College Newspaper Theft A Growing Problem Around The Country

By Justin Muszynski

The incident last week involving CCSU Soccer Head Coach Shaun Green trashing copies of The Recorder has yet to see any sanctions issued from police or administrators alike, but, historically, what type of actions can occur as a repercussion to this type of episode?

Each year, college publications around the country fall victim to newspaper theft. It’s not uncommon and, most of the time, is conducted by a person or organization with a vendetta against the publication due to a current or previous article that was written. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when this phenomenon became wide spread.

The guilty party may be sued as newspaper theft is a violation of the first amendment. Essentially, it is a form of censorship. A high-profile case of this involved a former police Chief in San Francisco, who allegedly ordered several officers to remove 2,000 copies of the Bay Times after it criticized him on the cover. No criminal charges were filed but the former Chief, Richard Hongisto, was later sued, along with the two officers involved. The Bay Times was awarded $5,600 by a Federal District Court jury and $30,000 went to its editor and publisher due to emotional distress. The jury also said the city of San Francisco would be responsible for legal fees from both sides estimated to total $500,000.

However, criminal charges can be a result of newspaper theft despite the belief by many that the publication is free. While it’s certainly complimentary to those of the campus community, student newspapers are usually funded by some sort of student activity fee that students pay as part of his or her tuition. Newspapers are not cheap to produce. Costs include: printing, delivery, production and staff salary. Also, in cases of newspaper theft, the publication that falls victim may be required to refund advertisers because the actual papers may have not been seen. Due to these various costs, theft charges can be filed against an alleged party.

The Student Press Law Center website features a list of successful prosecutions in cases of newspaper theft. Among them include in 2003, when Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates pleaded guilty to an infraction after he stole 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian. He said he removed the papers because they endorsed his opponent in his mayoral campaign. He was eventually fined $100.

Also, three students in Kentucky pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal mischief after they removed 11,000 copies of The Kentucky Kernel. The prosecutor in the case, Margaret Kannensohn, who was a former copy editor for the paper, seemed to make it a personal mission of hers to make sure the members involved in the theft were charged. While she said there is a dollar amount that can be associated with the number of issues that were taken, theft was just not a plausible charge, instead opting to go with misconduct.

Due to the ambiguity involved in these cases some states have made specific laws prohibiting the removal or destruction of mass amounts of “free” newspapers. Title 27 of Maryland code section 245 stipulates that anyone found guilty of knowingly obtaining “unauthorized control over newspapers with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading the newspapers” can be fined no more than $500 and imprisoned no more than 60 days. In Colorado, a person is fined based on how many issues he or she removed including up to $5,000 if the number of papers exceeds 500.

Though a fairly well-known issue, newspaper theft continues to plague colleges across the nation and in some cases result in little-to-no consequences for the offender. Specifically, the incident with Green and The Recorder have yet to be brought forward to any type of action from the newspaper or the newspaper staff. An incident report was filed with the police, but prosecution has not moved forward.

For more information on the case, please go to centralrecorder.com.