Newspaper theft resources

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.

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.

Reporting newspaper thefts

Has your student publication been stolen? If so, please report the theft to the Student Press Law Center by emailing or calling (202) 785-5450. 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.

Where newspaper thefts happen

The map below shows newspaper thefts reported since 2000. Click to explore the map and see where thefts are reported most frequently:

Newspaper thefts, by year

Below, view the number of thefts reported each year since the fall of 2000:

Stories about newspaper thefts