When is breaking the law defensible?

I don’t think the DMCA was misworded. It says exactly what those bribing congress intended.
That said I do agree it’s best to follow the law. I just can’t get worked up about those who break it, and don’t harm anyone else.

Putting aside practical considerations, I’d say that breaking the law is defensable when obeying the law would itself be immoral. So, hiding a Jew in Nazi Germany instead of turning him in, helping a fugitive slave in antebellum America, having a sit-it at a segregated lunch counter, and things like that are ok, and more than that, moral acts of heroism.

Breaking the law against smoking pot in the US isn’t moral, because, even though pot isn’t really all that dangerous and the law against marajuana use is a kind of dumb law, it isn’t an immoral law, and there’s nothing immoral about not smoking pot.

Does “isn’t moral” = immoral?

It’s vague.
That said I do agree it’s best to follow the law. I just can’t get worked up about those who break it, and don’t harm anyone else.

For example:
"a technological measure “effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work. "

Changing the browser settings on your web browser does not require the authority of the copyright owner. Cracking decryption does. And you also have the matter of what is considered “fair use” of images displayed on a public web site.

Its never defensible, since most people obey laws without having to be explicitly told that something is wrong, the law in essence is for a minority of people that disobey the law.

Its presumed that of the people , by the people and for the people, that law is in existence, and if the people want the law changed, they have their elected representatives to do just that.

I think by and large , the lady who set that guy on fire should be found guilty , but I have no real doubts that we as a society are perfectly willing to let her walk concidering the circumstances.

But as a society we are going to be coming to grips with the fact that a majority of the people have decided that somethings are fine , regardless of the law and sooner or later the legislative assemblies are going to have to decide whose side they are on, ours or the special interest groups that push for laws.


Isn’t the right click disabling coding attempting to control access?

Why should cracking decryption be outlawed though?

Anyone can get DeCSS tools, meanwhile it’s legally impossible to space shift DVDs you paid for on to your portable media player like you can CDs.

The DMCA doesn’t stop piracy by blocking decryption. Any law breaker can get the tools to copy DVDs. Decryption techniques are shared anonymously. Meanwhile law abiding people can’t enjoy movies on the go.

What it does punish is law abiding people.

It’s been used to bully, and silence people. The Church of Scientology likes to use the DMCA to harass it’s critics.
It’s a bad law that greatly damages fair use and Free Speech rights. It hurts public discourse.

It’s a travesty.

For the “weed is immoral because it’s illegal” crowd.

What do you say about alcohol? Isn’t the legal/nonlegalness of the two things rather arbitrary?

Alcohol is worse for your health. It’s way more prone to cause violence. It causes car accidents from people who choose to drive under it’s influence. It impairs judgment but it’s a stimulant so it makes them more likely to go out and do something reckless.

Now I don’t feel a desire for ether substance, but I have to ask if someone does feel the desire for a such thing aren’t they likely to be less of a burden and danger to society if they choose weed over alcohol?

And isn’t causing the least amount of harm to other people the moral thing to do usually?

Not neccesarily…many choices aren’t moral choices. But in this particular case, I’d say smoking marijuana, if there’s a law against it, is immoral. Likewise, drinking alcohol, if there’s no law against it, isn’t neccesarily immoral (it can be, if you drink in a manner that causes yourself or others serious harm, if you drink instead of doing things you should be doing, or so on).

You’re right that the fact that alcohol is legal and pot is illegal is a strictly arbirary thing. We could, as a society, choose to do the opposite. But in this case, the immorality of smoking pot isn’t in the pot itself, it’s in the choosing to break the law.

Before 2003 sodomy was illegal in roughly one quarter of the states in the USA. Was performing sodomy immoral at that time?

