The editor-in-chief of Towson University's student paper is hoping to take legal action against those responsible for the disappearance of nearly 3,000 issues of the newspaper last month.
Copies of the Towerlight went missing Feb. 11 following the online publication of a controversial article that identified six students who had resigned from their positions as resident assistants after drinking in the dorms. "I can only speculate that [the theft is] in reference to the article," top editor Daniel Gross said in a phone interview.
The article in question was posted around midnight on Feb. 10, and newspapers containing the piece were distributed on campus the next morning. By midday, Towerlight staff noticed that newspapers had disappeared from the racks at a rate that suggested they were not being taken by readers. They re-filled campus racks with their reserves -- but by 3 p.m. those copies were gone, too.
Although the Towerlight is a free publication, Gross says that mass removal of the papers is illegal according to the Maryland Newspaper Theft Law, which bars "unauthorized control over newspapers with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading the newspapers."
Gross first reported the incident to campus police, but turned to the Baltimore County state's attorney's office when investigation by school officials slowed.
Thursday, the state attorney's office told Gross that the state would not be pressing charges because they could not prove that the papers were removed in order to prevent others from obtaining information.
Gross doesn't buy this excuse. "It boggled my mind. When someone's been literally taking stacks, from top to bottom, and putting them in the trash -- that seems pretty clear to me," he said.
Gross added that the assistant attorney who'd contacted him claimed that because the article had been posted online, it would be impossible to obstruct readers from attaining the information. But Gross said that the Towerlight has a stronger print than online presence, and wonders whether or not such an argument would make the Newspaper Theft Law defunct.
"We're crafting a letter of our concern with the refusal to prosecute," he said. "I want to reach out to media heads and get their take on it -- places like the Baltimore Sun [which has both an online and complimentary print edition]. We're asking, is the Maryland law no longer a law?"
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