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India lifts download ban on VLC

India has lifted the download ban on VLC, more than nine months after it mysteriously blocked the official website of the popular media playback software in the South Asian market. VideoLAN, the popular software's developer, filed a legal notice last month seeking an explanation from the nation's IT and Telecom ministries for the block order.

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

"This ban was put into place without any prior notice and without giving VideoLAN the opportunity of a hearing, which went against the 2009 Blocking Rules and the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India. This was strange because VLC Media Player is an open-source software which is used by nearly 80 million Indians," IFF said in a statement.

Indian telecom operators began blocking VideoLAN’s official website, where it lists links to downloading VLC, in February of this year, VideoLAN president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. India is one of the largest markets for VLC.

The vast majority of people rely on VLC's official website to download the popular application.

“Most major ISPs [internet service providers] are banning the site, with diverse techniques,” Kempf said of the blocking in India. In light of the blocking, the site immediately observed a drop of 80% in traffic from the South Asian market, he told TechCrunch.

Last month, VideoLAN and Internet Freedom Foundation used legal means to get answers and redressal surrounding the ban. India's IT ministry never made public the order of the ban, yet all telecom operators in the country complied with it. In its legal notice last month, VideoLAN sought a copy of the blocking order.

Indian telecom operators never disclosed why they were blocking the VideoLAN website, but some speculated that it could be because of a misinterpretation of a security warning from earlier this year.

Security firm Symantec reported in April this year that the hacker group Cicada, which has ties with the Chinese government, was exploiting VLC Media Player as well as several other popular applications to gain remote access to the victim’s 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 connection to any particular service online for the vast majority of its features. A block on its website didn't considerably impact the existing install base of VLC.

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