Could SOPA be just bad grammar?

In response to Evan Brown’s recent blog post on how to read the text of SOPA, I couldn’t help but pick up on what I can’t help but see as an odd gramatical quirk.

Thoughts?


Dear Evan,

I have listened with great interest to your recent discussions of SOPA and PIPA – although as an interested observer and “netizen”, as I am Australian.

I was especially interested to read your recent post on the reading of SOPA, in which you parse the text of the bill – namely that

[a] site has to be:

  • primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates infringement, circumvention or counterfeiting,
  • have only limited purpose or use other than offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates infringement, circumvention or counterfeiting, or,
  • be marketed by its operator or another acting in concert with that operator for use in offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates infringement, circumvention or counterfeiting

However, I disagree with your reading of the first part of Section 103 of SOPA, on a grammatical point.

If the ‘manner that … facilitates infringement’ refers to the design or operation of the website, then you are correct – Facebook would not fall afoul of this provision. This could be otherwise written as “primarily designed or operated (for the purpose of offering goods or services) in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates infringement, circumvention or counterfeiting”

If, however, the ‘manner that … facilitates infringement’ refers instead to the goods or services offered, then Facebook would come under fire – it is primarily designed for the purpose of offering sharing services that happen to enable infringement when used in a particular way. The primary purpose is not the facilitation of infringement, but this is not a stipulation under this reading of the law. It could be written as “primarily designed or operated for the purpose of (offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates infringement, circumvention or counterfeiting)”

The sentence as written is highly grammatically ambiguous – and, if read one possible way, does indeed seem to be far more wide-reaching than your reading would suggest. Perhaps this would explain why so many people are concerned about this grammatical way of reading the law as it stands.

Yours Sincerely,
&c.

Posted in: Blog

Written by David

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