Legal Dictionary

willful blindness

Definition of willful blindness

Further reading

Willful blindness (sometimes called ignorance of law, willful ignorance or contrived ignorance or Nelsonian knowledge) is a term used in law to describe a situation in which an individual seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting himself in a position where he will be unaware of facts which would render him liable. For example, in a number of cases, persons transporting packages containing illegal drugs have asserted that they never asked what the contents of the packages were, and therefore lacked the requisite intent to break the law. Such defenses have not succeeded, as courts have been quick to determine that the defendant should have known what was in the package, and exercised criminal recklessness by failing to find out before delivering it.

A famous example of such a defense being denied occurred in In re Aimster Copyright Litigation, 334 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2003), in which the defendants argued that their file-swapping technology was designed in such a way that they had no way of monitoring the content of swapped files, and suggested that their inability to monitor the activities of users meant that they could not be contributing to copyright infringement by the users. The court held that this was willful blindness on the defendant's part, and would not constitute a defense to a claim of contributory infringement.


  • Luban, Contrived Ignorance, (1999) Vol. 87 Georgetown Law Journal, 957.

See also


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