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The Solution to the Real Blackmail Paradox: The Common Link between Blackmail and Other Criminal Threats

46 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2006 Last revised: 18 Sep 2015

Ken Levy

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center

Abstract

Disclosure of true but reputation-damaging information is generally legal. But threats to disclose true but reputation-damaging information unless payment is made are generally criminal. Many scholars think that this situation is paradoxical because it seems to involve illegality mysteriously arising out of legality, a criminal act mysteriously arising out of an independently legal threat to disclose conjoined with an independently legal demand for money.

But this formulation is not quite right. The real paradox raised by the different legal statuses of blackmail threats to disclose and disclosure itself involves a contradiction between our strong intuition that blackmail threats should be criminal and some equally strong arguments, all of which depend on the fact that disclosure is legal, that blackmail threats should be legal. So an adequate solution to the real Blackmail Paradox requires us either to drop the intuition or to refute the pro-legalization arguments.

This Article will adopt the latter approach. It will explain why the six main arguments for legalizing blackmail threats all fail. In the course of refuting one of these arguments, it will also offer a novel positive justification for criminalizing blackmail threats: they should be criminal for the same reason that menacing, harassment, and stalking are criminal-- namely, because they involve the reasonable likelihood, and usually the intent, of putting the victim into a state of especially great fear and anxiety.

Of course, one might object that disclosure itself is likely to have the same effect, if not malicious purpose. Yet, again, it is still legal. But this point shows only that we as a society value freedom of speech more than we value freedom from infliction of emotional injury. It does not show that we do not value freedom from infliction of emotional injury sufficiently to protect it when competing moral or institutional interests such as freedom of speech are not at stake.

Keywords: blackmail, paradox, reputation, criminal, threats, extortion, emotional well-being, freedom of speech

Suggested Citation

Levy, Ken, The Solution to the Real Blackmail Paradox: The Common Link between Blackmail and Other Criminal Threats. Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=888344

Ken Levy (Contact Author)

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center ( email )

420 Law Center Building
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
United States

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