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The Roman Law of Blackmail


  • Helmholz, R H


The legal "puzzle" raised by modern blackmail is that although it is lawful to disseminate harmful information about another person, just so long as the information is true, it is unlawful to extort money by making threats to do so. Roman law took a different approach. It was unlawful to reveal the harmful information unless the speaker could show a privilege to speak, usually that the public interest would be served by the revelation. For this reason, it was unlawful to threaten to do so unless such a privilege existed. This paper traces the Roman law way of thinking about blackmail into the Middle Ages and beyond, showing that it persisted even in the English common law. Copyright 2001 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Helmholz, R H, 2001. "The Roman Law of Blackmail," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 33-52, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:30:y:2001:i:1:p:33-52

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Reint Gropp & John Karl Scholz & Michelle J. White, 1997. "Personal Bankruptcy and Credit Supply and Demand," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 217-251.
    2. Che, Yeon-Koo & Schwartz, Alan, 1999. "Section 365, Mandatory Bankruptcy Rules and Inefficient Continuance," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(2), pages 441-467, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Miceli, Thomas J., 2011. "The real puzzle of blackmail: An informational approach," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 182-188, June.
    2. Pitchford, Rohan & Snyder, Christopher M., 2007. "The identity of the generator in the problem of social cost," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 49-67, July.

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