Official: Link Shortener Seized by Libyan Government

vbly seized by Libya

UPDATE Feb 23: In light of the current Libyan crisis, read this analysis on current use of .ly domains and their connection to the Libyan government on CBSi/ZDnet. [END UPDATE]

It’s official: the Libyan government has seized This was done with no warning. Despite the fact that was a one-page link-shortening service, (the registry for .ly domain reseller registrar Libyan Spider) informed us that the content of our website was offensive, obscene and illegal according to Libyan Islamic Sharia Law. Not the domain, but the content of the website – no matter where the domain was hosted.

The photograph of me (above) with my bare arms, holding a bottle, and the words “sex-positive” were cited as obscene, offensive and illegal. We were also told that we were “promoting an illegal activity” with our link shortener.

We had the domain for a year and had just paid to renew the domain for another year. For two weeks the processor had told us in vague terms that was in violation of and Libyan Spider’s terms. However, we could not find anywhere in the terms on both sites, where we were in violation, which apply to the name of the domain. We were also told we had been warned to change the domain content of face deletion, but no proof was provided that they had attempted to contact us. Had we known, we would have responded immediately.

However, no one knew that the Libyan government would begin seizing domains based on application of Islamic law to website content (let alone potential use of an online tool, such as a link shortener). For this reason, all .ly domains, and the businesses built on them internationally, should be on high alert.

* We ran for over a year (launched August 2009).
* We renewed but it does not appear we will get our money back.
* We were told at first we were in violation of terms, but the terms did not exist.
* It has been revealed that’s violations were according to Libyan Islamic Sharia Law.
* While this has not been applied to .ly domains in the past, it is now.
* never violated terms stated on either the or Libyan Spider website.
* The domain never hosted or displayed adult content, or stated “adult” anywhere.
* website said, “The Internet’s first and only sex-positive URL shortener.”
* On its launch, cNet responded saying “Bravo!”

When we could finally get a response to our tickets, Libyan Spider’s Jumana Benlateef wrote back stating, “Using a generic term to promote an illegal activity doesn’t make your domain name legal to exist under NIC.LY’s regulations.” She told us the regulations could be found here:

We read and re-read the regulation, and asked Jumana Benlateef to specifically state which terms we were in violation of. She did not, and told us to contact Mr. Alaa ElSharif from NIC.LY directly.

We did. Mr. Alaa ElSharif told us that had told Libyan Spider to contact us, and because of that he “disagreed” that the deletion was abrupt. He wrote,

“(…) our request related to you through our reseller was quite simple: the removal of any and all offensive imagery on the site and of the statement boasting that its ‘the only adult friendly URL shortener on the internet’, an honor our Registry has no interest in obtaining nor wants under its banner.

The issue of offensive imagery is quite subjective, as what I may deem as offensive you might not, but I think you’ll agree that a picture of a scandidly clad lady with some bottle in her hand isn’t exactly what most would consider decent or family friendly at the least.

I cannot confirm whether or not Libyan Spider contacted you on time, but being our Resellers they most definitely have credibility with us. According to their narrative they tried contacting you numerous times with no avail, leaving you a voice message on your answering machine in the end. Not receiving their warnings doesn’t by any means relieve you of the consequences of not heeding to them.

While letters ‘vb’ are quite generic and bear no offensive meaning in themselves, they’re being used as a domain name for an openly admitted ‘adult friendly URL shortener’. Now, had your domain merely been a URL shortener for general uses similar to (as you claim) there would have been no problem with it. It is when you promote your site being solely for adult uses, or even state that you are ‘adult friendly’ to promote it that we as a Libyan Registry have an issue.

While our ccTLD is open for registrations from all around the World, and we pride ourselves on being the online destination for many well known websites internationally, our rules and regulations, and our Country’s Law and Morality do not allow any kind of pornography or its promotion.

If you return to our list of rules and regulations you will find that 8.4.2 states that we as a Registry reserve the right to suspend or delete a domain name if “The Applicant/Registrant is in violation of any of the terms and conditions in this Regulation.”

Moving up the Regulations list we find clause 3.5 clearly states that: “The Applicant certifies that, to the best of his/her knowledge the domain name is not being registered for any activities/purpose not permitted under Libyan law.”

Pornography and adult material aren’t allowed under Libyan Law, therefore we removed the domain, and before doing so we warned you thru our Resellers and gave you a relatively long grace period to rectify your situation. Being that you didn’t receive/ ignored our warnings is your problem not ours

When we have an out cry from within our Community and even from places as remote as Morocco (a sister Muslim and Arab state) asking us how such a ‘scandalous’ domain is allowed to exist under our National extension we are left with no option but to apply the rules. I invite you to conduct a simple search to see if domains such as (what was) yours are allowed to exist under the ccTLD of other Arab and Muslim Countries.

