“Extortion” and “Blackmail”: Colloqualisms and Rhetorical Hyperbole

Our own Oscar Michelen wrote a blog post concerning the recent NY Supreme Court appeals ruling in the case of “Melius vs. Glacken” that the word “extortionist” is NOT defamatory.

Last year, ELI (through me and Oscar Michelen) came under attack, legally threatened, and accused of defamation by stock photo agency collection lawyers for using the word “extortion” in relation to their heavy-handed, bullying claims collection activities.

We were threatened with legal action but have held firm to our position that the language we use is NOT defamatory. The reason for that is that our usage is classified as a colloquialism and rhetorical hyperbole.

Oscar wrote his defense letter defending our use of the term “legalized extortion”. I also wrote my defense letter regarding the term “legalized extortion”.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the case of “Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association v. Bresler” has held that the word “blackmail” is also NOT defamatory and classified as rhetorical hyperbole.


“It is simply impossible to believe that a reader who reached the word ‘blackmail’ in either article would not have understood exactly what was meant: it was Bresler’s public and wholly legal negotiating proposals that were being criticized. No reader could have thought that either the speakers at the meetings or the newspaper articles reporting their words were charging Bresler with the commission of a criminal offense. On the contrary, even the most careless reader must have perceived that the word was no more than rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet used by those who considered Bresler’s negotiating position extremely unreasonable. Indeed, the record is completely devoid of evidence that anyone in the city of Greenbelt or anywhere else thought Bresler had been charged with a crime.”

This same line of reasoning can be extended to the word “extortion”.

What it all comes down to is: Would a “reasonable person” really consider whatever word/language (e.g. blackmail or extortion) being used to be interpreted literally as a criminal act? In most cases, the answer is no.

Threats of defamation are nearly impossible to legally substantiate when the use is widely considered cases of colloquialism and rhetorical hyperbole.

Oscar and I will continue to defend our First Amendment rights to free speech and communication here on ELI. We continue our mission to fight back against the “extortionist” activities that the stock photo and other similar media companies engage in.

As long as we don’t make factual errors, we are free to say what we want and how we want.

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