PSU Holds Debate on Copyright and Piracy

The Pomona Student Union hosted the year’s first on campus social debate about copyright issues in Doms Lounge on Thursday. The speakers in the debate, which was sponsored by the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics program, were David Menefree-Libey of the Politics department, Peter Kung of the Philosophy department, and Stephen Marks of the Economics department. Daniel Sockwell PO ’11, a PPE program student liaison who helped organize the event, explained that the purpose of having professors from the three different departments was to illustrate the many ways to discuss copyright issues.“I hope that this debate, with our three perspectives, will allow you to see the way one issue can be attacked from three very different starting points,” Sockwell said.The informal debate covered a variety of topics, including why copyright issues are important, how new technology affects copyright laws, and what copyrights and patents really protect.One of the issues that started the most conversation during the event was that of piracy on campus, specifically through networked computers on campus that share music, movies, and other media. Professor Menefee-Libey explained that this is one aspect of this generation’s students that continues to worry him.“I think there is a problem of evasion [among students on campus]. They’re really not coming to grips with the ethical content of their own actions,” Menefree-Libey said. “I think that’s problematic. Part of being in a residential liberal arts college is that we’re supposed to think about big questions and one of the big questions that we’re supposed to ask…is to ask whether or not we’re good people and whether or not we’re engaging in moral development…Spending a lot of time evading those questions instead of trying to deal with them is just bad for the souls.”Kung and Marks, though less adamant about the unethical nature of piracy, both agreed with Menefee-Libey.A number of students in attendance, however, made arguments for pirating content. One student insisted that pirating music allows people to access music that they would otherwise overlook, and perhaps eventually support a band they otherwise would not.Professor Menefee-Libey said that this “was one of the better rationalizations [for pirating music] that he had heard.”Professor Kung was less convinced by this argument, contending that paying to sample copyrighted material is not a decision for the consumer to make. “Do you think you should be allowed to enter a restaurant and help yourself to a meal just because you would never go to this restaurant otherwise?” Kung asked.In the end, all the professors agreed with Professor Menefee-Libey, who explained that the debate over copyright issues could not be solved in one discussion.“One of the things that strikes me about this conversation—and all these conversations about copyrights and patents—is that very quickly you run into hard questions,” Menefee-Libey said.

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