They don’t. Why should Libya be the exception?

Based upon the above, the decision to remove from our registry is irreversible and final. I’m sorry that we couldn’t reach a more pleasant conclusion, but this was the result of your ignoring our rules and regulations and failing to communicate with us through our official channels.


Alaeddin S. ElSharif
Web services Dept.
Libya Telecom and Technology
Al Fatah Street | Abu Setta | Tripoli | Libya | P.O. Box 91612 Souq Aljoma
+ 218 21 340 0020-36 Ext 7306
Mobile: 0925017303

We intended to be a link shortener that celebrated tolerance and provided an alternative to other link shortening services whose terms were vague, and possibly loosely interpreted and thus subject to change, around human sexuality. It was made to be a service where you CAN put NSFW links, but not *exclusively* for non-worksafe links. It was simply a service which openly stated that it won’t discriminate against you (by filtering or removing your links) if you do. Revolutionary, I know. We were careful to monitor link creation closely for spam and other unethical practices, and were swift to enforce deletion and blacklist of those who abused the service. All we wanted to provide was a link shortener that was nonjudgmental and secure in a landscape where all genders and orientations are faced with discrimination, and when the subject of sex is mentioned, often face losing accounts, along with censorship and unwarranted deletion.

We failed the users of Had we known that after a year, strict Libyan Islamic law would begin to be applied to the content of our one-page link shortening website, we would have built the website using a different extension and in a more secure country. Questions about and Libyan Sharia law had been asked, but now it appears the answers have changed. “All it does is shorten URLs” does not matter.

It should be noted that all links still exist but do not function at this time. We have the database intact, and will restore your shortened URLs momentarily with a suitable domain.

Libyan Spider has claimed a domain that had a good year of traffic and recognition. Interestingly, on June 1, Libyan Spider/ issued a statement that it would no longer sell domains less than four letters to non-Libyans, though those of us who had registered domains would be allowed to continue our renewals (and we renewed after this change went into effect). I’d also like to point out that I’ve since discovered that alcohol, women showing bare arms (uncovered) and images of Christmas are also prohibited under Libyan law. Good thing I wasn’t wearing a Santa hat in the photo, eh?

You can read further thoughts and analysis over at Ben Metcalfe’s (joint owner of domain) Blog.

UPDATE 10.08.10: Spider has responded with this statement. They did not try to contact us. We find it impossible that they could contact us for renewal, we passed communication about the renewal (same contact data) and they processed our payment smoothly and yet *somehow* we did not receive their alleged contact attempts a month later. They did not provide evidence of alleged attempted contact (the warnings they claim to have sent) when we requested it.

And finally: why would we ignore warnings or any communication which might jeopardize our domain — and break over 500,000 links — a significant number of which were our own!? Not to mention the cost to the hundreds of thousands of people we let down by having the domain jacked by That is reputation cost, and we would have never ignored — or as they suggest, avoid — such communication. This domain cost us money, time, and the trust of my community. (We made no money from We are offended at their suggestion that we were trying to “get away” with anything. No, we call shenanigans here.

To add to the distressing suggestions about the way is doing business seen in their statement ( you’re in their crosshairs), read Our response to’s statement on the domain deletion (

Recommended reading: The Atlantic (a proper article), and Search Engine Land with the real take-away about the volatility of the .ly domain space. (,

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78 comments on “Official: Link Shortener Seized by Libyan Government
  1. Pingback: Becomes Curate.Us, Abandoning .ly Domain | PlagiarismToday

  2. I have a follow-up post on my personal blog that answers a lot of the questions posed here. I fully respect that other cultures must do what they deem fit to remain intact. However, we are talking about a very particular culture that is willfully selling products to a global market — you can see on the rep’s Twitter feed that she is openly soliciting Americans to buy .ly domains. And the laws of Libya, all due respect, are nowhere in English, no one seems to be able to agree on what they are, and still no one can produce them for me — or any customers of Spider. This is a problem.

    Regardless of cultural differences, at the end of the day it is a business. They dealt with my business unfairly. I was allowed to run my domain for 13 months, and they me asked to renew. I renewed and they processed my payment and I have the receipt. (No, I did not get my money back.)

    They did not give us warning. They failed to produce evidence of attempted contact, or warnings of any kind. We asked.

    Sum: It’s about money. Sex is the excuse. They noticed that short domains were worth money. Then they started doing things like this (of which I was unaware until yesterday):

    I am an American (Metcalfe is not) — but regardless: we are CUSTOMERS.

