Today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to offer or solicit child pornography. This law defines child pornography more narrowly than an earlier statute that was overturned by the Court on First Amendment grounds, and it does not seem to leave a lot of room for punishing or chilling protected speech. But there is this strange wrinkle, noted by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in their dissent: In the case of a person offering to sell or transfer pornography, he either has to believe the images feature actual children or intend that people receiving the offer believe that. The images need not in fact feature actual children, however (or even exist). Yet the Court has said that "virtual child pornography," featuring computer-generated or manipulated images but no actual children engaged in sex acts, cannot be constitutionally prohibited (unless it is deemed "obscene"). Hence this law punishes, among other things, speech about transactions involving legal material, on the condition that the person offering it either thinks or claims it is illegal. In such a case, the transaction itself is legal, but talking about it is not.
Today's decision is here.