347 U.S. 284 (1954), Federal Communications Commission v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc.

Citation:347 U.S. 284, 74 S.Ct. 593, 98 L.Ed. 699
Party Name:Federal Communications Commission v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc.
Case Date:April 05, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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347 U.S. 284 (1954)

74 S.Ct. 593, 98 L.Ed. 699

Federal Communications Commission

v.

American Broadcasting Co., Inc.

United States Supreme Court

April 5, 1954

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Regulations of the Federal Communications Commission providing for the denial of licenses to radio and television broadcasting stations which broadcast so-called "give-away" programs, in which prizes are given to persons elected by chance who answer certain questions correctly but who are not required to contribute any money or other valuable consideration held invalid as going beyond the scope of 18 U.S.C. § 1304, and thus exceeding the rulemaking power of the Commission. Pp. 285-297.

(a) Unless such "give-away" programs are illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 1304, the Commission cannot employ the statute to make them so by agency action. Pp. 289-290.

(b) The contribution of money or other valuable consideration by the contestants is an essential element of the offense proscribed by 18 U.S.C. § 1304, which forbids the broadcasting of "any lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme, offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance." Pp. 290-291.

(c) The increased advertising value of a "give-away" program resulting from the requirement, direct or indirect, that home contestants listen to the program does not constitute a valuable consideration for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 1304. Pp. 291-295.

(d) Section 1304 of 18 U.S.C. is a penal statute, and it must be construed strictly. P. 296.

110 F.Supp. 374, affirmed.

The District Court enjoined enforcement of certain provisions of regulations of the Federal Communications Commission relating to the broadcasting of so-called "give-away" programs. 110 F.Supp. 374. On direct

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appeal to this Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1253 and 2101(b), affirmed, p. 297.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases are before us on direct appeal from the decision of a three-judge District Court in the Southern District of New York, enjoining the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing certain provisions in its rules relating to the broadcasting of so-called "give-away" programs. The question presented is whether the enjoined provisions correctly interpret § 1304 of the United States Criminal Code, formerly § 316 of the Communications Act of 1934. This statute prohibits the broadcasting of ". . . any lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance. . . ."1

The appellees are national radio and television broadcasting companies. They are, in addition, the operators

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of radio and television stations licensed by the Commission. Each of the appellees broadcasts, over its own and affiliated stations, certain programs popularly known as "give-away" programs. Generally characteristic of this type of program is the distribution of prizes to home listeners, selected wholly or in part on the basis of chance, as an award for correctly solving a given problem or answering a question.2

[74 S.Ct. 596] The rules challenged in this proceeding, §§ 3.192, 3.292, and 3.656 of the Commission's Rules and Regulations,

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were designed to prevent the broadcast of such programs.3 The rules are identically worded and apply, respectively, to standard radio broadcasting (AM), FM radio broadcasting,

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and television broadcasting. Paragraph (a) of each rule provides that

An application for construction permit, license, renewal of license, or any other authorization for the operation of a broadcast station will not be granted where the applicant proposes to follow or continue to follow a policy or practice of broadcasting . . .

programs of a sort forbidden by § 1304. Paragraph (b) provides that a program will fall within the ban

. . . if, in connection with such program, a prize consisting of money or thing of value is awarded to any person whose selection is dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance, if, as a condition of winning or competing for such prize:

(1) Such winner or winners are required to furnish any money or thing of value or are required to have in their possession any product sold, manufactured, furnished or distributed by a sponsor of a program broadcast on the station in question; or

(2) Such winner or winners are required to be listening to or viewing the program in question on a radio or television receiver; or

(3) Such winner or winners are required to answer correctly a question the answer to which is given on a program broadcast over the station in question or where aid to answering the question correctly is given on a program broadcast over the station in question. For the purposes of this provision, the broadcasting of the question to be answered over the radio station on a previous program will be considered as an aid in answering the question correctly; or

[74 S.Ct. 597]

(4) Such winner or winners are required to answer the phone in a prescribed manner or with a prescribed phrase, or are required to write a letter in a prescribed manner or containing a prescribed phrase, if the prescribed manner of answering the

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phone or writing the letter or the prescribed phrase to be used over the phone or in the letter (or an aid in ascertaining the prescribed phrase or the prescribed manner of answering the phone or writing the letter) is, or has been, broadcast over the station in question.

After promulgation of the rules, the present actions were brought by the appellees.4 The District Court sustained the Commission's general authority to adopt such rules, and sustained subdivision (1) of paragraph (b) as a correct interpretation of § 1304. But, with one dissent, the court held that subdivisions (2), (3), and (4) were beyond the scope of § 1304, and hence invalid. The court was of the view that § 1304 applied only to contest programs requiring contestants to contribute a "price" or "thing of value."5 We noted probable jurisdiction and consolidated the cases for argument.6

Like the court below, we have no doubt that the Commission, concurrently with the Department of Justice, has power to enforce § 1304. Indeed, the Commission would be remiss in its duties if it failed, in the exercise of its licensing authority, to aid in implementing the statute, either by general rule or by individual decisions.7

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But the Commission's power in this respect is limited by the scope of the statute. Unless the "give-away" programs involved here are illegal under § 1304, the Commission cannot employ the statute to make them so by agency action. Thus, reduced to its simplest terms, the issue before us [74 S.Ct. 598] is whether this type of program constitutes a "lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme" proscribed by § 1304.

All the parties agree that there are three essential elements of a "lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme": (1) the distribution of prizes; (2) according to chance; (3) for a consideration.8 They also agree that prizes on the programs under review are distributed according to

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chance, but they fall out on the question of whether the home contestant furnishes the necessary consideration.

The Commission contends that there is such consideration; in its brief, it urges that these programs

. . . are nothing but age old lotteries in a slightly new from. The new form results from the fact that the schemes here are illicit appendages to legitimate advertising. The classic lottery looked to advance cash payments by the participants as the source of profit; the radio give-away looks to the equally material benefits to stations and advertisers from an increased radio audience to be exposed to advertising.

It contends that consideration in the form of money or a thing of value is not essential, and that a commercial benefit to the promoter satisfies the consideration requirement:

. . . Where a scheme of chance is successfully designed to reap profits for its promoter, there will ultimately be consideration flowing from the participants, and it is of no consequence whether such consideration be direct or indirect. In either event, the gambling spirit -- the lure of obtaining something for nothing or almost nothing -- is exploited for the benefit of the promoter of the scheme.

As against this claim, the appellees insist that something more is required than just a benefit to the promoter; that the participation of the home audience by merely listening to a broadcast does not constitute the necessary consideration.

Section 1304 itself does not define the type of consideration needed for a "lottery, gift enterprise, or similar

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scheme." Nor do the postal lottery statutes from which this language was taken.9 The legislative history of § 1304 [74 S.Ct. 599] and the postal statutes is similarly unilluminating.10 For guidance, therefore, we must look primarily to American decisions, both judicial and administrative, construing comparable anti-lottery legislation.

Enforcing such legislation has long been a difficult task. Law enforcement officers, federal and state, have been plagued with as many types of lotteries as the seemingly inexhaustible ingenuity of their promoters could devise in their efforts to circumvent the law. When their schemes reached the courts, the decision, of necessity,

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usually turned on whether the scheme, on its own peculiar facts, constituted a lottery. So varied have been the techniques used by promoters to conceal the joint factors of prize, chance, and consideration, and so clever have they been in applying these techniques to feigned as well as legitimate business activities, that it has often been difficult to apply the decision of one case to the facts of another.

And so it is here. We find no decisions precisely in...

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