VLC Media Player claps back at India ban with court challenge

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VideoLAN, the developer behind VLC Media Player, has issued a legal notice to India’s Telecom (DoT) and IT (MeitY) bodies over the block of its platform.

The free and open-source media player has been silently banned in India since February, in what the provider describes as a “violation of international obligations to protect free speech” in the country.

With over 80 million Indian users, people living across the country might have to turn to the best VPN services to download the software.

In the meantime, DoT and MeitY have both failed to explain their decision of blocking the VLC website claiming that “no information was available.” This is why VideoLAN has now asked advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) for assistance to get answers via legal means.

“Almost six months have passed since the first reporting of the unavailability of videolan.org, and the reasons for blocking the URL have not been communicated to us. We neither received any notice of hearing nor a copy of the reasoned blocking order,” the company’s president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf wrote in the legal notice.  

However, according to Rule 8 of the 2009 IT Blocking Rules and a Supreme Court ruling, government officers must communicate the reasons for such a ban whilst providing a hearing to the affected party before the concerned authority.

The block also affects all VLC Indian users who have the right to freely get the content available on the URL, argues again the provider.

What’s more, the ban is against the Indian government’s commitment to use VLC and other open-source software across its departments as part of the Digital India initiative.  

VideoLAN is now asking for a copy of the reasoned blocking order, together with the chance to defend its case through a virtual hearing. 

Failure to comply with such demands would leave the provider with no option but initiate legal proceedings at the risks, cost and consequences of India IT and Telecom bodies. 

“We believe that VideoLAN is legally entitled to its demands and we hope that the government follows the letter and the spirit of the law in responding to them,” concludes IFF in a blog post.  

What we know so far about VLC Media Player’s ban

Despite the government failing to release a clear explanation for the ban, there are allegations that it might be a means to fight back cyberattacks.  

Cicada, a hacker group allegedly backed by the Chinese government, has been reported to use a fake version of VLC Media Player and other software applications to launch malware attacks

However, according to the provider, the ban would do more harm than good in such circumstances. This is because users looking to download the media player will be pushed towards less secure sites instead. 

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“The weirdest [thing] is that some ISPs are blocking it and some are not. So why is that the case? Are some ISPs not listening to the government?” wrote Kempf on the Hacker News forum

It’s not really clear why a service like VLC should be the object of censorship, either.  

“VideoLAN is quite apolitical (we only fight against DRM and for open source) and VLC is a pure tool that can read anything,” he said.    

In terms of usability, those who have already downloaded the media player can keep using it without any problem. 

VLC is also still available on Apple Store, Google Play and mirrored sites. However, people might need an India VPN to be able to get the service from its official site. 

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