Bounty (reward)

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A bounty flyer offering rewards on behalf of the "Anti-Taliban Forces" in Afghanistan Taliban bounty flyer.jpg
A bounty flyer offering rewards on behalf of the "Anti-Taliban Forces" in Afghanistan

A bounty (from Latin bonitās, goodness) is a payment or reward often offered by a group as an incentive for the accomplishment of a task by someone usually not associated with the group. Bounties are most commonly issued for the capture or retrieval of a person or object. They are typically in the form of money. By definition, they can be retracted at any time by whoever issued them. Two modern examples of bounties are the ones placed for the capture of Saddam Hussein and his sons by the United States government [1] and Microsoft's bounty for computer virus creators. [2] Those who make a living by pursuing bounties are known as bounty hunters.



Historical examples

Written promises of reward for the capture of or information regarding criminals go back to at least the first-century Roman Empire. Graffiti from Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, contained this message:

A copper pot went missing from my shop. Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 bronze coins (sestertii). Twenty more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief. [3]

A bounty system was used in the American Civil War as an incentive to increase enlistments. Another bounty system was used in New South Wales to increase the number of immigrants from 1832. [4]

PS20 reward offered for information in Kidderminster house burglary, 1816. 20 Pounds reward.jpg
£20 reward offered for information in Kidderminster house burglary, 1816.

Bounties were sometimes paid as rewards for killing Native Americans. In 1862, a farmer received a bounty for shooting Taoyateduta (Little Crow). In 1856, Governor Isaac Stevens put a bounty on the head of Indians from eastern Washington, for ordinary Indians and for a "chief". A western Washington Indian, Patkanim, chief of the Snohomish, obligingly provided a great many heads, until the territorial auditor put a stop to the practice due to the dubious origins of the deceased.[ citation needed ]

In Australia in 1824, a bounty of 500 acres (200 ha) of land was offered for capturing alive the Wiradjuri warrior Windradyne, the leader of the Aboriginal resistance movement in the Bathurst Wars. A week after the bounty was offered, the word "alive" was dropped from the reward notices, but he was neither captured nor betrayed by his people. [5]

Bounties have been offered on animals deemed undesirable by particular governments or corporations. In Tasmania, the thylacine was relentlessly hunted to extinction based on such schemes. Gray wolves, too, were extirpated from much of the present United States by bounty hunters. An example of the legal sanction granted can be found in a Massachusetts Bay Colony law dated May 7, 1662: "This Court doth Order, as an encouragement to persons to destroy Woolves, That henceforth every person killing any Woolf, shall be allowed out of the Treasury of that County where such woolf was slain, Twenty shillings, and by the Town Ten shillings, and by the County Treasurer Ten shillings: which the Constable of each Town (on the sight of the ears of such Woolves being cut off) shall pay out of the next County rate, which the Treasurer shall allow." [6]

17th-century examples

Since after the Restoration, criminality was increasing, the dissatisfaction with the penal system led to the implementation of the rewards. £10 were promised to anyone who gave information about a robber or burglar and a pardon was also granted to convicts able to provide evidence against their accomplices. [7] Between 1660 and 1692, Parliament introduced a series of statutes that offered rewards up to £40. Under William III, the rewards became a systematic element in the fight against crime, an alternative to erase the most dangerous threats to the community. The first example of permanent reward was in 1692, when £40 (together with the offender's horse, arms, and money) were offered for the discovery and the conviction of offenders who committed serious property crimes - highway robbery, burglary and housebreaking, coining, and other offences. [8] The trial judges became fundamental to the administration of the rewards system because the statutes put them in charge of apportioning the reward among the persons who claimed to have participated in procuring the conviction. As it was written in the legislation of 1692, " case any Dispute shall happen to arise between the persons so apprehending any the said Thieves and Robbers touching their right and title to the said Reward that then the said Judge or Justices so respectively certifying as aforesaid shall in and by their said Certificate direct and appoint the said Reward to be paid unto and amongst the Parties claimeing the same in such share and proportions as to the said Judge or Justices shall seem just and reasonable" [9]

