VideoLAN, a non-profit organization that maintains and distributes the open source media player VLC, has sent a legal notice to India’s Department of Telecommunications and India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology over their order to block its URL and bar users from downloading the app.

VLC claims that the Indian authorities did not notify the software developer before banning its website or give it an opportunity to get an explanation. | Image credit: VideoLAN

VideoLAN claims that Indian regulators did not warn the software developer before banning its website or give it an opportunity to explain it. Since February this year, Indian telecom operators have been blocking the VideoLAN website, which hosts VLC download links.

“Most of the major ISPs in India block the site, with different methods,” said VideoLAN president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempfs. Telecom operators began blocking VideoLan’s website on February 13 this year when traffic from the South Asian market dropped by 80%, he added.

VideoLAN has reached out to a local advocacy group called the Internet Freedom Foundation and is using every legal means available to them to get answers and a chance for compensation. In the notice they sent to the ministry and the Ministry of Defence, they are demanding a copy of the order blocking VideoLAN’s website in India and an opportunity to defend their case.

VideoLAN claims that the way Indian ministries have banned the site, they are in violation of their local laws. The letter adds:

Pursuant to Rule 8 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking Access to Public Information) Rules, 2009 (“the Blocking Rules”) and the judgment of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1, public servants, responsible for issuing a blocking order shall: (i) make all reasonable efforts to identify the creator or intermediary posting the information to be blocked, (ii) send notice to such person, (iii) hold such person a hearing before the appropriate authority, and (iv) provide a copy of the reasoned blocking order to the interested party before the hearing. Despite this, the URL allowing users to download VLC was blocked by the DoT without prior notice or a chance to hear VideoLAN.

“The ban VideoLAN URL is shocking because the Indian government itself supports the use of VLC as part of its Digital India initiative, where it has expressed its intention to use open source software for government applications,” according to a summary of the IFF report.

According to Rule 8 of the IT Rules, 2009 (Blocking Rules) and the order of the Supreme Court, public servants issuing blocking orders must give notice to such person and also hold a hearing before the appropriate authority.

In April of this year, cyber security experts said that a hacker group from China called Cicada was using VLC Media Player to deliver malware to systems as part of a cyber attack campaign. with the support of the Chinese government. These hackers mainly targeted users who downloaded their files from the website.

Researchers at Symantec, a division of U.S. semiconductor company Broadcom, found that after gaining access to a target PC, an attacker used the popular VLC Media Player to install a modified bootloader on compromised devices.

It is likely that the platform was banned along with the 54 Chinese apps that the Indian government banned in February this year. However, VLC is not a Chinese software, but is maintained and developed by a French group.

“By blocking the website, India is pushing its citizens to shady websites that host hacked versions of VLC. So, with this ban, they are putting their own citizens at risk,” Kempf said earlier.

In a legal notice, VideoLAN warns that failure to comply with its request will force the open source firm to take legal action. “Any such proceedings, if initiated, will be at your sole risk, expense and for violation of your own rules,” the statement added.