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I am writing a research paper, and am confused regarding the exact wording of the law.

As I understand it, 18 USC 1462 criminalizes the transportation and receipt of obscenity:

Whoever brings into the United States, or any place subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or knowingly uses any express company or other common carrier or interactive computer service (as defined in section 230(e)(2) 1 of the Communications Act of 1934), for carriage in interstate or foreign commerce [...a list of what is illegal...]

and further criminalizes

Whoever knowingly takes or receives, from such express company or other common carrier or interactive computer service of the Communications Act of 1934) any matter or thing the carriage or importation of which is herein made unlawful

Does this second quote mean that it is illegal for individuals to view obscene material depicting adults online, or merely that they cannot receive obscene material depicting adults online that they have paid for (interstate/foreign commerce)?

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Given the structure of the statute, the interpretation of the second quote only depends on the previous parts for defining "any matter or thing the carriage or importation of which is herein made unlawful", namely the list of things in (a) to (c) which includes "obscene material". That clause makes unlawful the act of receiving from an interactive computer service obscene material. In order to view such material, it must be received, so viewing implies receiving and is thus also illegal. This is a classic example of potentially ambiguous scope where one might apply an interpretive rule such as the "last antecedent rule" (which calls for narrow scope interpretation), or the series-qualifier rule which calls for wide scope interpretation. It's really impossible to know which interpretive canons would be applied (see Solan The languages of judges for discussion), in deciding whether "for carriage in interstate or foreign commerce" would be construed as applying to the second clause. It is not even clear that "interstate commerce" requires the viewer to pay.

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