18th-century examples

In the 18th century, the English government episodically offered rewards by proclamation; in 1720, a royal proclamation offered £100 for the unmasking of murderers or highway robbers, sometimes worth as much as £100. When a statutory reward overlapped a proclamation, prosecuting or convicting of a highway robber could be worth £140 a head (£100 under proclamation, £40 by statute), £240 for a pair or £420 for a three-person group. These were huge sums at the time when an artisan earned about £20 and a labourer less than £15 per year. [10] Supplementary reward was part of the administration of the law for six years, then with the death of George I, it came to an end. After two years, in February 1728, a new proclamation reinstated the £100 reward by respecting the original terms. Private parties were also free to offer rewards in addition to rewards by proclamations, then this practice was taken up by governmental departments and local authorities. [11] In 1716, Robert Griffith was indicted for stealing from Thomas Brooks, one silver watch, value £51, and one gold watch, value £18, from Mary Smith. She offered a reward of £15 to anyone who gave information about the robber. The reward was received by Mr. Holder, after he brought Mrs. Smith the silver watch that was stolen. [12] In 1732, Henry Carey offered a reward of 2 guineas for the securing of Richard Marshall, and three more for his conviction. Marshall, together with Mary Horsenail and Amy Mason, were indicted for breaking and entering the house of Mr. Carey in Dorrington-street. They were also indicted for robbery. Marshall was secured by Mr. Parker, that received the 2-guinea reward as promised. Australian bushranger "Ned Kelly" held the most wanted bounty of the 1800s, for £8000; Ned was wanted dead or alive. [13]

Rewards and thief-takers

In creating incentives to overcome criminality, the rewards system risked overincentivizing. This led to the development of the profession of thief-taker. They were part of the criminal underworld, but they were seen as offering an advantageous service to the state. [14] Victims of theft in London, facilitated by the circulation of newspapers, took advantage of advertising to recover their stolen goods. They offered a reward “with no questions asked”. [15] Since prosecutors usually resorted to the legal system, they had to pay for the proceedings at the Old Bailey; though the offender was convicted, they often lost their goods forever. For this reason, prosecutors decided to bypass the legal system, recovering their goods by resorting to advertising. [16] Thief-takers were the perfect intermediates between victims and offenders and received a portion of the reward offered. Jonathan Wild, a prominent figure of the underworld, successfully combined thief-taking with the activity of simplifying the return of stolen goods by paying rewards to the thieves. [17] In the early 1720s, he controlled London’s underworld, but his activity became a threat to the community and the integrity of the penal system. In 1725, Wild was accused of stealing 50 yards (46 m) of lace, valued at £40, from the shop of a blind woman, Catherine Statham. He admitted accepting a reward of 10 guineas from Mrs. Statham for helping her to recover the stolen lace. He was acquitted of the first charge but with Mrs. Statham's evidence presented against him on the second charge he was convicted and sentenced to death. [18]

Fictional representations

The figure of Jonathan Wild inspired the character of Mr. Peachum in The Beggar's Opera , a satirical ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay. Peachum controls a large group of thieves, and is connected to the government and courts. Because of these connections, he can decide whether to allow a captured criminal to be hanged (in that case he receives a reward) or to be released. In scene II, Peachum gives evidence against another member of his gang, Tom Gagg, in exchange for a reward of £40. Then in scene IV, Mrs. Peachum, Peachum’s wife, enters and inquires about Bob Booty, her favorite member of the gang. Peachum will accept a £40 reward for allowing Bob to be hanged. [19]

21st-century examples

The majority of prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay detainment camp were handed over by bounty hunters. [20]

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston offered a $5 million reward for the return, in good condition, of the 13 works of art taken from its galleries in March 1990. [21]

Other uses


The term "bounty" is used in mathematics to refer to a reward offered to any person willing to take on an open problem. Bounties are offered for solving a particular math problem – ranging from small lemmas that graduate students solve in their spare time to some of the world's hardest math problems. Paul Erdős was famous for offering mathematical bounties. [22]

Open-source software

In the computer science and open-source community, bounty refers to a reward offered to any person or project willing to solve open problems, for instance, implementing a feature or finding a bug in an open-source software program (open-source bounty). For instance, the Mozilla Foundation offers bounties for security bug hunting. [23] [24] Bounty-driven development is one of the business models for open-source software.


