Blackmail Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Blackmail, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Blackmail?

(n) Blackmail is method of influencing a person by resorting or threatening to do harm to a connected person or property so as to compel him to do or not to do certain acts which he would not have done without such compulsion. Eg. Kidnapping for ransom.

History and Meaning of Blackmail

Blackmail is an illegal method of extorting money or favors from an individual or entity through the threat of revealing embarrassing, damaging, or incriminating information. The term originated in the 16th century in England and comes from the word "mail," which used to mean rent (as in rent payments). The word "black" was later added to indicate the non-payment of that rent, which was considered a crime.

Today, blackmail is a crime in most countries and is punishable by imprisonment and/or fines. The severity of the punishment may depend on the nature of the information being used to extort and the level of coercion involved.

Examples of Blackmail

  1. A company employee threatens to leak sensitive company information to the media unless the company pays him a large sum of money.
  2. A politician threatens to reveal damaging information about a rival candidate unless they drop out of the race.
  3. A person threatens to release compromising photos of their ex-partner unless they give them custody of their shared children.

Legal Terms Similar to Blackmail

  1. Extortion: the practice of obtaining something, especially money, by force or threats.
  2. Coercion: the use of force or threats to make someone do something against their will.
  3. Racketeering: the crime of engaging in illegal business activities for profit, such as extortion or blackmail.