Colorado newspaper theft law (2013)



Theft of free-distribution newspapers by those who object to the newspaper's content is a frequent problem for the college student media. Although newspaper thieves have been successfully prosecuted in many jurisdictions under existing theft laws, Colorado, like a handful of other states or local governments, has passed a law explicitly criminalizing the taking of free newspapers.

CO ST § 18-9-314

Interference with lawful distribution of newspapers.

(1) A person commits the offense of interference with lawful distribution of newspapers when that person obtains or exerts unauthorized control over more than five copies of an edition of a newspaper from a newspaper distribution container owned or leased by the newspaper publisher with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading that edition of the newspaper. Control is unauthorized if there is a notice on the newspaper or on the newspaper distribution container that possession of more than five copies with intent to prevent other individuals from reading that edition of the newspaper is illegal.

(2) Interference with lawful distribution of newspapers is an unclassified misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of:

(a) Up to one thousand dollars if the number of newspapers involved was one hundred or fewer or the number of newspapers involved was not determined;

(b) Up to two thousand five hundred dollars if the number of newspapers involved was more than one hundred and fewer than five hundred;

(c) Up to five thousand dollars if the number of newspapers involved was five hundred or more.

(3) As used in this section:

(a) “Edition of a newspaper” means a single press run of a newspaper.

(b) “Newspaper” means a periodical that includes news, editorials, opinion, features, or other matters of public interest distributed on a complimentary basis. “Newspaper” includes any student periodical distributed at any institution of higher education.

(c) “Periodical” means a publication produced on a regular interval.

(4) Notwithstanding any other remedies provided under this section, the newspaper publisher who is the victim of interference with lawful distribution of newspapers, an advertiser who placed an advertisement in the newspaper, or a newspaper reader who regularly reads the newspaper shall have a private civil right of action as provided in section 13–21–123, C.R.S., against the person or persons who acted in violation of subsection (1) of this section.

CO ST § 13–21–123

Civil liability for interference with lawful distribution of newspapers. 

Notwithstanding any other remedies provided under this section, a newspaper publisher who is the victim of interference with lawful distribution of newspapers as described in section 18-9-314, C.R.S., or who had compensatory newspapers stolen, an advertiser who placed an advertisement in a newspaper that was subject to interference with lawful distribution of newspapers or a compensatory newspaper that was stolen, or a newspaper reader who regularly reads a newspaper subject to interference with lawful distribution of newspapers or a compensatory newspaper that was stolen shall have a private civil right of action against the party who stole the newspapers. In any such action, the newspaper publisher shall be entitled to actual damages, a civil penalty of ten dollars for each newspaper obtained in violation of section 18-9-314, C.R.S., and attorney fees and costs, and the advertiser or newspaper reader shall be entitled to actual damages and attorney fees and costs.

SECTION 4. Act subject to petition—effective date. This act takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on the day following the expiration of the ninety-day period after final adjournment of the general assembly (August 7, 2013, if adjournment sine die is on May 8, 2013); except that, if a referendum petition is filed pursuant to section 1(3) of article V of the state constitution against this act or an item, section, or part of this act within such period, then the act, item, section, or part will not take effect unless approved by the people at the general election to be held in November 2014 and, in such case, will take effect on the date of the official declaration of the vote thereon by the governor.