(redirected from blackmails)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Financial, Idioms, Encyclopedia.


The crime involving a threat for purposes of compelling a person to do an act against his or her will, or for purposes of taking the person's money or property.

The term blackmail originally denoted a payment made by English persons residing along the border of Scotland to influential Scottish chieftains in exchange for protection from thieves and marauders.

In blackmail the threat might consist of physical injury to the threatened person or to someone loved by that person, or injury to a person's reputation. In some cases the victim is told that an illegal act he or she had previously committed will be exposed if the victim fails to comply with the demand.

Although blackmail is generally synonymous with Extortion, some states distinguish the offenses by requiring that the former be in writing.

Blackmail is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both.



West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. the crime of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful or damaging facts (or rumors) about a person to the public, family, spouse or associates unless paid off to not carry out the threat. It is one form of extortion (which may include other threats such as physical harm or damage to property). (See: extortion)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


in English law, a person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces and for this purpose menaces are unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief that he had reasonable grounds for making the demand and that the use of menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand. For Scotland, see EXTORTION.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
References in periodicals archive ?
Finally, legalizing blackmail would also inhibit some of the less persuasive criticism in the one circumstance where such criticism might matter.
Norms Theory and Blackmail. Using Law to Create Background Conditions Favorable or Unfavorable to Norms
The blackmail example demonstrates another indirect means by which law can regulate norms.
One is that if norms tend to be efficient, as certain commentators claim,(78) then the blackmail ban is efficient because it facilitates the internalization and refinement of norms.
Even without resolving the average efficiency of norms, however, the blackmail example reveals greater complexity to the state's task in norm governance.
The Efficiency of the Blackmail Ban with Privacy Norms
In recent years, a great many scholars have attempted to explain precisely what is wrong with blackmail.(81) The prohibition on blackmail presents something of a puzzle: The blackmailer is punished for giving his victim a choice between paying a price and suffering an embarrassing yet lawful disclosure of information.
Consideration of group norms reveals new efficiencies in the prohibition on blackmail. These efficiencies do not by themselves justify prohibiting blackmail.
Part II.A explains this theoretical gap: the problem of "opportunistic" blackmail, where the blackmailer threatens to disclose information he obtained adventitiously, not as a result of investment.(83) The remainder of the Part then explains why the ban on opportunistic blackmail is efficient.
Economic theorists have made considerable progress in explaining the prohibition on blackmail. To summarize briefly a substantial literature--at the risk of omitting important details--the central evil of blackmail is that it induces investment in a wasteful or "sterile" activity.(84) If blackmail were legal, individuals would expend resources acquiring negative information about others in order to extract a payment from them.
The blackmail transaction would not be sterile, however, if it provided useful incentives to potential victims.
The theory really explains only why we prohibit people from investing in the blackmail enterprise.