GoDaddy bows to boycott, now 'opposes' SOPA copyright bill

In response to "Dump GoDaddy Day," the embattled domain registrar finally decides to oppose drastic Hollywood-backed copyright bills.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read

"Dump GoDaddy Day" appears to have worked.

GoDaddy, the domain register targeted by online activists in response to its enthusiasm for a pair of Hollywood-backed copyright bills, has finally denounced the legislation in response to a boycott scheduled for today.

Warren Adelman, the company's chief executive, said today that "GoDaddy opposes SOPA," meaning the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is facing a House of Representatives committee vote next month.

A GoDaddy spokeswoman confirmed to CNET this afternoon that "we oppose PIPA, as well." That's the Senate bill known as Protect IP, which will be debated on the Senate floor January 24. (See CNET's SOPA FAQ.)

The idea of boycotting GoDaddy began with 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."

GoDaddy did itself few favors by only saying it no longer supported SOPA -- but pointedly not criticizing it -- and declining to answer questions from CNET and customers who asked for further clarification. Accusations of interfering with customers' attempts to leave, which appear to have arisen from a misunderstanding, didn't help.

Neither did gleeful attempts by competitors to lure away GoDaddy customers. At least half a dozen GoDaddy rivals responded with anti-SOPA promotions: 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, Hover.com, and Name.com have offered similar anti-SOPA promotions. NameCheap even offered step-by-step instructions titled: "How to transfer a domain from GoDaddy."

After GoDaddy began to back away from SOPA last week, customers-turned-activists demanded a full repudiation. A discussion thread on GoDaddy's support forums said: "Until GoDaddy gets a clue and changes their stance to being opposed to all SOPA-like legislation... my business and I and our network of influence will continue to boycott you."

Today's newly contrite statement from Adelman, the CEO, did just that:

We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy's prior support for SOPA, which was reversed. GoDaddy 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.

SOPA, of course, represents the latest effort from Hollywood's movie and recording studios and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially at offshore sites such as ThePirateBay.org. It would allow the Justice Department to force search engines, Internet providers, and other companies 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, who often cite free speech concerns.

Before this 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.