Theft of Student Newspapers Carries Real Consequences at Florida Atlantic University
December 1, 2010
Attention, those of you who still think that stealing collegiate newspapers is in any way legitimate: please take a moment to consider the case of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) student Yona Rabinowitz.
As the University Press (UP) first reported November 19:
FAU police arrested student Yona Rabinowitz yesterday in connection with the theft of nearly 2,000 UP newspapers on the Boca campus on Nov. 10.
Rabinowitz, a philosophy major according to his Facebook profile, is currently in county jail on a $3,000 bail, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. He was charged with grand theft, trespassing and resisting arrest without violence, said Deputy Chief Keith Totten of the FAU Police Department.
Let this be a cold splash of water for those students who think that student publications distributed free of charge have no value. They do. Advertisers pay to promote their businesses in the University Press and other publications, and printing the papers is not free. What's more, advertisers can and do ask to be refunded for placing ads that the public doesn't get to see. And just because something is free—like, say, packets of ketchup at your local burger joint—doesn't mean you can take all of them with impunity.
Sadly, the police charged with investigating such thefts often have trouble comprehending this fact. Too often, campus police declare that since the papers are free they have no value, so stealing them isn't really theft. It is. Alas, the FAU police needed a reminder on this point, following prior incidents. The Student Press Law Center reported:
[University Press Editor in Chief Karla] Bowsher said for the past few weeks, the staff also noticed two bins next to parking garages had been emptying within 24 hours. However, when they reported it to police, [the police] declined to investigate because the paper is free.
"They refused to do anything about it," she said.
The police have since apologized and are currently looking into the current case regarding the latest issue.
By outward appearances, they seem to have taken to the latest investigation with some relish, and they're not done yet. In addition to reporting Rabinowitz's arrest, the University Press wrote:
Although there is another suspect connected to the theft, Totten does not expect to catch him.
"I don't believe we will ever make contact with him," he said about the student, who has not been attending classes recently.
The suspect's name - which Totten would not release because the investigation is still active - will be sent to the state attorney's office, where a decision will be made on whether to produce an arrest warrant for him.
Hopefully this other student will be found and brought to account for his attempt at vigilante censorship of the University Press. In any event, Rabinowitz's arrest should serve as a stark reminder to others who feel tempted to steal newspapers: forcibly suppressing the speech of publications like the University Press is not only immoral—it's illegal and could subject you to some serious punishment.