Bonum Certa Men Certa

The Moral and the Legal by Richard Stallman

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Jan 18, 2024,
updated Jan 19, 2024

by Richard Stallman

Every legal issue about free/libre software is at root a moral issue. Before we think about the legal level of the issue, we need to understand the moral level.

The legal level is about what current laws require. When we in the free software movement make a legal argument, that is what we are arguing about. However, the moral level is what matters most—it is where our goals come from. Liberty resides at that level, which is why we also call it “libre” software.

The two levels are not the same or even parallel. In general, that X is currently lawful says nothing about whether X is morally legitimate, and vice versa. We might propose to change some laws to better follow some of our moral ideas.

There is a pervasive tendency, especially in the US, to assume that laws dictate right and wrong. If we in the free software movement post articles or letters that discuss only the legal level, readers will tend to assume we agree with that assumption—that what we judge by is legality above all, so that if an action is lawful we are unable to criticize it.

Since our overall purpose is to end the lawful but unjust computing practices (nonfree software and SaaSS) because we judge morally that they are unjust, we must show we do not define morality as “not breaking any laws.” We need to keep reminding the public to pay attention to the deeper level, which is the moral level. If, in a communication, we focus on the shallow aspects alone, we miss an opportunity to show the public our deeper message. Because some readers are interested only in the legalities, we must show we don't consider those to be paramount.

In some cases, we contend, morality and legality say opposite things. In the US, distributing a program that can break DRM is illegal; the companies that implement DRM point to this, and hope you will confuse legality with morality. We are careful not to get confused that way. Breaking DRM is morally admirable; what's immoral is to implement DRM.

In anything we publish, and anything we send to strangers (they might redistribute it to the public), we have to show that our views about issues are primarily based on the moral level. Even when the immediately crucial part is at the legal level, we must show how we judge programs, and laws themselves, at the moral level. Thus, when people ask whether a program follows the XYZ law, we can say, “We believe it does—and, most importantly, it respects users' freedom.”

Presenting the two levels in relation to each other is a very good way of showing them both, and also showing how they are related. For instance, when speaking for the FSF, it can be useful to say, “Your program FOO contains part of the source code of GNU BAR” (a legal issue) “and fails to follow the GNU GPL rules” (a legal issue), “and that denies other users some of the rights they are entitled to” (the deeper moral issue). “To ensure all users of code from GNU BAR fully enjoy the four freedoms for it” (the goal at the moral level), “we invoke our copyright to require you to stop distributing the code that way” (using legal power as a tool to achieve the moral goal).

That is not the only way to present them both. In other contexts, not the FSF, you might need to say something very different. The main thing is to remember to talk about the moral level often, so readers realize it is the deeper and more important of the two levels.

Other Recent Techrights' Posts

An "Efficient Windows 11 Experience" is Removing a Text Editor (Less than 5 Megabytes in Size) and Adding Chatbots That Require a New PC/Datacentre
Vista 11 24H2 update removes WordPad
 