In poker tournaments, a bounty prize refers to a fixed sum of money "on each player's head" that is awarded to whomever knocks that player out of the tournament by winning all their chips. [ clarification needed ]


Often, if a driver or team has won multiple consecutive races, a race track or sanctioning body will establish a bounty on a team. This practice is common on local short tracks, especially if a driver has won three consecutive weeks or more. The bounty often is increased for every race the offending driver or team continues to win, and is claimed upon another driver or team ending that winning streak. After Chip Ganassi Racing won six consecutive Rolex Sports Car Series races, Grand American Road Racing Association established a bounty to the team that beats Ganassi. On May 14, 2011, Action Express Racing defeated Ganassi, and claimed the bounty. After Kyle Busch won six consecutive NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races over a two-season span, driver Kevin Harvick and series sponsor Camping World Holdings placed a $100,000 bounty to a full-time Cup Series driver that defeats Busch in one of the remaining four races Busch is eligible to participate. Numerous Cup Series drivers announced plans to enter the $100,000 bounty races. On the first race of the four on May 26, 2020, Chase Elliott claimed the bounty in defeating Busch at the North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Harvick and Camping World will donate the bounty to COVID-19 relief efforts. A separate bounty had been planned by Halmar International, a sponsor on a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck, for $50,000 if a Truck Series regular defeated Busch, but that was cancelled because the sponsor used the money for COVID-19 relief efforts.

American football

Bounties, referring to bonuses for in-game performance, are officially banned by the National Football League, the sport's dominant professional league. Despite this, bounties have had a significant history within the sport. Notable examples include a 1989 game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles that became known as the Bounty Bowl, and a bounty scheme organized by players and coaches with the New Orleans Saints that was uncovered in 2012, leading to substantial penalties.


Bounty is also used to refer to bonus payments made to staff on recruitment (or for recommending others for recruitment) – this used to be common in the military (it was standard practice in the British Army during the 19th century), but has since been largely phased out, only to become relatively widespread amongst civilian employers. Many reserve armed forces also pay a retention "bounty" to personnel who meet or exceed participation and training thresholds. [25]


The company weBounty, Inc. offers users the ability to create or pledge to bounties across a variety of categories.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Bounty hunter Person who catches fugitives for a monetary reward

A bounty hunter is a professional person who captures fugitives or criminals for a commission or bounty. The occupation, officially known as bail agency enforcer, bail enforcement agent, bail agent, recovery agent, bail recovery agent, or fugitive recovery agent, has traditionally operated outside the legal constraints that govern police officers and other agents of the state. This is because a bail agreement between a defendant and a bail bondsman is essentially a civil contract that is incumbent upon the bondsman to enforce. As a result, bounty hunters hired by a bail bondsman enjoy significant legal privileges, such as forcibly entering a defendant's home without probable cause or a search warrant; however, since they are not police officers, bounty hunters are legally exposed to liabilities that normally exempt agents of the state—as these immunities enable police to perform their designated functions effectively without fear—and everyday citizens approached by a bounty hunter are neither required to answer their questions nor allowed to be detained. Bounty hunters are typically independent contractors paid a commission of the total bail amount that is owed by the fugitive; they provide their own PLI and only get paid if they are able to find the "skip" and bring them in.

Bow Street Runners London police force founded in 1749

The Bow Street Runners have been called London's first professional police force. The force originally numbered six men and was founded in 1749 by magistrate Henry Fielding, who was also well known as an author. Bow Street Runners was the public's nickname for the officers, "although the officers never referred to themselves as runners, considering the term to be derogatory". The Bow Street group was disbanded in 1839.

Outlaw Person declared as outside the protection of the law

In historical legal systems, an outlaw is one declared as outside the protection of the law. In pre-modern societies, all legal protection was withdrawn from the criminal, so that anyone is legally empowered to persecute or kill them. Outlawry was thus one of the harshest penalties in the legal system. In early Germanic law, the death penalty is conspicuously absent, and outlawing is the most extreme punishment, presumably amounting to a death sentence in practice. The concept is known from Roman law, as the status of homo sacer, and persisted throughout the Middle Ages.

Vehicular homicide is a crime that involves the death of a person other than the driver as a result of either criminally negligent or murderous operation of a motor vehicle.

Jonathan Wild 18th century English criminal

Jonathan Wild, also spelled Wilde, was a London underworld figure notable for operating on both sides of the law, posing as a public-spirited crimefighter entitled the "Thief-Taker General". Wild simultaneously ran a significant criminal empire, and used his crime fighting role to remove rivals and launder the proceeds of his own crimes.

