Difficult for a farm boy like me
Posted May 6, 2005 23:20 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata
In reply to: Difficult for a farm boy like me
Parent article: Software, reverse engineering and the law
As a contract lawyer, I am frequently amused by how people are willing to call any sale "extortion" if they don't like the terms.
Here's the difference: extortion is an offer to sell something that the seller has a moral obligation to give for free. It's a form of theft. That moral obligation is, of course, highly subject to personal values and biases. Consequently, statutes that outlaw extortion just cover very specific cases of it and the argument "this is extortion, your honor," just doesn't appear in court (at least not when parties are represented by lawyers).
Examples (of the terminology, not any particular statutes):
- For $1000, I offer to give you my car. Not extortion.
- For $1000, I offer not to punch you in the face. Extortion.
- For $1000, I offer not to tell any one but you how my invention works. Not extortion.
- For $1000, I offer not to tell your wife where you were last Thursday. Extortion.
- For $1000, I offer to vote for your shareholder proposal (which I favor anyway). Not extortion.
- For $1000, I offer to vote for your zoning ordinance (which I favor anyway). Extortion.
"Blackmail," by the way is a subset of extortion. It's extortion where the thing offered is not to tell someone something.
Our laws tend to reflect our collective morals, so it's reasonable to say that when you offer to sell something that you're legally entitled not to give, then it's not extortion. So where the law explicitly says you're allowed to stop someone from practicing your invention, it's not extortion to demand payment from him not to.
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