GoDaddy accused of interfering with anti-SOPA exodus

A rival accuses GoDaddy of blocking customers boycotting the registrar because of its support for a drastic copyright bill. GoDaddy denies wrongdoing.

An effort by GoDaddy customers to boycott the domain registrar over its support for Hollywood-backed copyright legislation has sparked allegations of foul play.

NameCheap, whose chief executive last week likened the Stop Online Piracy Act to "detonating a nuclear bomb" on the Internet, said today that GoDaddy has intentionally thrown up technical barriers to prevent its customers from leaving. GoDaddy lost over 70,000 domains last week.

NameCheap has seized on a dispute over the Stop Online Piracy Act as a way to lure new customers.
NameCheap has seized on a dispute over the Stop Online Piracy Act as a way to lure new customers.

It's not alone: at least half a dozen GoDaddy rivals have seized on their competitor's pro-SOPA lobbying to lure its customers away. NameCheap dubbed December 29 "move your domain" day, offering below-cost transfers with the coupon "SOPASUCKS" plus a $1 donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Other registrars such as Dreamhost, HostGator, and Hover.com, and Name.com have offered similar SOPA-related promotions.

"GoDaddy appears to be returning incomplete Whois information to Namecheap, delaying the transfer process" in violation of rules established by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, NameCheap wrote in a blog post today. By this afternoon, the company said that GoDaddy had "finally unblocked our queries" and that transfers should now "go smoothly."

For its part, GoDaddy, which has reportedly called customers to ask them to return, denies any wrongdoing. In a statement sent to CNET this afternoon, the company said:

Namecheap posted their accusations in a blog, but to the best our of knowledge, has yet to contact Go Daddy directly, which would be common practice for situations like this. Normally, the fellow registrar would make a request for us to remove the normal rate limiting block which is a standard practice used by Go Daddy, and many other registrars, to rate limit Whois queries to combat WhoIs abuse.


Because some registrars (and other data gathering, analyzing and reporting entities) have legitimate need for heavy port 43 access, we routinely grant requests for expanded access per an SOP we've had in place for many years. Should we make contact with Namecheap, and learn they need similar access, we would treat that request similarly.


As a side note, we have seen some nefarious activity this weekend which came from non-registrar sources. But, that is not unusual for a holiday weekend, nor would it cause legitimate requests to be rejected. Nevertheless, we have now proactively removed the rate limit for Namecheap, as a courtesy, but it is important to point out, there still may be back-end IP addresses affiliated with Namecheap of which we are unaware. For complete resolution, we should be talking to each other -- an effort we are initiating since they have not done so themselves."

Namecheap refused to say who at GoDaddy was contacted or when. Instead, chief executive Richard Kirkendall sent CNET a prepared statement saying "all we know on our side is that GoDaddy was preventing us from conducting normal business with our clients, and in turn causing harm to our reputation and at the same time overloading our support channels."

"We were quite confident after significant analysis that this issue was not on our end, and after the issue had persisted for more than 24 hours with no response from the other party, we made a blog post clarifying what we felt was causing the issue," the statement said. In a separate forum post, a Namecheap community manager said, without providing any additional information, the company tried "reaching out to GoDaddy" but received "no response."

Criticism of GoDaddy coalesced around a protest thread on Reddit and was aided by Jimmy Wales' announcement last week that "Wikipedia domain names will move away from GoDaddy." It inspired GoDaddyBoycott.org, which urged Internet users and companies to "boycott GoDaddy until they send a letter to Congress taking back any and all support of the House and Senate versions of the Internet censorship bill, both SOPA and PIPA." The Protect IP Act, or PIPA, is the Senate version of SOPA.

On December 23, GoDaddy partially caved, announcing that it was no longer backing SOPA, but stopping short of saying it will oppose the legislation. And not until today did it post a clarification saying GoDaddy "does not support" Protect IP, either. (The GoDaddyBoycott.org site, which hasn't been updated, continues to say that GoDaddy endorses the Senate bill.)

A GoDaddy representative did not respond to a question from CNET this afternoon asking whether the company now opposes SOPA and Protect IP.

SOPA, of course, represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore sites such as ThePirateBay.org.

It would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet providers, and other companies forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish, a kind of Internet death penalty. It's opposed (PDF) by many Internet companies and Internet users. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA .)

Accusations of hypocrisy help any boycott, and, as TechDirt helpfully noted, GoDaddy condemns intellectual property theft while encouraging customers to buy domains "that are perfect for infringing sites." If you try to buy the domain Chanel.com, for instance, you'll get offered "RealChanel.com" as an option.

Prior to its current public relations debacle, GoDaddy had been an enthusiastic supporter of expanding copyright law to deal with "parasite" Web sites. In testimony (PDF) before a House of Representatives hearing this spring, GoDaddy general counsel Christine Jones endorsed Domain Name System (DNS) blocking as a way to prevent Americans from accessing suspected piratical Web sites.

Jones said that DNS blocking is an "effective strategy for disabling access to illegal" Web sites. It can "be done by the registrar (which provides the authoritative DNS response), or, in cases where the registrar is unable or unwilling to comply, by the registry (which provides the Root zone file records -- the database -- for the entire TLD)," she said.

Last updated as of 8:24 p.m. PT with details about Namecheap's response.

 

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