Morality clauses in domain registration

Domain registrars hold all the keys and write themselves blank checks.

GoDaddy has received a lot of bad press for their support of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), which they helped write and from whom they are exempt. However, GoDaddy and many other registrars should be avoided for more simple reasons.

From the GoDaddy Legal Agreement:

Go Daddy may also cancel the registration of a domain name, after thirty (30) days, if that name is being used, as determined by Go Daddy in its sole discretion, in association with spam or morally objectionable activities. Morally objectionable activities will include, but not be limited to:

  • Activities designed to defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, slander or harass third parties;
  • Activities prohibited by the laws of the United States and/or foreign territories in which you conduct business;
  • Activities designed to encourage unlawful behavior by others, such as hate crimes, terrorism and child pornography;
  • Activities that are tortious, vulgar, obscene, invasive of the privacy of a third party, racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable;
  • Activities designed to impersonate the identity of a third party; and
  • Activities designed to harm or use unethically minors in any way.

In response, many are switching to Namecheap. This registrar tends to play contrarian with GoDaddy so fortunately they are against SOPA. However, from the Namecheap Registration Agreement: (Namecheap has removed their morality clause, see below.)

Namecheap may also cancel the registration of a domain name, after thirty (30) days, if that name is being used, as determined by Namecheap in its sole discretion, in association with spam or morally objectionable activities (as well as any activities set forth in Section 4 above). Morally objectionable activities will include, but not be limited to

  • activities designed to defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, slander or harass third parties;
  • activities prohibited by the laws of the United States and/or foreign territories in which you conduct business;
  • activities designed to encourage unlawful behavior by others, such as hate crimes, terrorism and child pornography;
  • activities that are tortious, vulgar, obscene, invasive of the privacy of a third party, racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable; activities designed to impersonate the identity of a third party;
  • and activities designed to harm or use unethically minors in any way.

Both have nearly identical language. These clauses leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Should I really be held to the backwards laws of “foreign territories in which you conduct business?” Software sales are global, I interact with many customers in very dangerous nations.

Who determines what is “objectionable?” Certainly the test should be legality not questionability. The internet is the backbone of the economy and vital for freedom of expression. Depending upon corporations like this, especially those in violent support of SOPA, leaves wide a huge vulnerability in communication.

Let’s not get started on obscene.

What can you do about it? Support a better registrar. I use Gandi whose motto is “no bullshit.” No morality clause, and easy-to-read legal agreements.

Addendum (2011-12-25): As pointed out in this Hacker News thread, Gandi has a similar clause. Hover (Tucows) doesn’t feature any of these crazy terms. A statement from the GM of Hover discusses why these clauses exist and why they don’t have them:

Generally, most of the power a registrar requires to prevent the bad guys from doing bad things comes from national laws and not all these extra clauses. We (Hover/Tucows) find that all these extra conditions just make it harder for our customers to do business with us and so we’ve left out as much as we can and rely mostly on national laws to get what we need done.

Addendum (2011-12-29): Namecheap has removed their morality clause. I am happy to have effected change on this issue, and it is a move in the right direction. :)