India lifts download ban on VLC

ByLance T. Lee

Nov 14, 2022

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India has lifted a ban on VLC downloads, more than nine months after it mysteriously blocked the official website of popular media player software in the South Asian market. VideoLAN, the popular software developer, filed a legal notice last month, seeking an explanation from the country’s IT and telecommunications ministries for the bundled order.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has lifted its ban on the VLC media player website, the New Delhi-based Internet advocacy group Freedom Foundation, which has provided legal support to VideoLAN, said on Monday. VideoLAN has confirmed the order.

“This ban was put in place without notice and without giving VideoLAN an opportunity to be heard, which was against the 2009 blocking rules and the law enacted by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case. v. Union of India. This was strange as VLC Media Player is open source software used by nearly 80 million Indians,” IFF said in a statement.

Indian telecom operators have started blocking the official website of VideoLAN, where it lists links to download VLC, in February of this year, Jean-Baptiste Kempf, president and lead developer of VideoLAN, told TechCrunch in a previous interview. India is one of the biggest markets for VLC.

The vast majority of people rely on the official VLC website to download the popular app.

“Most major ISPs [internet service providers] ban the site, with various techniques,” Kempf said of the blocking in India. In light of the blockage, the site immediately saw an 80% drop in traffic from the South Asian market, he told TechCrunch.

Last month, VideoLAN and the Internet Freedom Foundation used legal means to seek answers and redress around the ban. India’s IT ministry never made the banning order public, but all telecom operators in the country complied with it. In its legal notice last month, VideoLAN requested a copy of the blocking order.

India’s telecom operators have never revealed why they are blocking the VideoLAN website, but some have speculated that it may be due to a misinterpretation of a security warning from earlier this year.

Security firm Symantec reported in April this year that hacker group Cicada, which has ties to the Chinese government, was exploiting VLC Media Player along with several other popular apps to remotely access victim computers. Kempf said he was never contacted by any government agency.

VLC, downloaded over 3.5 billion times worldwide, is a local media player that doesn’t require internet access or a connection to any particular online service for the vast majority of its functionality. A crash on its website did not have a huge impact on VLC’s existing install base.

But by blocking the website, India was pushing its citizens to “shady websites that are running a pirated version of VLC. So they are putting their own citizens at risk with this ban,” Kempf warned.

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