The Campaign to 'End' Richard Stallman - Part II - Scaring People Who Produce Videos in Support of Stallman
There are allegations of threats, defamation, and censorship
A 3-Year Campaign to Coerce/Intimidate Us Into Censorship: Targeting My Wife
In my view, it is a form of overt sexism
[Chart] Chromebooks in Micronesia Grew at the Expense of Microsoft Windows
As of today...
Linus Torvalds Mocked "Cloud Native" in His Latest Talk (Arguing It's Just Hype), 'Linux' Foundation 'Research' (Marketing) Chooses Proprietary Software to Query Its Adopters
The name "Linux" is overused, abused, even grossly misused
Links 29/05/2024: More Arrests of Regime Critics and Hate Crimes
Links for the day
Brittany Day (linuxsecurity.com) Now Leverages Microsoft Chatbots to Promote Microsoft Propaganda Disguised as "Linux"
What Brittany Day does is an attack both on the Web and on Linux
[Meme] Don't Trust Users to Boot Their Own PCs?
UEFI 'secure' boot
Links 29/05/2024: Hack The Box, Why I Left Healthcare, and Chatbots as Health Risk
Links for the day
Gemini Links 29/05/2024: BESM Retro Second Edition and Itanium Day
Links for the day
Azerbaijan: Microsoft Falls From 99.5% to Almost Nothing or Less Than 20% (Windows Down Sharply, GNU/Linux Surges)
Based on statSounter
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, May 28, 2024
IRC logs for Tuesday, May 28, 2024
The Campaign to 'End' Richard Stallman - Part I - Two Canceled Talks in a Row?
RMS has left Europe, so the concept of "delayed" talk is facetious or deeply cynical
On Desktops/Laptops in Andorra Windows Fell to Less Than Half, 20% If One Counts Mobile as Well
And this is a European country
[Meme] 3 Years Later
If you're going to start a fight, make sure you can handle it
When You Leave a Bad Employer and Move on to Better Things
Perhaps my main mistake was not resigning from my job sooner
No, Your Site Likely Does Not Need WordPress
I was one of the first users of WordPress
GNU/Linux in Cameroon: Rising Steadily While Windows Falls From 99% to Just 6%
If one also counts mobile (mostly Android)
Monkey See, Monkey Share
on deprivation of users
From 0.17% to 10% or More (GNU/Linux in Dominica)
Dominica isn't well known, but it does seem to have embraced Chromebooks in recent years
Links 28/05/2024: Tensions in East Asia, UK Mandatory National Service
Links for the day
Gemini Links 28/05/2024: NetCrawl and Living in Lagrange
Links for the day
Guardian Digital, Inc (linuxsecurity.com) Handed Over Its Web Site to Chatbots That Generate SEO Garbage
They need to be called out on it
statCounter Sees Microsoft Windows at Below 1% in American Samoa
Not even 1%!
Windows Down to 60% of Guam's Desktops/Laptops and Down to a Quarter Overall
No wonder Microsoft is panicking
Today in UEFI 'Secure' Boot Debates (the Frog is Already Boiling and Melting)
Over at LQ today
[Meme] A "Modern" Web's Message in a Bottle
So-called 'security'
Brittany Day: Still Chatbot Slinging, Producing Fake 'Articles' About "Linux"
random garbage produced (and censored) by Microsoft
Almost 4k Gemini Capsules, 5th Anniversary Only Weeks Away
The Web will continue to deteriorate
Microsoft: $1 Million a Day for Contempt of Court Orders (Justice Department)
Microsoft behaves as if it's 100% exempt from laws
Catbodia? In Cambodia, Microsoft's Windows Fell to All-Time Low of Less Than a Quarter.
Cambodia is leaving Microsoft behind
[Meme] Deadnaming
Guess who uses a name that was deprecated well over a decade ago?
[Meme] 'Secure' Boot in a Nutshell
Ask Microsoft if it is "safe" to boot Linux
New Press Report Explains Microsoft Severance and Quiet (Undisclosed) Layoffs
Some people will call this "loophole", whereas others will opine that it is outright illegal (but kept secret to circumvent scrutiny)
Global South is Android/Linux (Windows Era Has Come to an End Already)
I've decided to take a quick glance at South American trends for all operating systems
[Meme] Unified Patent Troll
Unified Patent Court remains illegal and unconstitutional
The European Patent Office is Sinking
Officials (or national delegates) at the European Patent Organisation have long been warned about this (by staff representatives from the European Patent Office), but they ignored the warnings
A 3-Year Campaign to Coerce/Intimidate Us Into Censorship: Targeting Guest Writers (Intimidation)
Some high-profile people have told me that the serial defamer is a "monster" (their word), so why would Neil Brown wish to help him?
Summer in the Air
We have a good pace going on owing to health, positivity, inertia and good software tools
GNU/Linux Activity in Belize
From an economic point of view, Microsoft needn't worry about Belize, but when it comes to preserving the Windows monopoly/monoculture Belize matters
Links 28/05/2024: Back to MP3, NVIDIA Sued by Authors
Links for the day
Gemini Links 28/05/2024: Bad Beach and TLS
Links for the day
Microsoft Windows Fell From 100% to Just 7.5% in Sierra Leone
Based on statCounter
In Benin, Microsoft's Windows Fell Below 10%, GNU/Linux Surged to 6% or Higher on Desktops/Laptops
That's nearly 7% - a lot higher than the average in Africa
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Monday, May 27, 2024
IRC logs for Monday, May 27, 2024
Delayed Series About Dr. Richard Stallman
A lot of the attacks on him boil down to petty things
[Meme] Elephant in the Asian Room
With ChromeOS included GNU/Linux is at 6% across Asia
GNU/Linux in Bangladesh Up From 0.5% to Over 4% (Windows Slid From 95% to 18%)
Bangladesh is one of the world's most densely-populated countries
A 3-Year Campaign to Coerce/Intimidate Us Into Censorship: Targeting Several Webhosts (in Collaboration and Conjunction With Mentally-Ill Flunkies)
Every attempt to nuke the current hosting failed, but it's still worth noting
Links 27/05/2024: One Month Left for ICQ, More Openwashing Highlighted
Links for the day
Gemini Links 27/05/2024: Back to GNU/Linux, Librem 5 Assessed
Links for the day
StatCounter (or statCounter) Has Mostly Recovered From a Day's Downtime (Malfunction)
Some of the material we've published based on the statCounter datasets truly annoys Microsofters
Google: We Don't Have Source Diversity, But We Have Chatbot Spew in Place of Sources (and It's Not Even Accurate)
Search engines and news search never looked this bad...
[Meme] Security is Not a Failure to Boot (or Illusion of Security Due to 'Unknown' System)
Red Hat is largely responsible for this mess
What is Secure Boot?
Security means the user feels safe and secure - i.e. confident that the machine would continue to work following a reboot or a system upgrade (or kernel upgrade)
StatCounter (or statCounter) Has Been Broken for Nearly 24 Hours. Who Benefits? Microsoft.
StatCounter is broken right now and has been broken for nearly 24 hours already
Links 27/05/2024: Chatbots Generate Hateful Output, TPM Performance Scrutinised
Links for the day
David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) Realises What He Should Have Decades Ago
seeing that DHH is moving away from Apple is kind of a big deal
Reinvigorating the Voice of GNU/Linux Users (Not Companies Whose Chiefs Don't Even Use GNU/Linux!)
Scott Ruecker has just announced his return
"Tech" in the Context of Even Bigger Issues
"Tech" (or technology) activism is important; but there's a bigger picture
A Decade of In-Depth Coverage of Corruption at the European Patent Office (EPO)
The world needs transparency and sunlight
Hopefully Not Sunset for StatCounter
We hope that StatCounter will be back soon.
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Sunday, May 26, 2024
IRC logs for Sunday, May 26, 2024
Links 27/05/2024: Self-Publishing, Patent Monopolies, and Armed Conflicts
Links for the day
Gemini Links 27/05/2024: Tethering Connection and PFAs
Links for the day
Imagine Canada Enabling Rapists to Harass Their (Rape) Victims
This analogy is applicable because abusers are empowered against the abused