Top Hat

Constitution amendments proposed

Happy Wednesday RPI. This week marks the beginning of a three-week period of constitutional discussion in the Student Senate. If you recall, the Constitution Committee was re-established earlier this year with the explicit purpose of resolving ambiguities in the document, making fixes to inconsistent or inaccurate sections, and performing edits at the explicit request of various organizations.

At this time, that process is nearly complete. For the next three weeks, all amendments discussed and determined by the Constitution Committee will be reviewed, opened for public discussion, and then voted upon during the Student Senate’s General Body Meetings. Every constitutional amendment that is passed by the Student Senate will appear on the GM Week 2015 ballot.

The Committee has currently allocated a total of eight amendments, to be spread across the next three weeks. Amendments are, in order:

1. General Changes and Disambiguation: a general amendment detailing stylistic fixes and the resolution of legislative inconsistencies in the document.

2. Officers of the Union: changes detailing the primary individuals in charge of the Union.

3. Executive Board: requested by the Union Executive Board, this details a membership change and language changes involving the E-Board.

4. Judicial Board: changes requested by the J-Board detailing Judicial Board membership and terms.

5. Judicial Procedures: changes requested by the J-Board on Judicial Procedure.

6. Greek Changes: changes requested by the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association.

7. Council System: requested by the Class Councils and E-Board Class Council Task Force, these changes involve the Class Councils, Undergraduate Council, Graduate Council, and the handling of class dues.

8. Referendum: changes requested by the Senate, detailing petitions, referendum, and initiative proceedings.

This Thursday, amendments one through three will be voted on by the Student Senate. Already, discussion threads have been posted on various social media platform—as each Amendment will be finalized by the committee, threads detailing both a description of each amendment and an overview of all tracked changes considered by the amendment will be posted for public review. If you are interested in previewing these amendments or want to reach out to give us direct feedback, you may view the thread on Reddit, or contact Constitution Committee Chairman Nate James ’16 at

Your input does not end with the Senate’s vote, of course: There will be at least one public forum leading up to the elections, during which students may openly and directly discuss any thoughts, issues, or concerns with student government officials. All amendments are also published in The Poly two weeks ahead of elections, and will be publicized further in their final form on social media. Finally, as the Union belongs to the students themselves, and not just Student Government, the failure or passage of amendments is only decided upon the student body’s final vote during Grand Marshal Week elections.

There are a few other serious events I would like to announce: February 25 at 6 pm in Rensselaer Union Room 3602 is the Senate’s annual Public Safety Forum. This forum will be attended by administrators ranging from the head of Public Safety to the dean of students. As campus safety and corresponding security changes remain a large topic for the student body, this would be an excellent time to share your thoughts.

Additionally, on Wednesday, March 4 and Wednesday, March 11 at 7 pm, the Senate will be hosting open forums on proposed changes to the Handbook of Student Rights in the area of sexual misconduct policy. Dean Smith, dean of students, and Paul Ilori, Senate student rights subcommittee chairman, will be available at this meeting to answer any questions and field discussion. The Student Senate plans to hold its vote of endorsement in its March 19 General Body Meeting.

Finally, to my fellow seniors, we have one more celebration ahead of us: If you’ve bought a ticket, you can find me this Friday at 100 Days, hosted by Class President Adam Koehr and the Class of 2015’s Class Council. For everyone else, have a nice week!

College students are probably the most popular demographic target for accusations of media “piracy,” e-book sharing, and other purported forms of copyright infringement. Firstly, we consume far more digital media than the general population, a trend which steadily increases annually. The majority of college students also live on miserly budgets, with parents being a common primary source of financial support. Combine this with far superior technical literacy than that of the average adult, and higher education students become prime violators of existing laws that forbid the decrypting, viewing, or distribution of copyrighted media. Students at RPI are no exception; we download and share movies, books, television shows, and other content without discretion because it is faster, easier, and cheaper than navigating the minefield that is purchasing copyright-protected media. While some may ask whether or not the accusations of theft against our demographic are justified, I believe the important question is, are the current laws surrounding copyrighted works fair themselves?

In the world of brick and mortar that we physically inhabit, it’s simple for a person to judge where the boundaries of fair use begin and end. If a reader purchases a hardcover novel, he or she can read it, lend it, sell it, or douse it in gasoline and torch it if they are so inclined. The book has effectively become the reader’s property, a circumstance with which few people would take issue. However, the entire dynamic changes when the words of the novel are arranged into a sequence of zeroes and ones. Suddenly, the book can be duplicated and infinite amount of times with no direct loss to either the readers or the publishers. The situation is wholly similar with other types of copyrighted media, except that the pages are episodes and the publishers are production studios.

Industry lobbying cartels, like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) would have college students believe that sharing purchased content is an assault to creative professionals driven by frugality. The truth lies in the much-cited words of Gabe Newell, the renowned veteran of video game development, who quipped in a 2011 interview that, “piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.” Maybe the answer for harmony between distributors and consumers indeed lies in better service, not lawsuits. When barriers like region locking, release delays, service outages, and device restrictions are removed from media, perhaps purchasers will be too satisfied to share illicitly. Maybe the removal of middleman distributors, like book publishers and production studios, is the answer to copyright disputes; when technology allows artists to disseminate content inexpensively to any student with a laptop and an internet connection, are third party brokers really necessary? In any case, the digital tides are changing inexorably in a direction that favors freedom of duplication over the power to control. Copyright aristocrats would do well to recall that the customer, not the seller, is always right.

—Graham Ramsey ’15