The .ly domain space to be considered unsafe

I would like to warn current and future owners of .ly domains of a concerning incident regarding the deletion of one of our prime domains ‘vb.ly’ by NIC.ly (the domain registry and controlling body for the Libyan domain space ‘.ly’).

In short:

The domain was seized by the Libyan domain registry for reasons which seemed to be kept obscure until we escalated the issue. We eventually discovered that the domain has been seized because the content of our website, in their opinion, fell outside of Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law.

This is deeply concerning for everyone, but especially .ly domain owners, because it sets a precedent that all websites running on a .ly domain must comply with Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law in order to maintain their domains. This is especially concerning for anyone running a url shortener or hosting user-generated content on a .ly domain.

You may also not know that since June 2010 .ly domains less than 4 characters long may no longer be registered by anyone who isn’t in Libya – which suggests there is tension around foreign owned, high-value, short .ly domains.

The full story:

Our domain ‘vb.ly’ (which was joint owned by myself and my partner Violet Blue) was deleted by NIC.ly without warning or notice on or around September 23rd 2010. We were subsequently told that our domain has been removed to us being “in clear violation of NIC rules and regulations” relating to “text referring to adult content and offensive imagery from [our] main page”.

The regulations for .ly domains are available at http://nic.ly/regulations.php. Aside from the fact that we contest that any adult content or offensive imagery exists on the site (vb.ly is a url shortener), what is more concerning is that there does not appear to be any regulation(s) written on that page that actually pertains to the violation notice we were given.

In other words we felt that the NIC.ly registry was claiming it has deleted our domain for infringements that do not actually form any part of their regulations.

However after numerous emails and escalating the matter to NIC.ly directly, we were told by Mr Alaeddin S. ElSharif (Web services Dept. NIC.ly/Libya Telecom and Technology):

“…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…”

Again, while we contest that there was NO pornography or adult material on vb.ly, I would suggest that there is a far more concerning issue here if domain registries can decide on the validity of a domain registration based on the content of the website that uses it. I would argue that the two are extricably decoupled and separate entities.

An additional concern is that the clause being used here pertains to Libyan Islamic Law which appears impossible to find listed in English.

This incident also follows on from a significant (but sadly unreported) recent decision by NIC.ly that as of June 2010:

“.LY domains that are shorter than 4 characters are only allowed for companies or individuals having presence in Libya.” [link]

Existing owners of such domains may renew but those premium domains are no longer open for registration by anyone who does not have a presence in Libya. Think about that, the domains for bit.ly, owl.ly (another set of url shorteners) and ad.ly (advertising solution), would not be registrable now by foreigners. Previously, any domain available was available to anyone who wanted to register it.

We found this u-turn in registration policy surprising. We wonder whether having seen the ‘mini domain gold rush’ that occured with the .ly domain space, there is suddenly a desire – perhaps even pressure – to have local Libyans control some of the the most premium and valuable .ly domains.

With this already in our minds, we found the following line from the email communication we received about the deletion deeply concerning:

…your domain being removed from NIC.LY records and made available for re-registration for locals

We wonder whether this line suggests that in the back of the mind of the person deleting our domain was the motivation that a rare <4 letter .ly domain would suddenly become available for a local Libyan national to register.

I’m not against Libyans registering .ly domains; instead I suggest that NIC.ly/Libya realized too late the value of these premium domains and now there is clearly back-peddling going on to ensure they don’t all end up in the hands of non-Libyans. Further more, I wonder if there is pressure for NIC.ly to do what it can to recover premium <4 letter .ly domains where possible so that they end up back in the pool only available for locals to re-register Finally, I wonder whether NIC.ly are being pressured to go so far with this that they would even revoke domains for reasons that don’t specifically violate any of the regulations that domain owners agreed to upon registration.

.ly domain space to be considered unsafe

For these reasons I believe the .ly domains should be considered unsafe. Anyone running a business or relying on a website with a one, two or three letter .ly domain should be incredibly cautious. This obviously includes anyone who uses bit.ly, 3.ly, owl.ly and any other similar url shortener.

I cannot see how the deletion of our .ly domain couldn’t happen to the owners of these domains too. In fact bit.ly is hosting many, many links that depict the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), extreme pornographic subject matter, etc.

However, the fact that NIC.ly are asserting editorial control over the content of any website using a .ly domain is perhaps the most troubling to any .ly domain owner and indeed the internet community at large. Not only is it paramount to censorship and doesn’t reflect the decoupled nature of domains vs websites, but it sets a dangerous precedent in the space.

At the time of writing our domain vb.ly is still revoked and our website is offline.

To sum up:

  • .ly domains deemed to be in violation of NIC.ly regulation are being deregistered and removed without warning – causing significant inconvenience and damage.
  • .ly domains are being deregistered and removed due to reasons that do not correspond to the regulations defined in the official NIC.ly Regulations.
  • NIC.ly seems to want to extend their reach beyond the domain itself and regulate the content of websites that use a .ly domain. The concept amounts to censorship and makes .ly domains untenable to be used for user-generated content or url shorteners.
  • Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law is being used to consider the validity of domains, which is unclear and obscure in terms of being able to know what is allowed and what isn’t.
  • NIC.ly have suddenly decided that <4 letter .ly domains should only be available to local Libyans and this appears to create motivation to recover what premium domains they can to go back into this new local-only pot of domains.

You can read more about this, including copies of email correspondence, over at Violet Blue’s TechYum website.

UPDATE: My partner Violet Blue (former co-owner of vb.ly) has a thought provoking review of the way this story has played out across the media today. Her site is slightly NSFW.