Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Blackmail is threatening to reveal substantially true information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a monetary demand is met. This information is usually of an embarrassing or damaging nature. As the information is substantially true, revealing the information is not criminal, the crime is demanding money to withhold it. In other instances, the blackmail may be threatening or damaging to one's reputation even without evidence; so as long as, the act of blackmail produce the desired result.
Blackmail is similar to extortion, the difference being that extortion involves an underlying, independent criminal act while blackmail does not.
The word is derived from the word for tribute paid by English and Scottish border dwellers to Border Reivers in return for immunity from raids. Such tribute was paid in goods or labour (reditus nigri, or "blackmail"): the opposite is blanche firmes or reditus albi, or white rent (denoting payment by silver).
In English law, the Theft Act, 1968 defines the offence as being committed "...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 a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief -
(a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and
(b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand."
There is no requirement in English Law that the threat made relates to the potential revelation of information and can, in fact, involve a mutlitude of possible actions - which are usually detrimental to the person being threatened.
Many debt collectors have been accused of this offence but those pursuing legal debts inevitably are able to justify their demands for repayment against threats (to repossess an item or items, for example) as being entirely permissable. By contrast, those chasing illegal debts (a gambling debt, for example, is NOT enforcible at English Law) who back up their demands with the threat of bodily injury are unlikely to be able to avail themselves of the same defence.
The maximum sentence under the terms of the Act is life imprisonment and attracts this punishment as it has long been viewed as a form of "psychological murder."
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