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
[email protected]
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
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  7. More proof that bronze-age religious beliefs hold the capacity to completely hinder the forward progress of humanity and technology. I’m sorry you had to become a victim of this. Absolutely ridiculous.

  8. I really don’t see what is so hard to understand about this. When you buy a .ly, or any ccTLD as a matter of fact, you just cannot do whatever you want.

    All you had to do was remove the image and replace it with something else which fitted their regulations. But, I’m assuming, you just ignored the warning by assuming the ‘function’ of the website was just redirecting traffic. It doesn’t matter whether you shorten URLs or sell donuts, next time you try buying a ccTLD, care to learn about the laws involved.

    I wonder if you ever to a place like Australia with a bag of nuts.. you will surely freak out to know you can’t do that there.. its their laws, play by it or move on..

  9. Crazy! “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. ”

    You are well beyond decent, Violet, and from now on I will always think of you as “scandally clad.”

    I hope my friendly family does the same.

  10. um… wow! so no warning whatsoever or efforts to preserve your customer/business base? I’m not familiar with Libyan law but curious: if your site had been a monetary structured entity, would they still had taken the domain?

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  12. I guess this is in some part comparable to the Pirate Bay case.

    They didn’t host anything illegal on their server, just as you didn’t host anything illegal on your server, only linked to it (well except that photo I guess).

    Though I’ve never used your url-shortener I wish you the best of luck on your next domain name

  13. This is a major security vulnerability. If county specific cctld’s have the power to remove second level domains then this changes everything we have ever known about the internet and registering domains. is in even more trouble then they realize. I’ve seen all kinds of short urls ranging from Christmas stuff to bare armed ladies all day everyday. Next we await China to start stealing domains from registrants. I have a feeling this is only going to become a trend in the days and years ahead.

  14. I think it’s ridiculous, and I think the way they went about pulling the domain is utterly unconscionable.

    *sigh* But even if I think it’s stupid I guess they have a right to find bare arms pornographic. We find bare breasts pornographic in the US, but evidence suggests bared breasts have been the everyday fashion of some cultures in the previous millennium.

    Still, they could have gone about it in a *reasonable*, professional manner.

    (And, personally, I’d like the person who wrote you to acknowledge that, to a significant portion of the world, bare arms are family friendly. It rubs me the wrong way that he simply can’t imagine that anyone would disagree with his assessment of the photograph. “I think you’ll agree…” indeed. Arrogantly ethnocentric.)

  15. I own a .ly domain and understood the terms when I purchased it. Whilst I personally don’t think the above image is offensive it’s not surprising to me it violates the islamic sharia law.

    I’m afraid I agree with decision of Mr. Alaa ElSharif.

  16. Just because you think that certain things are acceptable, does not mean the whole world should conform to it, and having cultural awareness that others aren’t as generic as you, which makes the world a great place, is actually a good thing, what you might think is “cool” and “hip” others might consider offensive, you chose Libya as a destination, you obide by the rules, and i can’t see how much clearer that email could have been to you in it’s description or fairer?

    Before inciting what i consider to be a racist slur on your post end, do you have a reference for your comment “images of Christmas are also prohibited under Libyan law”?

  17. I also registered a .ly domain but read the terms and knew this could happen. It was very clear, which is why I just bought it as a joke domain and decided not to base a real business on it.

  18. Violet,
    you should register and use instead as forwarders.
    Let the world know that Alaeddin S. ElSharif was the inspiration for the forwarding name.

    Also, wear a burka or skimask in your new picture.


  19. Looks to me like Libyan Spider may have messed up in not passing on the warnings, but acted quite reasonably. What’s acceptable imagery to us isn’t necessarily so to others (that doesn’t make them “stone-aged”, just different) and .ly domains come with the strings of Libyan laws and culture. The suggestion that are in danger is baseless: the guy makes it quite clear that this was about the imagery and description.

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  22. Violet, I’m not sure what’s worse. The fact that Libya took down your domain or that you were running a URL shortener 😉

    Seriously though. I think the real issue is that according to Sharia law, URL shorteners are illegal! :). The adult content was just a secondary consideration.

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  28. @Stephen Chapman
    How do exposing your bare arms, holding a bottle, and the words “sex-positive” got anything to do with progress of humanity and technology.
    You’re the one that’s ridiculous, Chapman!

  29. You’re an URL-shortening service. Who cares if you’re adult friendly or not? Just publish rules stating that you will allow the shortening of any URLs.

    You’re just mad because you thought you were clever in going about it the way you did, but then you got busted.

    I don’t have a problem with your service’s policy, but I think you were just used to getting your way until this happened.

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  31. 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 think you have your new domain: [sic] :-)

    But seriously, it’s rather frightening that someone with the intelligence to use a computer and craft an intelligible e-mail in a secondary language could be so culturally suppressed as to think that female elbows are an objectively scandalous thing to portray.

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  34. Although I’m not personally in agreement with the Libyan Spider domain’s TOS, I have to agree with others that they were plain as day. I’m somewhat surprised that you didn’t see them.

    Anyway, though I’m sad that this happened to you, I hope it does serve as a warning to other .ly shorteners.

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  37. I thought it was about the ability of a government to trace links and control access to information? What has pornography got to do with that? Oh, did they forget to pay somebody too? Oh My!

    What a way to run a business!

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  39. I do not think it is too clever to use a TLD of a Muslim country for a business, you could have imagined that lots of your content would be illegal under their law, which you only researched after they shut you down, it was your mistake, not theirs.

    The normal thing to do is to research all this before registering the domain name not after.

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  41. I think I have to side with Libya on this, it’s their TLD and their opinion of what is considered appropriate content. To me and you, beer, naked arms and talk of sex is fairly low offense, but in some places, it isn’t.

    The world has differences, even Europe and the US: for a while there was prohibition in the US, smoking was universally acceptable even a decade or so ago and has quickly switched the other way, decades ago only ladies of the night would be seen in clothes popstars that sing for kids wear now, some countries eat animals we wouldn’t dream of, some countries eat animals we think of as pets, the age of consent differs by state and country, religion differs by country, the age you can drink is completely different in Europe compared to the US. The only constant is you need to conform to laws of the country you are in. It’s all very well me thinking 18 is the age you should start drinking, but if I visit America I expect to respect its law. The reasons you mention may sound trivial to you, but you must respect Libya’s position, they control the TLD. I wish you all the best finding a new domain, sure you’ll be back soon.

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  43. so … clearly there is a market for a tld that won’t dictate content restrictions to their customers … right?

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  46. I have a short .bz domain, I hope that is safe. If only there was an affordable white label service so that I could set up my own short URL service! Does anyone know if there is?

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