Is Philly taxing bloggers?

Posted: August 24, 2010

Philadelphia was once again the subject of head-scratching and ridicule on Monday, this time with the "blog tax" controversy.

On BuzzFeed, a popular website for stories, photos, and video competing to go viral, "Philadelphia Blogger's License: $300" was in the running, in between videos of a bored cat having a birthday party and Lady Gaga dancing at a Kiss concert.

New York magazine's website weighed in, as did the Washington Post's. The New York Daily News had a story about "Cash-strapped Philly" resorting to a blog "tax."

So does Philadelphia have a blog tax?

The city says no.

It has a business-privilege license that is required of any business operating in the city. The license costs $50 a year or $300 for a lifetime license.

Well, some bloggers who make a few dollars from Web ads were informed recently that they had to obtain a license. Not because they were bloggers, the city says. But because they made money.

Something about small-time bloggers getting hit up for money by the government got a lot of blog writers and readers fired up.

"Unbelievably stupid," wrote a commenter on BuzzFeed. "Even if you look past the issues of free speech and excessive regulation, no city progresses economically by making its young, tech-savvy residents move away."

Philebrity, a local blog that makes money and has a business-privilege license, declared: "Philly brain drain is so drastic and wild that any sort of news story that runs anywhere about how the City, in an official capacity, discourages creativity or free speech feels like a punch in the face."

Anna Goldfarb, who runs Shmitten Kitten, a Philadelphia blog about relationships from the female perspective, said she hoped that "it doesn't discourage somebody from starting a blog."

Her blog has no ads, though she has made "beer money" from hosting a few social events through her blog, she said in an interview.

Considering the unknown number of blogs in the city, "it seems kind of hard to enforce," Goldfarb said.

How is the city finding blogs to go after?

First, the Internal Revenue Service shares tax information with the city. As part of Philadelphia's tax-amnesty program that ended in June, the city Revenue Department sent 30,000 letters notifying federal taxpayers that they may also have city tax liability.

Bloggers who reported blog income to the IRS, no matter how little, were flagged by the city.

Second, in response to questions from the arts community, the city provided outreach on what would be considered a business.

"There's often a blurry line when someone's passion becomes their profession," Mayor Nutter's spokesman Doug Oliver said.

A blog is not a business unless it starts selling ads or otherwise generating revenue, Oliver said.

"It is the same standard for any business operating in Philadelphia," Oliver said.


Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields contributed to this article.

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