Newspaper theft a form of censorship
Newspaper theft is a crime. It is also a terribly effective form of censorship. Each year dozens of student newspapers and other publications across the country fall victim to thieves whose intent is to prevent the dissemination of news, information and opinion with which they disagree.
While most college newspapers are distributed without charge (most student media have determined it would actually cost more to collect money at the point of distribution than it is worth), they are certainly not “free.”
Publishing a student newspaper is an expensive undertaking; student media lose thousands of dollars each year as a result of newspaper theft. Like other types of theft, newspaper thieves deprive rightful owners of their valuable property.
Among other expenses, student news organizations pay editorial staff to produce the newspaper, advertising staff to sell ads, printers to print it and circulation staff to distribute the finished product.
At many schools, students are charged a student activity fee that entitles them to a “prepaid subscription” to their student media. In almost all cases businesses and others have paid to have their advertisements published–money they certainly would not pay if they knew their ad would never be read.
Newspaper theft presents a serious threat to the viability of the student press community; letting the thieves get away with it threatens the viability of a free press itself.
We hope the following information will assist you in successfully preventing–and prosecuting–newspaper theft:
- Newspaper Theft Checklist: Practical tips from the Student Press Law Center for what to do before, during and after a newspaper theft.
- Successful Newspaper Theft Prosecutions: Having trouble convincing police or prosecutors that stealing a “free” newspaper is a crime? Here are some news articles and court documents from successful newspaper theft prosecutions that you can share.
- Anti-Newspaper Theft Policy: Instead of relying solely on criminal laws, a few schools have adopted their own anti-newspaper theft policies that protect student media. Here is a model policy to get you started.
Has your student publication been stolen recently? If so, please report the theft to the Student Press Law Center. The SPLC is the only organization in the country to consistently collect information about newspaper theft, and it’s important that we hear from you. We’re also happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have about the theft of your publication.
SPLC news stories on thefts from the 2011-12 school year:
- 600 copies of Butler student paper dumped in trash
News Flash, 4/6/2012
- Police investigating newspaper theft at Ark. university
News Flash, 4/3/2012
- Ga. college students ordered to apologize, reimburse for stolen newspapers
News Flash, 3/23/2012
- Georgia State papers disappear after coverage of hazing allegations
News Flash, 3/21/2012
- Former student politician admits to dumping UF newspapers
News Flash, 3/13/2012
- Student newspapers stolen, returned at Ill. college
News Flash, 2/23/2012
- UF editors claim student government official dumped newspapers on eve of election
News Flash, 2/22/2012
- Newspaper theft at Southern Indiana may be linked to coverage of student government, Greek community
News Flash, 2/9/2012
- Hundreds of Eastern Washington University newspapers go missing
News Flash, 2/2/2012
- Student government president implicated in newspaper theft at UW-Milwaukee; lawsuit planned
News Flash, 12/12/2011
- Copies of ‘streaker’ issue at East Carolina reported stolen
News Flash, 11/14/2011
- Editor: Hundreds of newspapers stolen at Texas A&M-Kingsville
News Flash, 11/9/2011
- Va. university won’t press charges after newspapers stolen
News Flash, 10/14/2011
Student Press Law Center