Concealing newspapers can qualify as theft

In the cases of the more than 7,100 campus newspapers stolen this pastyear, the circumstances were clear: Free newspapers were removed from stands inovert acts of theft, amounting to thousands of dollars in stolen property. Inother situations, it can be unclear what, if any, crime has beencommitted.

At Boston University this past spring, Daily Free Press staffersbecame concerned when they heard rumors about staff at the Admissions ReceptionCenter hiding copies of their paper. Specifically, copies that prominentlydisplayed stories about the “Craigslist killer,” allegedly a BUmedical student accused of murder and robbery, were said to be in a “hugepile” in a back room, according to an April Daily Free Pressarticle.

“Whether it’s theft or not is a tricky question,” saidKase Wickman, the Daily Free Press reporter who covered the hiddennewspapers situation, in an e-mail. “From the newspaper side, it’seasy to see it as stealing, because we pay our own printing costs and wouldclearly like those papers to see the light of day.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said ifa person conceals newspapers so they are no longer useful with the passage oftime, they have deprived the paper of valuable property, which could qualify astheft.

“That’s not to say that people should be criminally prosecutedfor misunderstandings, but people should understand that it’s a seriousmatter to take newspapers away from the readers and even the best of intentionsdoesn’t justify that,” LoMonte said.

BU’s Executive Director of Media Relations Colin Riley said toconsider the incident of hidden newspapers as theft is “silly.” Healso said the hiding newspapers accusation was a “rather exaggeratedclaim.”Riley said BU does not engage in censorship, and an individualacting alone committed any incidence of hiding newspapers.

“This was just one person,” Riley said. “If one personmakes a bad decision, how does that accrue?”LoMonte said even if anindividual makes the decision to hide newspapers on their own, they could stillbe committing theft.

“It’s more worrisome if it’s the official policy ofhigher up university administrators to hide newspapers,” LoMonte said.”Even if it’s just an individual employee, that person should suffersome consequences — even if it’s just a reprimand and a talkingto.”

— By Catherine MacDonald