*countable infinities only

Eric Smith eric at brouhaha.com
Tue Jun 19 14:45:17 UTC 2012

Andrew Haley wrote:
> The problem with this claim is that it equivocates on the meaning of 
> "a right". There are at least two definitions of "a right" in this 
> sense: moral rights and legal rights. These are not the same. Moral 
> rights are not in the gift of any Government. While we may not have a 
> legal right to run whatever software we wish on hardware we own, it's 
> not at all unreasonable to claim a moral right to do so. Andrew. 

Orthogonal to moral vs. legal rights, there is also a distinction 
between positive and negative rights.  If you have a positive right to 
something, that actually puts an obligation on someone to guarantee that 
you get/have/exercise the something.  If you have a negative right to 
something, that only prohibits taking the something away from you, but 
doesn't put an obligation on anyone to guarantee that you 
get/have/exercise the something.

For instance, in the US the right to use a printing press is protected 
by the First Amendment (freedom of speech), but it is a negative right, 
in that the government can't (except in very limited circumstances) do 
anything to prevent you from using a printing press, but the government 
is NOT obligated to provide you with a printing press.  On the other 
hand, the right to an attorney for criminal defendants, protected by the 
Sixth Amendment, has been interpreted by SCOTUS a positive right, since 
if you cannot afford an attorney the government is obligated to provide 
one for you.

I would claim that the moral right to run whatever software we wish on 
hardware we own is a negative right; it doesn't put any obligation on 
another party to help you do it.  If you can hack up Fedora to run on a 
Nokia Windows phone, more power to you, but Nokia and Microsoft aren't 
obligated to help you do it, and aren't legally prohibited from doing 
things that make it difficult for you to exercise your moral right.  
Possibly in this example someone might consider Nokia and Microsoft to 
be infringing their moral right, but (in the US at least) they'd have no 


More information about the devel mailing list