Official: vb.ly Link Shortener Seized by Libyan Government

by Violet Blue on October 6, 2010

vbly seized by Libya

This is also posted on Techyum if you want a work-safe link. Also read this chilling post about what happened with vb.ly in The .ly domain space to be considered unsafe (benmetcalfe.com).

It’s official: the Libyan government has seized vb.ly. This was done with no warning. Despite the fact that vb.ly was a one-page link-shortening service, Nic.ly (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 Nic.ly had told us in vague terms that vb.ly was in violation of Nic.ly 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 vb.ly 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 vb.ly’s violations were according to Libyan Islamic Sharia Law.
* While this has not been applied to .ly domains in the past, it is now.
* Vb.ly never violated terms stated on either the Nic.ly or Libyan Spider website.
* The domain never hosted or displayed adult content, or stated “adult” anywhere.
* Thevb.ly 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: http://nic.ly/regulations.php.

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 Nic.ly 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 bit.ly (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 vb.ly 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.

Regards

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
alaedin.elsharif@ltt.ly
Mobile: 0925017303
http://www.ltt.ly

We intended vb.ly 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 vb.ly. 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 bit.ly 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 vb.ly 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/Nic.ly 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 vb.ly 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?

UPDATE 10.08.10: Nic.ly/Libyan Spider has responded with this statement. They did not try to contact us. I find it impossible that they could contact me for renewal, we passed communication about the renewal (same contact data) and they processed my payment a month before and yet *somehow* I did not receive their alleged contact attempts a month later. They did not provide evidence of alleged attempted contact when we requested it.

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

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

{ 22 comments }

1 Craig October 13, 2010 at 4:22 am

I am incredulous. And not for the same reasons you’re incredulous. Do you watch, listen to or read any international news? Perhaps you’ve heard of the Muslims. You know, Afghanistan, Iraq, oh, and Libya. Perhaps you’ve heard of Sharia/Islamic law. Perhaps you’ve heard about how it’s not very sex (or women) positive.

If all of this is news to you, then I don’t blame you for being shocked and stunned.

But if you’ve caught even a whiff of any of the above information since you crawled out of the womb, you should not be one bit surprised, no matter how ridiculous their laws (and their interpretation) appear or whether or not they’ve written them in a language you understand. If you understand that by doing business in another country (which is what buying a dot-ly domain is) you are subject to *their* laws (that’s only common sense, whether or not they were explicitly included by reference in the registry’s terms of service) and not the laws where you live, you should not be one bit surprised. Upset? Sure, but not surprised.

I could say other more uncharitable things about the wisdom of your choice to set up a sex-positive website/service using the ccTLD of a Muslim country, but you’ve sufficiently embarrassed yourself by making the issue so public without starting off with, “Oops, did we ever screw up!” The same goes for anyone else using a dot-ly domain, or the ccTLD of any country. (I even avoid the ccTLD [dot-ca] of my own country because of the extra rules entailed and the fact that they can change.) In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that it would have been illegal (due to UN-mandated sanctions) for you to buy a dot-ly domain.

And for those of you who think that this couldn’t happen in the USA to your dot-com or dot-us domain, have a look at “U.S. Uses Domain Names As New Way to Regulate the Net” at http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/5334/135/ , or the BBC story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8537771.stm about Microsoft shutting down 277 domains via a court order because of their “content”, so to speak.

For the record, I totally support (including financially) and am involved in sex-positive culture (and I certainly am not a supporter of Libya or Sharia law), so I’m totally in favour of your sex-positive work. I’m also against domain registries censoring website content … although I do think they should be involved in the fight against spam, pulling domains that are only registered for the purpose of spamming. But whatever the motivation of the dot-ly registry (legal, moral or financial), you screwed up on your due diligence and cannot possibly paint yourself as the victim here.

2 Alex C October 10, 2010 at 9:13 pm

seems the Libyan constitution does not grant the right to bare arms

or the pursuit of hops (hoppiness?)

3 Jeff Higgins October 8, 2010 at 2:07 pm

@jacquelineAM:

You are correct that state-based registrars can enforce policies. However, the laws of Libya violate the principle of an open internet (as well as the principles of human rights). Your bias is predictable. It is not a “Western” conception to allow women to bear their arms – it’s a “Human” conception. In other words, to assume that a woman isn’t allowed to show her arms and to hold a bottle of alcohol is a perversion of basic human rights, if not basic human rationality.

