Let say someone takes a picture of a couple having sex through an open window. Should it be illegal for him to threaten to post the picture on the Internet unless the couple pay him a fee to buy the rights to such photograph? If so, why? What is the principle that makes this a violation of rights?
Keep in mind that Ayn Rand makes a very clear distinction between physical force (coercive) vs. psychological force (persuasive).
I must disagree with ethwc (I did not wade through the myriad comments, so I apologize if what I say is duplicative).
Can blackmail ever be a rights violation?
Is it always a rights violation, and, in particular, is the situation described in the question a rights violation?
Blackmail, as I am using the term, is where a person tries to get another person to do something by threatening to reveal information if the other person does not comply. (Do not get blackmail confused with extortion which is similar, but where the threat is of physical harm rather than revealing information)
If the person threatening to reveal the information is legally obligated not to reveal the information, then threatening to do so is a rights violation. For example, if you have signed a contract to not reveal the information, have a fiduciary duty not to reveal it, are under a court order not to reveal it, etc. [If the information was obtained illegally, then the blackmail could also be thought of as a rights violation, although in that case I would say obtaining the information illegally is the rights violation, and the blackmail is ancillary to that]
If however, the information is legally obtained (as the question posits), and there is no other legal duty not to reveal it, threatening to reveal it is not a rights violation. To violate someones rights one must initiate the use of physical force or commit fraud. A threat to reveal information is not an initiation of force, direct or indirect.
It is wrong to speak of being "coerced" when there is no threat of force. The questioner is absolutely right to point out that Ayn Rand distinguished between coercion and persuasion. Coercion is where you give a person two choices: (1) do what I want, or (2) physical harm.
Ethwc, as far as I understand (correct me if I am wrong), is saying that coercion can mean giving a person a choice between:(1) do what I want, or (2) any harm (physical, emotional, etc). His argument appears to be that because an action results in harm (of any kind) to another person, it must be a rights violation. I do not think this is correct. Indeed, statists love to try to twist "coercion" to mean this. They then argue that it is coercion for an employer to threaten to fire an employee if he does not work overtime (after all, the employee would be harmed financially by being fired), for a husband to threaten to leave a marriage if the wife does not have sex with him (after all, the wife would be emotionally harmed if he left), for a person to threaten to not engage in business with you unless you give them a discount (after all, you will be harmed financially if they do not do business with you), etc. They continue this line of reasoning until they arrive at formulations like "it is coercion for the owner of a peanut to not give it to a hungry man" (i.e., the owner implicitly threatens the hungry man with sending him to jail if he does not refrain from eating the peanut) (this very influential article made this argument; here is an abridged version if you cannot access the full one), which ultimately lead to conclusions that "all property is theft" and the like.
I am not arguing that emotional harm (or other harm) is not real or important. The point is that the concept of rights does not protected us from every possible form of harm. Rights protect us from a limited class of harms: physical force and fraud.
For an interesting article on blackmail see this.
answered Feb 04 '12 at 15:53
The morality of taking pictures through a window seems questionable to me. However, coercing the persons involved in the activity that was photographed is simply another form of initiating force in order to take another's property (money in this case). As such, that coercive taking is immoral. In addition it is illegal under our laws. You seem to assume that this is a "persuasive" taking since there is not a physical threat involved. I disagree in that the taking will cause damage to the person being coerced. While there may be no harm to the person's body, there will be harm to his/her property. To me, persuasive force would be seen if one met with the person or persons involved and attempted to convince them to cease that activity in the future. No pictures (invasion of reasonably expected privacy) would be needed as there would be no threat of damaging them.
answered Feb 01 '12 at 13:30