Repeal of newspaper theft law defused
Ryan Summerlin November 27, 2012
After opposition from the Colorado Press Association, a compromise of a newspaper theft law protecting free-distribution newspapers would change offense classification from theft to “interference with the lawful distribution of a newspaper.”
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, recommended the legislation to end the dispute between the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
In the current law, it is illegal to take more than five free-distribution newspapers with the intent to prevent the public from reading the paper.
Matt Sandberg, publisher of the Summit Daily News and the Sky-Hi Daily News covering Summit and Grand counties said he thinks the legislation introduced by Levy is a fair compromise.
“I’m thankful for the CCJJ and specifically Claire Levy for working together with Colorado Press Association to come to a compromised solution as opposed to the original recommendation to completely repeal the law,” Sandberg said. “It helps us protect our business and the value of the product we distribute to our community.”
When a recommendation to repeal the law was suggested, Sandberg told The Denver Post in July repealing the law was “making it OK for people to steal.”
Legislature introduced by Levy is addressing the same concerns held by publishers of free-distribution newspapers similar to the Summit Daily.
“Our paid advertisers have an expectation that our product will be delivered to the readership of our community,” Sandberg said. “The advertisers see tremendous value to that and they pay us to put that message out … If we fail to deliver on that obligation because some individuals steal a full day’s run of our paper, not only is our business at risk for financial loss but those businesses that have partnered with us face potential losses.”
The theft law was enacted in 2003 after reported thefts of the Vail Daily, a free-distribution newspaper in Eagle County, according to Levy.
The CCJJ task force that Levy is affiliated with, was assigned to consolidate theft statutes to eliminate redundancy, bringing the original newspaper theft law under scrutiny.
“After the task force recommended the repeal, we heard from the newspapers and the Colorado Press Association that this actually was a very important issue to them and that it’s more of a problem than we realized,” Levy said.
As a result of negotiations, Levy championed legislation that would compromise the dispute.
“There was a conceptual problem with the law,” Levy said. “It was really more motivated by halting the dissemination of information interfering with the functions of the media, I wanted to keep the offense in place as a deterrent but put it in the place that really made sense within our criminal justice system.”
The theft of free newspapers is considered a class 2 misdemeanor, with penalties ranging from a $250-$1,000 fine. The new classification of the crime will not change the penalties, according to Levy.
Levy has requested the bill to be drafted and completed by January, she said. The legislation will be voted on by the House of Representatives and Senate.
“Everyone involved seems to think this is a good way to deal with it,” Levy said. “I don’t anticipate any problems passing it.”