Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sex, lies, videotape and...blackmail?

The NY Times has a very interesting story about how it, and two very prominent lawyers, became involved with a man who claimed to have access to videotapes of important men having sex with underrage women.  It touches on the subtle difference between blackmail and some kinds of legal settlement.

Jeffrey Epstein, Blackmail and a Lucrative ‘Hot List’
A shadowy hacker claimed to have the financier’s sex tapes. Two top lawyers wondered: What would the men in those videos pay to keep them secret?

Matt Levine over at Bloomberg has an interesting followup article that begins this way:

"The basic “mystery of blackmail” is:

  1. If I know that you have done some bad secret stuff, it is totally legal for me to publish that information.
  2. It is also totally legal for me to keep it quiet.
  3. In general, if it is legal for me to do or not do something, and you’d prefer that I (not) do it, I can ask you for money in exchange for (not) doing it.
  4. But if I ask you for money in exchange for not publishing bad stuff about you, that’s blackmail, and it’s a crime.

The mystery is why blackmail should be illegal when its component parts aren’t. But there’s another practical mystery about blackmail, which is:

  1. If you have done some bad stuff to me, and no one knows about it, I am once again free to tell everyone, or not.
  2. If I go to you and say “give me a million dollars or I will tell people,” that is blackmail and I go to prison.
  3. But if I go to you and say “I am going to sue you for doing the bad stuff to me, I am filing my case on Monday, but I am willing to settle for $1 million and sign a nondisclosure agreement in connection with the settlement,” that is fine, that is just how lawsuits work."
Earlier related posts (on blackmail as a repugnant transaction that is sometimes occasioned by the knowledge that the victim has engaged in a different repugant transaction, and that can sometimes be whitewashed by the protected transaction of legal action...):

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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