Newspaper theft is a crime. In our online/digital age, it continues to be a blunt attempt at censorship. Each year 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 high school and college newspapers are distributed without charge, 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.
Even in the internet/digital age, newspaper remains a form of censorship that presents a serious threat to the viability of the student media community; letting the thieves get away with it threatens the viability of a free press itself.
Resources for preventing and responding to newspaper thefts
- 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.
- California and Maryland are among a handful of states where there is a specific newspaper theft law. Colorado used to have a law, but it was repealed in 2013.
Reporting newspaper thefts
Has your student publication been stolen? If so, please notify then Student Press Law Center via our legal hotline. The SPLC is the only organization in the U.S. 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.
Below, view the number of thefts reported each year since the fall of 2000:
And here are the number of papers stolen in those incidents: