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GoDaddy Drops Support for SOPA, Sort Of

GoDaddy is often in the doghouse of public opinion. Whether it’s making leering television ads, promoting its chairman and founder shooting elephants in Africa, or supporting points of view antithetical to the nature of a free and open Internet, the company doesn’t seem to back down. Or does it?

GoDaddy was criticized last month after Gizmodo published a list of firms that were on record as supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The list comes from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, which was shepherding the bill into law. SOPA would give unprecedented powers to copyright holders to demand that seemingly infringing Web sites be shut down without any process to determine whether the request is valid. (That list appears to also include firms that don’t support SOPA.)

In its original form, SOPA would kill a targeted site, block any payments made to it by ad networks or charge processors, and remove the site from search engines. All of these measures would be backed by extreme penalties. Most sensible people — including a host of Internet gurus — say this could enable censorship of the nature perpetuated by totalitarian governments, like China. If enacted, SOPA would have huge repercussions for all Web site operators of all sizes, including the millions hosted by GoDaddy.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter are among the many Internet firms that oppose SOPA, while record labels, film studios, and publishers are on the list of supporters.

GoDaddy’s founder, Bob Parsons, filed a statement back in November with Congress that outlined the company’s broad support for a number of previous measures as well as SOPA that break the Internet and block free speech in the narrow interest of defending the limited rights of copyright holders to protect their work against unauthorized distribution:

…our company strongly supported the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008, the Protect Our Children Act of 2008, and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT IP). GoDaddy has always supported both government and private industry efforts to identify and disable all types of illegal activity on the Internet. It is for these reasons that I’m still struggling with why some Internet companies oppose PROTECT IP and SOPA.

After receiving a combination of withering scorn and the threat of mass domain name transfers, including the 1,000 operated by the Cheezburger Network, GoDaddy appeared to back down, and pulled its support for SOPA. (It’s unclear how many domain names were transferred, of course, and whether the firm was motivated by public opinion or the potential for customer defection.)

Read GoDaddy’s statement, but I don’t precisely accept this change of heart. First, while GoDaddy claims to repudiate SOPA, that is only in its current form, which now has seemingly no chance of advancing into law. Second, the firm doesn’t repudiate its backing of previous flawed efforts, many of which are now in law. Third, it holds out support for the bill in the future: “Go Daddy will support it when and if the Internet community supports it.” Who is this “Internet community?” It’s a rather nebulous concept, easily defined in whatever way GoDaddy chooses. GoDaddy’s CEO (who took on the job a week ago) told Gizmodo that GoDaddy would be willing to resume its support of SOPA if
there were a “consensus” among “internet leadership,” but wouldn’t say what such a consensus would even resemble.

Finally, GoDaddy wants to revise history. This specious note in its press release is risible:

In changing its position, Go Daddy remains steadfast in its promise to support security and stability of the Internet. In an effort to eliminate any confusion about its reversal on SOPA though, [General Counsel Christine] Jones has removed blog postings that had outlined areas of the bill Go Daddy did support.

I left GoDaddy hosting years ago when it failed to perform seemingly minor technical tasks in a competent fashion, once denying that a top-level domain registrar had the authority to vouch for me owning a domain in that hierarchy. But if I had an account with them, I would leave now. The firm opposes the very nature of the beast that bore them.

If you’d like advice on transferring your domain name registration and other hosting from GoDaddy (or any firm), you can read a long piece I wrote for Macworld that has all the details.

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