    This is my follow-up if anyone cares to read it, and note that the website contains adult content (NSFW):

    A very well done article about all of this just went up on The Atlantic, highly recommended:

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  5. Pingback: Love Bites: Clarisse Thorn | Time Out Chicago » » Sex-positive techie bit seized by Libyan government

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  7. Pingback: Our response to’s statement on the domain deletion | :Ben Metcalfe Blog

  8. @Clean up Philly
    MEMRI’s channel on YT is still available (or was reinstated): In the scheme of things, it doesn’t have a large viewership.

    Why chose to use .ly and not any of the other ccTLDs is not obvious to me.

    @Mark Jaquith

    Alaeddin S. ElSharif is probably very worldwise when off duty. No point in shooting the messenger. In Libya they must jump whenever the slightest hint of “the powers that be” is mentioned, whether real or invented by someone to get an outcome.

    The bigger story we must watch out for is Perhaps that is the intended money-raising target.

  9. The domain name belongs to the Libyan. You merely borrow the domain when you pay the registration fee. When you borrow things belonging to people of other races, belief or countries, you abide by their terms.

    I don’t care if what you do is legal in the U.S.A. Because your domain and whatever you do with it falls under the law of the Libyan government.

    They can impose whatever they want. It’s theirs. And you’re merely a borrower.

  10. On 2nd Sep. I emailed the client on the email address that we have on record (m***@**.ly) and also (m*******@** as it was the registrant’s email address on the whois, and asked them to remove the text and image as requested by LTT
    On 5th Sep. LTT emailed us asking for an update.
    On 6th Sep. I emailed LTT asking them to give the client another chance until 7th Sep. as they have not responded yet.
    On 6th Sep. I emailed the client again.
    On 6th Sep. I received a “Mail Delivery Failure” message, due to a problem with the client’s email (m***@**.ly), the other email was fine, as I only received 1 delivery error message.
    On 6th Sep. I called the client on the phone number we have on record (0014xxxxxxxx2) and an answer machine picked up, so I left them a message explaining the situation and asking their urgent action. (I have skype history to confirm this!)
    On 20th Sep. LTT contacted us asking for an update.

  11. @Info (which is

    I’m just curious – you mentioned that ‘you emailed the client’… but it was Libyan Spider that said that it tried to contact us. And you are leaving a comment as So, does this mean that Libyan Spider is part of

    We didn’t receive either of your emails, and you seem to acknowledge that with the fact that that you say you got a Mail Delivery Failure.

    The reason we changed the phone number is because the number you said you had called wasn’t a number that belonged to us, and we wanted you to be able to call us, so as soon as we discovered you had the wrong number on file we corrected it. I’m not sure why that is a problem?

    What we still don’t understand is if Spider wanted to resolve this amicably, why, when we were able to get in contact with you, were you no longer prepared to resolve this? Either there is/was a desire to resolve this or there never was and thus your original emails were lip-service.

    None of this really addresses the outstanding and more important issues that this case has raised that you have acknowledged or indeed answered.

  12. @Ben
    That was part from a chronological report of what happened, provided by Libyan spider.
    It clearly shows that you have been contacted by them and that they did not block you with out any efforts or process as you claim. this was explained to you and should have been mentioned in your reporting of the incident.

  13. @Info

    We asked for evidence of LS contacting us and they wouldn’t provide any. Like I said, we didn’t receive any prior communication from Libyan Spider or before the domain was deleted – that’s a fact.

    What I don’t understand, and you can answer this seeing as you are from, is once we did get in contact with you, why you were no longer prepared to resolve this? (you + LS say that those emails, which we didn’t receive, were willing to resolve this).

    If we remove all mentions of ‘sex positivity’ and the image and from this point forward run the service to the same way is running (not promoting any adult content), will you restore the domain? This would restore commercial faith in the .ly domain space and would a show of good faith in business relations in the technology sector. Clearly there is a lot of attention on this matter and something good can still come out of this.

    Do let us know.
    Thank you

  14. No more I now have a buttload of old Twitter messages with dead links. I hadn’t used in some months now, as it was starting to noticeably slow down.

    But more importantly, according to Wikipedia, LTT, which owns .Ly, is a Gaddafi family enterprise, run by one of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s sons:

    I don’t know how other people feel about this, but my politics are such that a human rights-violating autocrat like Gaddafi is not somebody who I’d want to do business with, in any event. I suppose this is the same issue as outsourcing work to China, which a lot of businesses do without a second thought, and no thought to what labor and political conditions they might be helping perpetuate.

    Alternatives to the use of .Ly for URL shortening are definitely called for. I’m done with and, too.

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  17. Damn, honestly am pissed for you… there are some weird regulations going on here.. I think it would be best for the internet to establish its own law and rules for something like this. The government could really mess up someones life just “taking” these domains right from underneath these peoples feet.

    I personally started using used to use but they honestly are getting way to over the top and making things difficult on their interfaces..

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