Dealing with Newspaper Thefts: Advice from the Student Press Law Center

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Newspaper theft a form of censorship

Also, see Q&A on theft with SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte

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:

Student Press Law Center


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.