It does not matter the countries out of which said contention is born – what matters is that said contention is born out of rational principles. Sharia Law as a legal code is merely an expression of oppression, ideological dogma, and non-rational thinking.

Your legal code (and I’m being very generous in calling it that) is nothing but a perversion of basic human sensibilities, and runs contrary to all rationality and logic. Don’t believe me? Justify Sharia Law in an intelligible way without committing a logical fallacy. Exactly. You can’t.

Unfortunately, Sharia Law, which is equivalent to other tribal legal systems (important for social organization based on basic survival; but ill-suited for any civil society), has been artificially elevated to a position of real authority in the Arabic world, mostly due to the economic circumstances under which the Arabic world has come to “flourish.” Furthermore, it has been artificially juxtaposed (by those who benefit from its widespread adoption, i.e. men of institutions) as the counterpoint to “Western” expression. This is not true; rather, I would argue that Sharia Law is juxtaposed to rationality proper. Because it violates nearly every rational human principle, it can’t merely be in opposition to Western ideals; rather, it must naturally be in opposition to Human ideals (as most religious-based legal/ethical codes are, unfortunately).

Granted, anyone who buys a .ly domain should be subject to the laws of the country of origin of that TLD; however, when those laws expressly violate basic human rights as well as the principles of the open internet, every individual who supports either contention (or both contentions) has an absolute obligation to stand in defiance of said oppression (expressed by law). In other words, wether this particular TLD was designed to be a political statement is irrelevant. It’s ownership was representative of something far greater; it was representative of basic human liberties (“Western” contentions aside).

Oh, and on a final note: do you know what is so wonderful about the internet? Unlike your country, I am afforded basic freedoms of expression, which means I have no trouble in sincerely saying “fuck you and your backward ass, sexually oppressive, sickly dogmatic, and fundamentally fucked religion.”

4 DK October 8, 2010 at 10:17 am

(I don’t think I am related to the above DK at all, I’ve just been posting with my initials for years and don’t want to change)
I have been using your URL shortener since you announced it and didn’t know anything about all of this until I couldn’t find it when I wanted to shorten something this morning. I also did not know that .ly was associated with Libya or Sharia law and am kinda disappointed that I don’t know of another URL shortener without vague terms. It isn’t that the URLs I am wanting to shorten are pornographic or in any way NSFW, in fact most of them are related to my blog or crafting and I just liked having a place to go for it that was not vague in the way its terms of use were written and welcomed diversity and tolerance.

5 Nick Pendrell October 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I must admit that I can’t feel too sorry for them. There must be 200 TLDs to choose from, of which 180 would not have caused any problem. So why choose a Libyan domain for any reason other than to just try and ride on the back of the success of bit.ly?

6 jacquelineAM October 7, 2010 at 5:03 pm

They are perfectly correct – in almost every ccTLD there is a clause basically saying – follow the laws of our country. You broke the laws, you had a photo that is obscene to Muslims and deeply offensive in other parts of the world. If you wanted to follow US and other western norms, laws and culture, then maybe you should have decided to do business in the US or another country that allows pornography, scanty dress and alcohol. Many countries around the world do not. That’s not a problem, it’s what their culture reveres. Neither is it backward. To many of us around the world, the permissiveness of western culture, pornography etc is definitely NOT A GOOD THING.
Libyan law is law. It doesn’t matter what it’s based on, Judeo-Christian beliefs or Sharia. The law is the law of the land, and the law under which people doing business in Libya must function. Libya is a sovereign country, and your post above is very disrespectful to the Government and people of Libya.
To many of the other commenters- please remember that your culture is not everyone’s culture. Some of these comments are deeply racist and highly offensive. They show no consideration for differences in culture around the globe, and do not show you, your country of origin or your culture in a good light.
My $0.02

7 Aquarian Fool October 7, 2010 at 8:58 am

@DK I would normally agree with you, but here the thing; She wasn’t a guest, she was a costumer. She paid for there service then was ripped off. They took her maney, changed they’re terms and left her high and dry. Without worrying or reason. She and everyone that used vb.ly got unfairly treated. And no matter what country your in, this is no way to run a business.

8 c October 6, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I’m sorry that you have lost a product and a community that you worked hard to build.

From last year’s post, though:
“I worry that you are being excessively optimistic about what a heavily religious government will decide that they can and shouldn’t do.”

