort. We are deeply skeptical that this service will survive legal scrutiny where its predecessors have failed.”

Meanwhile, the advocacy group Public Knowledge, which advocates for an open internet and “creativity through balanced copyright,” praised the idea.

“We’re glad to see someone stepping up to make free, over-the-air broadcast programming more accessible to viewers,” Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer said in a news release. “This is good for consumer choice and helps ensure that broadcasters fulfill their public interest mandate.”

The Sports Fans Coalition is known for advocating against NFL TV blackout rules, which the league has suspended in recent years. However, the blackout has returned in full force on streaming devices due to contracts that telecom companies have with the NFL.

(rizal999/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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