At Towson University in Maryland, the editors of The Towerlight, the campus’ student newspaper, are promising to take action after, according to initial reports, almost all of its most recent edition was stolen—nearly 10,000 copies in all (update, 2/15/11: a more recent estimate is that 2,000-3,000 papers were stolen).
Such thefts are depressingly common on university campuses, as we at FIRE can attest. In fact, The Towerlight notes that this is the third such occurrence at Towson in the past three semesters alone! Not only is this form of censorship unprincipled and thuggish, it is nonsensical—whatever content in the paper motivated the thefts, it has surely gained increased prominence as the censorship sends viewers to the papers’ websites to learn what was so allegedly controversial.
Newspaper theft is not only immoral and counterproductive, it is is also illegal, as The Towerlight points out:
While The Towerlight is a free publication, no one is free to take multiple copies in order to keep information away from its intended audience.
According to the Maryland Newspaper Theft Law, adopted in 1994:
(a) "Newspaper" means any periodical that is distributed on a complimentary or compensatory basis.
(b) A person commits the offense of theft when that person willfully or knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over newspapers with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading the newspapers.
(c) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than 60 days or both.
Police are currently investigating the theft and reviewing available surveillance video of the paper’s campus drop spots. FIRE has been in contact with The Towerlight as well, and awaits the results of the police investigation. The Towerlight for its part states that "full charges will be pressed against the individual or individuals involved." Whether by police or by the Towson administration, FIRE hopes that those behind the thefts of the newspaper are identified and dealt with appropriately. We will keep you updated.