I’d say breaking the law is only OK when the authority making and enforcing the law is not a legitimate one in terms of being a democratic institution. So, IMO, It’s OK to break the laws of occupying powers, dictatorships, apartheid regimes etc. So smuggling slaves in the old South was OK, in my book, because the US at the time, not allowing universal suffrage, was not what I would consider a legitimate authority. A chinese person circumventing his country’s internet laws, likewise. But breaking the speed limit or smoking weed in the US now, while possibly morally defensible for some reasons, still occur in the framework of a democratic society, and thus carry a taint of immorality for the opposing reason of contravening the implicit social contract. The most moral action in that case is to work to change the law within that framework. Does that make sense?

Never defensible? Seriously? Even laws that are unjust?

When the law violates basic civil rights, civil disobedience is virtuous.

I can’t see why the law would differentiate between pot and booze. It makes no sense to me why they would allow one and not the other.

I also think that between the popularity of pot and the problems its illegality causes, it seems rather counter productive to keep enforcing the laws against it.

Vigilance is required most of the time. Vigilantism is much harder to defend, on the other hand. :wink:

Ultimately I believe people must answer to themselves before they answer to a government: breaking the law is defensible when the law is wrong, although you’re still obligated to find the best and least harmful way of making your point and righting what’s wrong. At times, breaking the law is required.

The alternative is surrendering your own morals and leaving them to the hands of politicians and to society at large, which is dangerous and in my opinion cowardly.

You have to be VERY careful with this approach, though. For example, many people view speed limits as “wrong”, because they consider them both unnecessary, and an attempt by the authorities to mine motorists for cash. I’ve seen it asserted numerous times on this Board that speeding is defensible because speed limits shouldn’t have to be followed, and often there is some citation made to Ghandi and/or King and moralism.

At some point, if you are going to assert an immoral law, there has to be some fairly good basis for asserting the law is immoral, beyond your own conscience. Else, you can simply develop a weak conscience, and life gets much easier.

This addresses Dr. Cube’s arguments above as well. And no, I’m not a practising attorney any more. I teach now. :slight_smile:

Comparing speed limits to Gandhi is stupid, but I agree with you that conflicts are inevitable. I think the conflicts themselves are usually a good thing, though.

When the breaking the law results in a greater good.

For instance, I am at a red light. I am stopped. I see the car behind me is coming at an alarmingly fast rate and clearly is not going to be able to stop. I can NOT violate the law and NOT drive into the intersection against the red light. But then I’d be hit.

But if I do drive into the intersection and avoid being hit, I could even honk my horn and clear that intersection thus avoiding even more problems that could potentially occur. “Running” this read light is small potatoes compared to letting my car get crashed up and having myself and the other driver injured.

There’s nothing more to morality than one’s conscience, so to speak (not a term I would use). Ultimately, I am the one that must act, I am the one that must choose an action, and of all the competiting ideas about right and wrong, I am the one that must choose one and base my actions on it. No one can do it for me.

How do you propose I decide whether there is an immoral law but for my own conscience?

Sorry, but did anyone else have flashbacks to college and reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience while reading the thread title? :smiley:

Thoreau argued (if I am remembering correctly) that observing and respecting a government’s laws was a moral disservice to you and your country if it required suppressing your conscience. Therefore, it was immoral to go along with aspects of the law that play into a larger injustice perpetrated by the government. In Thoreau’s case, I believe it was slavery and the Mexican-American war.

In any case, I’m sure there are better summaries of Thoreau’s ideas out there on the internet. His arguments were extremely influential, so anyone interested in the defensibility of law breaking should really look him up.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail is also a must-read for the same reason. Dr. King outlines why he believes civil disobedience is morally justified quite succinctly and effectively. Here’s a link to it: Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]

What moral authority does the law have to ban weed when alcohol is legal? The law is essentially saying “weed is bad” while it’s perfectly fine with another more dangerous chemical.

Isn’t just law consistent? It’s giving favor to fans of one more dangerous substance while going “woo woo weed is bad!!” to a more benign substance.

Is breaking a hypocritical law just as immoral in your opinion?

Others might feel morally that a person is entitled to certain natural inherent liberties that weed happens to fall into. Are these people immoral if they choose weed too?