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In 2009, 'sex educator' Violet Blue launched a URL shortener designed for all of those NSFW links you might want to share. The service, billed as the "first and only sex-positive URL shortener", was located at vb.ly.

Most of us don't think about the .ly portion of the URL when we, for instance, see a bit.ly link. But as vb.ly learned the hard way, it's pretty important.

The .ly country code top-level domain (ccTLD) belongs to Libya, and while plenty of companies, including bit.ly, have used their .ly domains without problem, vb.ly announced yesterday that its registration of vb.ly was revoked because it ran afoul of Libyan Islamic Sharia Law.

Libyan Spider Network, which is involved in the operation of the .ly ccTLD, apparently tried to contact vb.ly's owners through a reseller that handled the domain registration, requesting removal from an image that it found offensive. But it wasn't just an image of a woman showing her arms that did vb.ly in. Alaeddin S. ElSharif of Libyan Spider Network explained:

...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.

While one might debate whether or not vb.ly went too far, it really is a moot point. As ElSarif correctly noted, "the issue of offensive imagery is quite subjective, as what I may deem as offensive you might not." As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So when your domain's ccTLD is in Libya, you should expect to do as the Libyans do. Don't like the rules? There are plenty of other ccTLDs to choose from.

But on the subject of Libya and .ly, one might ask what this situation means for services like bit.ly and owl.ly? Probably not much. It would be premature to conclude that bit.ly, ow.ly and other URL shorteners using the .ly TLD are at risk of being shut down by the Libyan government. But vb.ly's quick demise on the basis that it was violating Libyan Islamic Sharia Law highlights the risks involved with using ccTLDs. It's unlikely, for instance, that bit.ly and others have retained counsel familiar with Libyan Islamic Sharia Law, even though one of their business' most important assets is basically subject to Libyan Islamic Sharia Law.

It's equally quite unlikely that publishers give much thought to the ccTLD's of their URL shorteners. But perhaps they should. It's not too hard to imagine a service like bit.ly being asked to remove a particular shortlink that runs afoul of local law. And if faced with the threat of losing its domain, you can be almost certain that bit.ly would comply with the request.

Fortunately, the vb.ly shutdown is an isolated incident, but it does provide another reason for publishers to reconsider URL shorteners, or at the very least choose their URL shorteners more wisely.

Photo credit: rahuldlucca via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 October, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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