As the controversial online piracy bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) makes its way through the House of Representatives, Go Daddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar, has withdrawn its support of the bill after seeing a flood of sudden domain name transfers protesting the company's position. While major internet companies were united in their opposition of the bill, Go Daddy welcomed the move and called the bill’s opponents “myopic.” Go Daddy has long been a prickly giant on the Internet with its offensive, sexist advertising, inflexible rules restricting ordinary usage, and its split customer service personality where half the phone reps are gracious and the other half are combative. No wonder, users seized the opportunity to punish Go Daddy for a political position on pending legislation which has mixed attributes.
The bill in question aims to curb online piracy of music, television shows, movies and counterfeit goods. With a court order, the US Attorney General could sentence piracy-networked websites to death within days by shutting them down. Financial support would be cut off from sites outside of the U.S and search engines will be forced to remove sites that infringe on copyright from their indexes. Supporters of SOPA include the U.S Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and the Recording Industry Association of America. The MPAA says that the act is completely constitutional but huge internet names such as Google, Yahoo and Twitter stand in complete resistance.
The tech community has reacted with an unprecedented political response, hitting Congress with 2 million emails, petitions and phone calls but Silicon Valley lobbyists are being spectacularly outspent by their Hollywood counterparts.
Go Daddy’s initial support of the bill was made clear in a letter of support to the House of Representatives, applauding the Committee for considering all parties and stating their intention to assist in the fine-tuning of the legislation. The company stated that ‘Go Daddy is committed to doing everything it can to ensure that the Internet is a safe and trustworthy way to communicate and conduct business. We are grateful that this Committee agrees that it’s time for increased enforcement action because U.S. businesses are hurting, and those of us in the Internet ecosystem are in a unique position to help.’ Adding that ‘It is ironic that some companies that initially opposed the enactment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) are now saying that it is working just fine, and that its notice and takedown procedures are sufficient to protect the rights of intellectual property holders.’
Go Daddy, which manages over 50 million domain names, found themselves on the receiving end of an online boycott. Reddit, a social news website owned by Condé Nast Digital, organized the boycott in retaliation to Go Daddy’s support of SOPA. The website set December, 29 as ‘move your domain day’ and transferred 51 of their own domains from Go Daddy. The boycott saw some 72,000 customers transfer their domains.
The company’s swift, apologetic U-turn was met with scepticism from the online community and media, no doubt inspired by Go Daddy's obnoxious business style. As an example, when one customer expressed his disdain with a Go Daddy customer service representative for combative phone conduct over a minor question involving port numbers, the customer said he would publish a resume of the exchange. To this, the CSR named Art declared, "Good, I always wanted to be famous."
Now, its unashamed withdrawal of support for SOPA has critics doubting the company’s integrity and viewing the move as more of a change of tactic than a change of heart. These sentiments are hardly redressed by the companies statement regarding their change of position. “We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to Go Daddy’s prior support for SOPA, which was reversed,” said Go Daddy CEO Warren Adelman. “Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.”
The company’s SOPA reversal is not the first time their integrity has been in question. Its backing of the act was seen by some as a strategic reaction to an ongoing legal battle with Oscar organization, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) who claim that Go Daddy were facilitators of trademark infringement. AMPAS objects to the purchase of famous names, allowing customers to buy a domain name and leave it in limbo with the owners gaining revenue from Go Daddy’s advertising partners. Other allegations include the aiding and abetting of trademark infringement, one in particularly being a $100 lawsuit for an unauthorised Michael Jackson Casino.
Go Daddy, which has previously been criticized for their sexist and exploitative advertisements are now raising eyebrows with a New York Times advertisement featuring a nearly naked Danica Patrick. Whether she will be enough to turn around the ill-feeling, remains to be seen.
Jude Freeman writes from London.