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.

While Go Daddy’s CEO and GC have been working to undo the negative effects of the SOPA controversy and boycott, there are reports that sentiments against the company have yet to fully abate. According to The Washington Post, “Users of domain registrar Namecheap who’ve been trying to transfer domains in from GoDaddy in the wake of its SOPA revolt in the past couple days have been running into a bit of a speed bump: Namecheap alleges in customer service emails that GoDaddy is blocking its WHOIS requests, which means it needs to ‘manually insert WHOIS details into the form.’ “

In the same report, Go Daddy counters that “this isn’t a direct response to an elevated rate of domain transfers,” and the Post says “circumstantial evidence suggests that GoDaddy is correct on that point.”

Go Daddy is perhaps the most glaring example of how the SOPA controversy is playing out, but it is by no means the end of the story. According to ABC News, another Reddit-fueled effort is now seeking to identify Congressional “SOPA supporters who have seats up for grabs in this year’s election cycle and [fund] their opponents.”

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is one of the most prominent lawmakers to be targeted by the latest Reddit movement, and ABC reports that “After less than 36 hours, ‘Operation Pull Ryan’ was born and over $7,500 has been donated to [Ryan challenger Rob] Zerban’s campaign.”

The House Judiciary Committee delayed its plans to debate SOPA in December, and instead has said it will re-schedule sometime in early 2012. In the meantime, companies on both sides of the SOPA issue are carefully measuring how their stances on the bill will play to a public that has shown it is paying close attention and is willing to act.

See also:
“Debate Over Web Piracy Act Goes Viral,” The National Law Journal, December 2011.