John Harp Michelle Norton Lisa M. Chmiola Jim Parsons

Are you stealing this paper?

Well, it happened again.

Thursday, The Daily Cougar ran an editorial cartoon about football head coach Kim Helton and the fact that the Cougar football team has had a losing season, and - just as it has been the case in the past - Daily Cougar staff reported all the copies of the Cougar had mysteriously disappeared from the Athletic/Alumni Center.

The cartoon depicted members of the UH Board of Regents seated at a dining table with a waiter serving Helton's head on a platter under the title "Should the Cougars lose to Memphis..."

Before anything else, we should take a few words to make clear the purpose of the Opinion page. The page is a forum for Cougar staff members and the University community to make their thoughts heard through staff columns, guest columns, cartoons and other commentaries that reflect the opinions of their respective authors.

That means the opinions may not always be popular with certain individuals, with the University or even with members of the newspaper's staff. But they have a right to be expressed under the First Amendment, and we wouldn't do anything to suppress or change them.

And yes, the First Amendment even applies to commentary about UH Athletics. Granted, we don't know whether the disappearance of the newspapers in the Athletic Center is intentional. However, it seems suspicious that Daily Cougars are available all day in that building on a normal basis, but when we run negative commentary on Athletics - specifically on football - all the copies of the paper vanish.

Perhaps all the people in the vicinity just decide they have to pick up a copy those days. Or perhaps someone is ordering the newspapers removed. If that is the case, we have a suggestion for anyone who might think about removing multiple copies of The Daily Cougar from a rack anywhere on campus: Don't.

You see, newspaper theft has become a trendy way to censor the news in the past few years. At schools across the country, students, faculty and staff have removed many copies of student newspapers from their distribution points and disposed of them to protest their content. However, doing so is theft of private property - and censorship - and it can be treated as such through lawsuits and court proceedings.

"But the newspaper is free," you say. "How can it be stolen if it's free?" Look at the staff box at the bottom of this page. The last few lines of the left column read, "The first copy of The Daily Cougar is free; each additional copy is 25 cents." So yes, take one copy and it's free - but take several and, if you don't pay, you're stealing.

Beyond that cost, there is the cost of advertising that does not get distributed to all of its intended audience when newspapers are stolen and the potential cost of printing more issues to make up for those that are lost. And it adds up. In case after case regarding student publication theft, those who took the publications have been ordered in court to pay damages and even face probation or possible imprisonment.

What is more, if University employees are linked to the papers being taken - whether they steal them personally or order someone else to do it - the case becomes that of prior restraint by a government employee.

Everyone has a right to the news and opinions published in The Daily Cougar, and we are legally allowed to publish them. We are also allowed to take legal action against anyone we know who has personally stolen copies of the newspaper or ordered them stolen, and we will do so.

If the disappearance of copies of the Cougar from the Athletic Center is coincidental, then there's no reason for anyone to worry. But if The Daily Cougar finds out copies of the paper are being illegally removed from their distribution points, we will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure it doesn't happen again.


The gray-box editorials reflect the opinion of The Daily Cougar editorial board and editorial staff. All other opinions, letters, commentaries and cartoons reflect the viewpoint of the writers. Letters to the editor reflect only the opinion of the individual writers. No opinions expressed in The Daily Cougar necessarily reflect those of the University of Houston administration or the student body at large.

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