VideoLAN, the French non-profit organization behind the most popular media player, VLC, has issued a legal notice to the Indian government asking for an explanation as to why its VLC website remains blocked in the country.
The notice was drafted and sent with assistance from the digital rights group, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY).
In its letter, VideoLAN highlighted that before the ban, VLC was being used by 80 million users in India, and saw an average of 25 million downloads per year since its release.
It asserts that the URL (uniform resource locator) to access VideoLan and the VLC website to download the open-source media player has been blocked by ISPs in India since February 2022 without any prior notice.
“In March 2022, to our shock and dismay, the URL ‘https://www.videolan.org/‘ appeared to have been blocked for viewing in India without any prior notice to me or any other person in the organization,” Jean-Baptiste Kempf, President and lead VLC developer of VideoLAN wrote in a letter dated September 30th to India’s DoT.
“Despite reportage and uproar on social media, no reasons for blocking the URL were provided to us, or to the Indian public.”
The notice further states that at present efforts to reach the URL in India result in the following message being displayed,
“Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India.”
In August this year, VideoLAN and VLC claimed that they tried to reach out to MeiTY to understand the reason for the ban but it is yet to receive any response from the ministry. Moreover, it has received no official notice from the Indian government regarding the ban on the VLC media player, the company added.
Further, VideoLAN cited Rule 8 of IT Rules, 2009, and the Supreme Court (SC) judgment in the Shreya Singhal case, and said that the concerned authorities are required by law to issue notice to such a person whose content or website is getting banned.
It also opposed the blocking of the VLC website citing Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says that freedom of speech and expression is a paramount human right. By blocking the URL, the government offices are violating their international obligations to protect free speech in India.
This incident also affects the fundamental rights of all Indian users of VLC who have the right to receive the information freely available on the URL, it said.
In the notice, VideoLAN has demanded a copy of the reasoned blocking order issued for the URL https://www.videolan.org and an opportunity to defend its case through a virtual hearing.
The company has warned that if DoT and MeitY fail to comply with the said demands, it will be forced to take legal action against the two departments for violating its obligations under international law and for breaching their own obligations of endorsing open-source software for government applications as part of its Digital India Initiative.