“Extortionate Destruction” and SaveToby

An article in the Yale Law & Policy Review, Saving Toby: Extortion, Blackmail, and the Right to Destroy, discusses SaveToby.com, a perennial topic on this blog. The author argues that the law doesn’t adequately inhibit threats on a bunny’s life. In response, the author proposes a new crime of “extortionate destruction.” Would I be a criminal if I threatened to start eating burgers and bratwursts unless I get $50,000 by the end of the year? Meanwhile, I continue to reiterate my call to Toby’s owners to eat the damn rabbit already–before more trees get killed!

If you want to read more, the author posts a third party critique of the article and further defenses of it. In that post, the author lets us in on the fact that the article was written “with tongue at least partly in cheek.” That was news to me! Given that the article was a critique of a gag website, I would think the author would know firsthand the difficulty of communicating humor (or, even harder, partial humor) in written form.

The abstract:

On the website SaveToby.com, one may find many endearing pictures of Toby, the cutest little bunny on the planet. Unfortunately, on June 30, 2005, the lovable Toby was scheduled to be butchered and eaten – unless the website’s readers sent $50,000 to save his life.

Though Toby’s owner has since granted him a temporary reprieve – until Nov. 6, 2006 – the threat raises a fascinating issue of law. Extortion statutes prohibiting threats to destroy property generally do not prohibit threats to destroy one’s own property. The law thus provides insufficient protection to a variety of resources on which others place value, including historic buildings, treasured paintings, and adorable bunny rabbits.

This Comment proposes that legislatures protect Toby under a new criminal offense of extortionate destruction. It presents the moral case for the offense by analogy to blackmail. Although destruction of property, like telling others’ secrets, is normally lawful, both can be rendered wrongful by the unjustified use of a coercive threat. Such a threat specifically aims at causing unpleasantness to the offeree; the owner commits to killing Toby only because he hopes someone else will pay him not to. Such threats cannot be defended by the economic or expressive values inherent in the traditional right to destroy, and shed light on the ongoing debate over the nature and wrongness of blackmail. The Comment concludes by suggesting model statutory language designed to safeguard property owners’ legitimate interests, while appropriately protecting future artworks, antiquities, and bunny rabbits from Toby’s sad fate.