Is in Violation of U.S. Sanctions? staff portrait., the art search engine start-up that bills itself as the Pandora for the art world, is coming under fire for its name: the “.sy” suffix is the top-level domain name for the Syrian Arab Republic and those domains must be purchased from the Syrian government. According to an article in Slate, “ appears to have been breaking United States sanctions against the war-torn country.”

More from that article:

According to an email from a company representative,’s founder and CEO, the 25-year-old wunderkind Carter Cleveland, bought the .sy domain suffix because it “perfectly captures’s mission and accessible character, and is the shortest english spell-able domain that begins with the word ‘art’ making it perfect for sharing on social networks.” However, the need for a catchy brand name that would work well within the online worlds of Facebook and Twitter seems to have blinded to an offline world of civil war and international politics.

That’s the thing about quaint Internet start-ups. They keep never considering the offline world of civil war and international politics.

Apparently, Mr. Cleveland purchased the domain from a third party named, which has headquarters in the British Virgin Islands and does not sound in the least bit shady. Here’s another juicy passage from the article:

A Marcaria representative told me that to buy a .sy domain name, would have had to sign over power of attorney to Marcaria’s legal proxy in Syria—the Karawani Law Firm of Damascus—who would have then sent the relevant funds to the STE. In early 2011, authority for Syrian domain name subscriptions was taken over by the National Agency for Network Services (NANS), another Syrian government entity, which directed that all registration and renewal payments be made to an account at the Commercial Bank of Syria.

Although the company’s money was going to fund a known dictator and U.S.-designated sponsor of terrorism, it was not, as yet, breaking any laws, because Syria was not yet under sanctions.

With the president’s signing of Executive Order 13582, “investment in Syria by a United States person, wherever located” became prohibited., according to Slate, is claiming that they are immune because they renewed the domain name for two years before the sanctions were even in place. The alleged violation, as Slate points out, appears to be unfortunately accidental; the company “seemingly didn’t even know that it might be violating sanctions until Slate approached it.”

Disclosure: Josh Kushner, brother of Observer owner Jared Kushner and a board member of the Observer Media Group, is an investor.

Is in Violation of U.S. Sanctions?