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Is Watching Locast Illegal?

Q. I want to get rid of my cable provider, but I don’t want to miss my local channels. I would get an antenna, but it won’t work where I live, a rural county in Maryland. I’ve heard of Locast, but a friend tells me that it’s been declared illegal to watch. Is that true? I don’t want to watch it if it’s illegal. — Maddy, Prince Frederick, Maryland. 

Maddy, as you may know, Locast is a new, free service that delivers local channels over the Internet in 13 markets, which represents roughly 31 percent of U.S. population. (The markets are: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Sioux Falls, Denver, Los Angeles, Rapid City, San Francisco, and Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Your local channels would be available in the Baltimore or Washington markets.)

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You download the Locast app on a computer, tablet or Smart TV device such as Roku, provide a name and e-mail address, and suddenly you are watching all your local channels. I can’t vouch for the reliability of the signals. I have used Locast a few times and found it to be a bit inconsistent. But it’s free so you can’t beat that.

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However, you ask if it’s legal to watch. The answer is yes. It’s absolutely legal to watch.

I suspect what your friend is referring to is a lawsuit just filed by the four broadcast networks (CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC) that aims to declare the service to be illegal. The networks claim that Locast is violating their copyright by transmitting their signals without their permission. In 2014, the networks won a similar lawsuit against Aereo, which sold their signals without authorization.

Locast counters that it’s different from Aereo because it’s a non-profit service (it asks users for donations) which should exempt it from the Copyright Act.

But the networks note that AT&T has invested $500,000 in Locast. That’s a sore point with the networks, particularly CBS which is now involved in a carriage dispute with AT&T’s TV services (U-verse, DIRECTV, DIRECTV Now).

They contend that Locast is a for-profit company in disguise because it plans to generate revenue from pay TV providers who want more leverage in their battles with the networks. If the providers’ subscribers can watch Locast for free, the networks might have to reduce their fees.

Since the lawsuit was just filed this week, it’s unclear when it will be resolved. So until then, Maddie, Locast is free and legal. And you can watch it anytime you want.

Happy viewing!

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— Phillip Swann

About TV Answer Man (1687 Articles)
The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

2 Comments on Is Watching Locast Illegal?

  1. Teresa G Dougan // August 2, 2019 at 4:48 pm // Reply

    Not available in my area and they want a monthly donation to bring it to this area. Why can’t I just watch Phila. stations since they are only 90 miles away from me.

    • its available in my area, 43 mls from Hilly- 47 mns from NY; i had to enroll with paypal online with my p/c, (not c/cs) and when I used it the 2nd time, the donation level had risen to $10 i guess for the next month, so its not free, but i get all my locals and some others, very clear unfortunately not on my tv even though ive an outdoor antenna that gets only 13 channels but no abc and pbs which i watch constantly, so Im stuck with both systems for now

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