Stealing Newspapers is a Crime

By Melissa McIntire

Elm Faculty Advisor

Last week, numerous copies of The Elm were stolen from locations across campus. This theft is both a violation of The Elm’s right to free speech and is against state law. According to the Annotated Code of Maryland 7-106, “A person may not knowingly or willfully obtain or exert control that is unauthorized over newspapers with the intent to prevent another from reading the newspapers. A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 60 days or a fine not exceeding $500 or both.”

Because The Elm costs more than $1,000 to publish every week, individuals who steal copies of the student paper can be charged, under state law, with felony theft.  This offense is punishable by a prison term of no more than 10 years, or a fine of no more than $10,000, or both.   

The Elm is responsible for covering all issues related to the student body and the Washington College community at large. Sometimes, unfortunately, this means the newspaper is tasked with reporting crimes, even when such stories might make the staff unpopular with individuals or with groups on campus. In all its reporting, The Elm follows strict ethical guidelines set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Student Press Law Center.

Just as The Elm should resist self-censorship, so should the larger campus community resist impulses to censor its own newspaper. We urge you not to steal large numbers of The Elm, simply because you disagree with a story. There are other more constructive ways to register your displeasure with the student paper than by walking off with hundreds of copies. Write a letter to the editor, or email the editor-in-chief or me, the faculty adviser.

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