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Blackmail and Extortion - The Paradox Of Blackmail

blackmailer victim leverage legal

One of the most intractable intellectual problems in the criminal law is what Glanville Williams called the paradox of blackmail (p. 163). The problem is that combining two rights makes a wrong. For example, if I threaten to expose a businessman's income-tax evasion unless he gives me a lucrative contract, I have committed blackmail. I have a legal right to expose and to threaten to expose the tax evasion, and I have a legal right to seek a lucrative contract, but if I combine these rights I have committed blackmail. If both ends and means are otherwise legal, why is it blackmail to combine these legal ends and means? Since the 1920s, many theories have been offered to explain this paradox, and a few scholars, led by Walter Block, argue that blackmail ought to be legal since it violates no basic legal right of the "victim" (e.g., Block, p. 225). Even among scholars trying to resolve the paradox, there is no consensus on its resolution (Symposium, pp. 1565–2168).

One approach that is at least descriptively powerful is to look at the relationships between the parties. Consider first informational blackmail. Here the blackmailer threatens to tell others damaging information about the blackmail victim unless the victim heeds the blackmailer's request, usually a request for money. The blackmailer obtains what he wants by using extra leverage. But that leverage belongs more to a third person than to the blackmailer. The blackmail victim pays the blackmailer to avoid involving third parties; he pays to avoid being harmed by persons other than the blackmailer. When the reputation of a person is damaged, he is punished by all those who change their opinion of him. They may "punish" him by treating him differently or he may be punished merely by the knowledge that others no longer respect him.

Thus when a blackmailer threatens to turn in a criminal unless paid money, the blackmailer is bargaining with the state's chip. The blackmail victim pays to avoid the harm that the state would inflict. Of course, this does not effect a legally binding settlement, but the leverage is effective precisely to the extent that the victim believes that he has reached an effective settlement. Likewise, when a blackmailer threatens to expose damaging but noncriminal behavior unless paid money, he is also turning third-party leverage to his own benefit. What makes his conduct blackmail is that he interposes himself parasitically in an actual or potential dispute in which he lacks a sufficiently direct interest. In effect, the blackmailer attempts to gain an advantage in return for suppressing someone else's actual or potential interest. The blackmailer is negotiating for his own gain with someone else's leverage or bargaining chips.

This misuse of another's leverage is perhaps seen most clearly in noninformational black-mail—for instance, where a labor union leader threatens to cause a strike unless he is given a personal payoff. There the labor leader is turning group power and a group dispute to personal benefit. Whoever seeks a personal payoff by credibly wielding the power of a third party to harm the victim is a blackmailer.

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over 4 years ago

Abuse of Copyright Law by Copyright Trolls & Bullies

There are two types of people in this world.

1. Those who want to make money by protecting their work legally via copyrights

2. Those who want to share everything freely, openly and without any type of restrictions

I, myself belong to the latter type who loves to get educated (and educate others) via free research in libraries or web. If there's any copyright which I'd want to display on anything I produce or work, it will go something like this;


My reasoning is simple; For every free input, there should be a free output. However, not everyone will agree as they will come up with a gazillion reasons and logics to make money off of someone's FREE and public domain information. These money-hogs actually use (or abuse) the copyright law to extort money out of an innocent and a totally naïve researcher via threats to sue in the court of law for the lack of licensing, a modern term of paying to use their information or media. This reminds me of a James Bond movie slogan "License to Kill". Sometimes, too much law prohibits free spirit of innovation, research or movement of information across different mediums.

To avoid such copyright trolls, you can always include the following information at the appropriate section of a web-page or a book;

1. Title of the media or publication
2. Author's or Owner's name
3. Online Link Where found

If you have modified their work in any way (provided their license allows you to do that or you got their permission via mail), you can add the word "DERIVATIVE" or "BASED UPON".

For example, you need an image of a squirrel in your website or a book. If you use online research tools, you'd see hundreds of images related to squirrel which are licensed by greedy individuals or organizations ready to sue you in the court of law unless you pay their license fee. To filter out such money-hogs, there's a very useful online tool;


Checkmark the "use for commercial purposes" and the "modify, adapt, or build upon" boxes. Select the appropriate website where you want to research (Be ware to avoid the ones mentioned below). And enter your search term "Squirrel". Select the image to extract the reference information as mentioned above before using it.

In the worst-case scenario, if you mistakenly (or innocently) used someone's licensed work and they request you to take it down, you can request further information to prove they are the actual owners of that particular item. If they cooperate with you nicely and professionally by providing you with the maximum information possible (which is verifiable), you should honor their request to remove their copyrighted work immediately. Otherwise, there's almost a quarter million dollars fine for using someone's copyrighted or licensed work without their consent. However, If that individual or organization starts off by threatening to sue you instead of a nice request, you got a copyright troll on your hands.

Unless they provide you all of the information (they may provide you part of it, but not all), simply ignore such threats. If such a troll happens to be an attorney, research about their respective bar association license number and file the complaint with the bar's administration. You can also file the complaint in the respective State's Attorney General's office and FTC as well. Trollish attorneys are usually relentless and use all kinds of legal jargon to prove you as some sort of a criminal in their letters by assuming you are guilty of a deliberate and a willful violation of their client's copyright or license.

I used to hate the "IGNORE" word. But today, I love it. It pisses the hell out of copyright trolls who are so desperate for our money and attention. There should be a provision to "criminalize" such an abuse of copyright law by trollish organizations, individuals and attorneys. Let's rally our own Congressmen and Congresswomen to introduce such "Anti-Bullying" and "Anti-Trollish" provisions to the copyright law.

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over 8 years ago

This "third party leverage" argument seems to assume an inherent duty on the part of an actor to disclose secrets of another. If this duty were not present, then a secret holder could hold the secret for any reason: affinity for the subject, not liking to gossip, or being approached by the subject and contracting to keep the secret. Simply taking the action of asking for payment to keep a secret does not change the positions of the parties, and it is the leverage of the subject as versus the blackmailer that matters. Third parties have no leverage in the situation up until this point - they may or may not wish to persecute the subject if they knew the secret, they might even wish to praise the subject (but the subject is too self-deprecating to recognize this).

Since the third parties' reaction to the secret is unknown, the blackmailer isn't acting on what he knows will happen should the secret get out, but only on the subject's trepidation. To say that the blackmailer is somehow usurping the leverage of these third parties is to assume that the third parties would care to exercise some specific leverage in the transaction, and to base a cause of action on this speculation would require some definiteness in the potential reactions by the third parties. Thus, to persecute blackmail qua blackmail under this theory is to argue that third parties should be able to exercise their own leverage over the subject, and thus any use of a secret would curtail the leverage of a third party.

So, assuming this framework, a secret holder would have a duty to either "forget" secrets he has heard and never take action, or to disclose the secret public before he takes any action based on the secret.

Rejecting the validity of blackmail does not limit a third-party to later claim that a blackmailer was a co-conspirator or an accomplice in covering up a crime committed upon the third party - but that is a different cause of action than blackmail.