Called it… :(

9 um October 6, 2010 at 5:49 pm

we can finally speak with one another around the globe with no one looking and what we get is a Khadaphi’s whatchamakalit censoring someone from san fran . . . .

let me say this sux

it’ll hurt peeps in Libya [an maybe labia] but naught in CHINA unless they aren’t telling

the inet is subversive and we need to support the hacks who can keep the controlers at bay . . . .

10 Bef with an F October 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm

But your scadid-ness is my favorite thing about you!

11 foozlesprite October 6, 2010 at 4:58 pm

This is ridiculous. And every article I’ve seen about this (via Buzzfeed then Google) has no link to tinynibbles at all, which is kind of insulting to me considering you’re being placed at the center of this shitstorm. Keep up the good fight Violet, not everybody is as backwards as the Libyans.

12 Owen Smith October 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I don’t understand why you didn’t anticipate this. This is Libya we’re talking about, and like many Arabic nations it is quite restrictive (this is a particularly Arabic take on Islam). I don’t know which exact set of restrictions Libya imposes on its citizens (and visitors) but a fairly common thread in Arabic nations is: all women must wear veils ie. only the face is allowed to be shown, alcohol is illegal, adulterers can be stoned to death (certainly in Iran), women cannot drive cars (Saudi Arabia) etc. What made you think links to pornography would be acceptable?

Just because these are links not content does not mean anything. Remember these people are not rational, they believe they have Right on their side and don’t need to be rational.

13 Redme October 6, 2010 at 11:19 am

So what is wrong with TinyURL as a link-shortener?

Besides, we all know that Obama and Pelosi want to impose Sharia Law on God Bless The You Ess Aye. Glenn Beck told me so.

14 Wolf October 6, 2010 at 10:41 am

Sorry, but this is hilarious: “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.” If he thinks you’ll agree, then he doesn’t think very hard…

15 DK October 6, 2010 at 10:03 am

The situation is kind of weird, so you probably couldn’t have anticipated this – but then again, you probably should have. But you shouldn’t express surprise. You were doing business in Libya, and they saw what you did – whether or not you were simply linking or actually providing content – as contrary to their cultural ethos and laws. What you’re essentially experiencing is a cultural conflict, because – I’m guessing – they see what you did to be as disrespectful to what they see as their basic values and rights as you likely see your mission.

You’re getting into dangerous territory. As positive as your message is to your audience, there’s something of the “ugly American” in your complaint. You were doing business in another country; you were a guest.

16 Barnaby October 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

I’m curious if Ms. Blue had a reason for choosing a domain in Libya in the first place? Were you trying to see what would happen, or was it simply a convenient domain for some reason?

17 K October 6, 2010 at 8:22 am

Maybe Center for Security Policy assessment of Shariah not as off base as I had thought. http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/p18523.xml

18 Sandy October 6, 2010 at 7:54 am

This is terrible. And I am already looking forward to you getting this service back up and running somewhere more reasonable.

All I can do in the meantime is wish that I had the ‘shop skills to put a santa hat on you in that picture ;)

19 Sembazuru October 6, 2010 at 6:12 am

This does suck. But, as much as I hate to say it, it is common practice for hosting sites to follow their own local laws for traffic, and it is up to the customer to investigate what those laws state. Most Arab countries have their laws shaped (if not controlled) by Sharia law (not exactly a socially enlightened code of laws). Lybia is no exception.

20 Tim October 6, 2010 at 3:51 am

Funny: When i click on the pic ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/violetblue/3838601847/ ) Flickr tells me: “This content is unavailable to you.” SafeSearch is off and i can find this on the FAQs: “If your Yahoo! ID is based in Germany you are not able to view restricted content due to your local Terms of Service.” …

21 Sasha Fox October 6, 2010 at 2:14 am

What a shame and a shambles. I don’t know of this occurring before, but I sincerely hope this it doesn’t serve as a precedent for other governments to do the same. Our site is South African, and our government is also attempting to ban pornography (alongside all forms of media it disagrees with), so let us hope that this incident does not serve as a catalyst.

Let us all try and get the word out about to the free international press about this atavistic reversion to the Dark Ages.

22 Fiona October 6, 2010 at 1:59 am

:( So that’s why the links went. ome of my shortened URLS may have had ME in bare arms *shudders* Sorry if my arms are offending. They are awesomely freckly today… yay for spring!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: