VideoLAN to India: If you love FOSS so much, why have you blocked our downloads?

Activists help pen letter to New Delhi demanding answers

Developers of the open source VideoLAN media player have challenged India’s government to explain why the project’s website has been blocked.

As The Register reported in August 2022, the videolan.org site has been unavailable in India since March 2022, meaning the official source of downloads not available. No official explanation for the block has been offered.

As VLC is open source the occasional clone infected with malware has appeared – with Chinese actors suspected as the source.

India has banned many Chinese apps on national security grounds. But VideoLAN’s home base is France, not the Middle Kingdom. And VLC is not known or rated to pose a sterner risk of carrying either malware or the kind of nasty content India’s government likes to ban. The argument has also been made that driving would-be users to third party download sites increases the chances of poisoned clones being passed off as legitimate, making a ban on security grounds ineffective.

Activists protested the blocking of the project’s site and now one such group – India’s Internet Freedom Foundation – has stated that it helped VideoLAN to write a letter to India’s Ministry of Communications and Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology that demands an explanation for the blocking of videolan.org.

The letter [PDF] points out that Indian government policy documents [PDF] name VLC as a “preferred” tool for media playback and encourage use of open source software.

The letter also points out that Indian law requires website operators to be notified of bans, and to be given a hearing at which to contest them, but that VideoLAN’s previous attempts to have India’s government explain the ban have produced no substantive response.

VideoLAN asserts it’s therefore not been treated fairly and wants that to change.

The letter also asserts that the ban on videolan.org harms freedom of speech and therefore international law.

VideoLAN president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf signs off with a demand for India to explain itself, and the ban, or action under Indian and international law will follow.

The letter doesn’t set a deadline for India to respond.

Which leaves the world watching for India’s supposedly FOSS-and-tech-friendly government to make the next move.

Based on The Register’s past reporting of Indian government tech policy, your correspondent fancies authorities may offer an explanation to the effect that blocking VLC downloads will prevent access to copyrighted media and/or material deemed objectionable under local laws. ®

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