First the Libyans shoot Doc Brown, now they close the vb.ly URL shortener

It was 25 years ago, but we've never forgiven the Libyans for shooting Doc Brown. Now, it seems, they're trying to take away our short URLs too. Muchos sadface.

Ian Morris
2 min read

Doc Brown stole some plutonium from some Libyans in 1985, and ever since the Middle Eastern country has been trying to exact revenge. Its latest act of geek vengeance is to shut down URL-shortening services using the country's .ly top-level domain. Will it never end, or will we forever be in fear of losing our URL shorteners and our adorably mad scientists?

The country -- somewhat legitimately -- argues that services using its domain names for 'adult' or obscene services contravene Sharia law, and as such it has every right to repossess domain names used in ways that break its moral and legal rules. The adult-oriented vb.ly service has already had its domain siezed.

While vb.ly didn't, in itself, host anything indecent -- unless you consider its homepage image to be obscene, and it might be under Sharia law, as it contained both flesh and beer -- it did link to places that do.

The site was targeted at shortening the URLs of adult sites, although it wasn't exclusively used for that purpose. This could be very bad news for other services used for Twitter, such as ow.ly and bit.ly. Neither are aimed specifically at adult use, but both could be used for such purposes.

This is an interesting cautionary tale about URL shorteners, because when one goes bust or is shut down, it can cause an awful lot of havoc, because all the previously shortened URLs cease to work.

There's been an understandable amount of fuss from vb.ly owners Ben Metcalfe and Violet Blue about losing their URL. While we can see why they're frustrated, we can't help but think they're also being a bit daft. After all, if you want to set up a URL-shortening service that intends to link to adult material, how about you don't do it in a country with very different laws and moral ideas to you?

Internet commenters are now a flurry about how religion destroys technological progress. But put down the Dawkins for a moment guys, not every country is the same, and sometimes there are rules to obey. Are we pro censorship? No. But there are plenty of domains where these services aren't such a problem.

Anyway, Libya can blame porn all it wants, we know this is really all about the stolen plutonium. Metcalfe and Blue should think themselves lucky no one turned up in a VW camper van to machinegun them. Having a domain name seized is much less irksome than being killed to death.

Image credit: Universal, whose Back to the Future is incidentally available on Blu-ray from 25 October.