To mugshots.com: if I had your photo I would publish it here and ask you for money to take it down

Except that would be blackmail, so I’m not asking you for money.

In my last post about the scam websites that publish booking photos and then charge exorbitant fees to remove them, reportedly even after a person’s charges have been dismissed and expunged, I originally referred to them as “extortion sites.”  “Gary,” who undoubtedly received a google alert when the post went live, was the first to comment, explaining that my post was factually incorrect and that mugshot.com does not commit extortion at all since there are no threats.

It got me to thinking you know, he is right.  We don’t call it extortion in South Carolina.  In South Carolina it is called Blackmail, and it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $5000.00 fine.  I imagine that, following conviction, the court would order restitution to each victim as well.  If the legislature is unable or unwilling to pass legislation prohibiting the operation of these websites in our state, it is certainly worth a look by the S.C. Attorney General’s office.

South Carolina’s Blackmail statute is reproduced below, but the relevant portions are: “Any person who . . . by electronic communications: (1) accuses another of a crime or offense; [or] (2) exposes or publishes any of another’s personal or business acts, infirmities, or failings . . . with intent to extort money . . . shall be guilty of blackmail and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned for not more than ten years, or both, in the discretion of the court.

It’s not against the law, nor is it necessarily defamation, to republish booking reports or photos that were first published by law enforcement.  The problem is when a company accuses a person of a crime, or when a company publishes a person’s “personal or business acts, infirmities, or failings,” with the intent to extort money.

SECTION 16-17-640. Blackmail. 

Any person who verbally or by printing or writing or by electronic communications: 

(1) accuses another of a crime or offense; 

(2) exposes or publishes any of another’s personal or business acts, infirmities, or failings; or 

(3) compels any person to do any act, or to refrain from doing any lawful act, against his will; 

with intent to extort money or any other thing of value from any person, or attempts or threatens to do any of such acts, with the intent to extort money or any other thing of value, shall be guilty of blackmail and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned for not more than ten years, or both, in the discretion of the court.

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