Widespread Taxing Of Bloggers Could Stifle Internet Speech, Internet Speech Advocates Say

Sarah Hinchcliff Pearson, residential fellow at the Center for Internet and Society, is quoted on potentially requiring bloggers to buy a business license if their blog recieves advertising revenue. Kamala Lane of Washington Internet Daily reports:

The Philadelphia Revenue Department's attempt to require bloggers to buy a business privilege license if their blog receives advertising revenue could be a deterrent for prospective bloggers, some Internet advocates and lawyers said. The license must be bought by anyone doing business in the city and costs $50 a year or $300 for the life of the business, said the Revenue Department. The fee is not an attempt to tax bloggers, said Doug Oliver, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter. "Everyone from Comcast to Starbucks to a pizza joint has to have business privilege licenses," including freelance artists like performers and musicians.

"There are people who do things because they have a passion for it, and there are those times when your passion becomes a profession," which then becomes a business, Oliver said. Enforcing the law is an effort to provide clarity to the arts and entertainment community and to collect taxes from people who reported making a profit to the IRS, but didn't pay taxes locally, he said. The city sent out about 30,000 letters, a Revenue Department spokeswoman said. The recipients included bloggers and letters were received from May 3 to June 25, during the city's tax amnesty period, she said.


If treating blogging as a business becomes widespread, speech on the Internet could be affected, some Internet freedom advocates and lawyers said. It does have the potential to stifle free speech online, said Sarah Hinchliff Pearson of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law. "If you make $5 for the year, and you have to pay for this license, it's almost punitive." It's "one thing to tax a professional blog," she said. But "the vast majority aren't money-making endeavors. People are doing it in their spare time and if they have to jump through hoops they won't blog for fear of being taxed."


The larger issue is how the city intends to determine the threshold for being considered a business and how it will enforce the law, they said. "I'm not sure how you'd figure out who would fall under the tax," Pearson said. "The Internet isn't local and it seems like they would waste a lot of resources to try to figure out the threshold and enforce the law." "I'd be surprised if they spent a lot of their resources to aggressively enforce this," Donovan said. "They have bigger fish to fry."