The final week of 2011 saw several business stories that tried to fly under the end-of-year radar (none failing quite so spectacularly as Verizon’s ill-fated $2 bill-pay fee), and the one that may end up having the most impact in 2012 is the battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act. The proposed anti-piracy legislation—which was introduced in October by Texas Republican Lamar Smith and goes by the acronym SOPA—is an attempt to make a play at toughening restrictions on the duplication and sharing of copyrighted materials on the web. But parties on both sides of the issue are finding that opinions on SOPA are not as black and white as they might have seemed. No single organization has felt the sting of SOPA more keenly than Internet domain registrar Go Daddy. Unlike many other U.S. tech companies such as Google and Facebook, which publically came out against SOPA as being too restrictive, Go Daddy took a pro-SOPA stance—which led to a widespread grassroots campaign against the company. In late December, a comment thread on the social media site Reddit posited, “GoDaddy supports SOPA, I’m transferring 51 domains & suggesting a move your domain day,” a notion that quickly gained support and spread an anti-Go Daddy message across the Internet. At issue is the latitude the bill provides to enforcement agencies—specifically the U.S. Department of Justice—in punishing those who fall within the legislation’s definition of copyright infringement. The proposed boycott and general anti-Go Daddy vitriol were significant enough to lead company CEO Warren Adelman to officially reverse the company’s pro-SOPA stance. In a statement released on December 23, Adelman said, “Fighting online piracy is of the utmost importance, which is why Go Daddy has been working to help craft revisions to this legislation—but we can clearly do better. . . It’s very important that all Internet stakeholders work together on this. . . Go Daddy will support it when and if the Internet community supports it.” The statement goes on to note:
Go Daddy and its General Counsel, Christine Jones, have worked with federal lawmakers for months to help craft revisions to legislation first introduced some three years ago. Jones has fought to express the concerns of the entire Internet community and to improve the bill by proposing changes to key defined terms, limitations on DNS filtering to ensure the integrity of the Internet, more significant consequences for frivolous claims, and specific provisions to protect free speech. . . . In an effort to eliminate any confusion about its reversal on SOPA though, Jones has removed blog postings that had outlined areas of the bill Go Daddy did support. “Go Daddy has always fought to preserve the intellectual property rights of third parties, and will continue to do so in the future,” Jones said.