Wanted poster Poster distributed to let the public know of an alleged criminal whom authorities wish to apprehend

A wanted poster is a poster distributed to let the public know of an alleged criminal whom authorities wish to apprehend. They will generally include either a picture of the alleged criminal when a photograph is available or of a facial composite image produced by police.

Charles Hitchen, also mentioned as Charles Hitchin in other sources, was a "thief-taker" and under-marshal of the City of London in the early 18th century, also, famously tried for homosexual acts, sodomitical offences. Alongside his former assistant and then a major rival Jonathan Wild, against whom he later published a pamphlet and contributed to his sentencing to death, Hitchen blackmailed and bribed people and establishments irrespective of their reputation, suspicious or respectable. Despite the disgrace of the people he earned through his abusive exercising of his power, he remained in power and continued fighting against violent crime, especially after the ending of the war of the Spanish Succession and until 1727.

Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 United Kingdom legislation

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Transportation Act 1717

The Transportation Act 1717 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that established a regulated, bonded system to transport criminals to colonies in North America for indentured service, as a punishment for those convicted or attained in Great Britain, excluding Scotland. The act, is long titled An Act for the further preventing Robbery, Burglary, and other Felonies, and for the more effectual Transportation of Felons, and unlawful Exporters of Wool; and for declaring the Law upon some Points relating to Pirates. The act established a seven-year transportation sentence as a punishment for people convicted of lesser felonies, and a fourteen-year sentence for more serious crimes, in lieu of capital punishment. Completion of the sentence had the effect of a pardon; the punishment for returning before completion was death. An estimated 50,000 convicts were transported to the British American colonies.

Crime scene getaway Act of fleeing the location where one has broken the law

A crime scene getaway is the act of fleeing the location where one has broken the law. It is an act that the offender(s) may or may not have planned in detail, resulting in a variety of outcomes. A crime scene is the "location of a crime; especially one at which forensic evidence is collected in a controlled manner." The "getaway" is any escape by a perpetrator from that scene, which may have been witnessed by eyewitnesses or law enforcement.


In English legal history, a thief-taker was a private individual hired to capture criminals. The widespread establishment of professional police in England did not occur until the 19th century. With the rising crime rate and newspapers to bring this to the attention of the public, thief-takers arose to partially fill the void in bringing criminals to justice. These were private individuals much like bounty hunters. However, thief-takers were usually hired by crime victims, while bounty hunters were paid by bail bondsmen to catch fugitives who skipped their court appearances and hence forfeited their bail. Both types also collected bounties offered by the authorities. Sometimes, thief-takers would act as go-betweens, negotiating the return of stolen goods for a fee. However, they were often corrupt themselves, for example extorting protection money from the crooks they were supposed to catch. Government-funded rewards for the capture of criminals were a corrupting influence, leading directly to the Macdaniel scandal.

Common Informers Act 1951 United Kingdom legislation

The Common Informers Act 1951 is an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament that abolishes the principle of, and procedures concerning a common informer.

Macdaniel affair

The Macdaniel affair or Macdaniel scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United Kingdom in 1754, when a group of bounty hunters, led by Stephen MacDaniel, were revealed to have been prosecuting innocent men to their deaths in England in order to collect reward money from bounties. The scandal was an unintended consequence of the British government offering rewards for the capture of criminals, as before those rewards were instituted, thief-takers depended primarily on privately funded rewards from victims seeking return of stolen property or other restitution. The Macdaniel affair formed part of the impetus for the formation of salaried public police forces, who did not depend on rewards, to combat crime in the country.

Aiding and abetting is a legal doctrine related to the guilt of someone who aids or abets another person in the commission of a crime. It exists in a number of different countries and generally allows a court to pronounce someone guilty for aiding and abetting in a crime even if they are not the principal offender.

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A bug bounty program is a deal offered by many websites, organizations and software developers by which individuals can receive recognition and compensation for reporting bugs, especially those pertaining to security exploits and vulnerabilities.

<i>Second Thoughts Are Best</i> book by Daniel Defoe

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Criminal Law Act 1827 United Kingdom legislation

The Criminal Law Act 1827 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, applicable only to England and Wales. It abolished many obsolete procedural devices in English criminal law, particularly the benefit of clergy. It was repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1967.


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