Bloggers cry foul over Philly tax, city says it’s nothing new and applies to all businesses

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bloggers crying foul over Philly business tax

PHILADELPHIA — Bloggers in Philadelphia are upset over a city business fee that they say is an unfair tax on their Internet musings.

The city’s so-called business privilege license costs $50 a year or $300 for a lifetime.

If a blog takes money for advertising, or sells photographs or other goods, it’s a business and must pay for a license — no matter how little it makes — plus taxes on profits.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter says the license is nothing new and is required for any moneymaking enterprise, from large corporations to neighborhood pizza joints and all other kinds of mom-and-pop businesses.

But the idea of the city mandating a license for people who blog in their spare time and garner some income, no matter how minuscule, rankled the blogosphere, though it was clear there is a distinction that some bloggers are pros, while others are just hobbyists.

“It’s also something the city of Philadelphia has been doing to freelance writers for a certain amount of time,” Joey Sweeney, publisher and editor of the websites and, told The Associated Press on Monday. “We had to get a business privilege license a few years ago. I guess my take on it is if you are somebody who blogs as hobby obviously you shouldn’t have to open an account with the city or whatever.”

“I think that a lot of people don’t really take the decision to run advertising on their blogs very seriously or as seriously as you should,” he said. “When you do that you make a decision essentially to go into business. It might be a really small business, it might be a side thing, but basically the second you accept advertising you’re playing a different game than someone who has a Tumblr or posts on Facebook.”

City spokesman Doug Oliver told The Associated Press that for people who blog strictly for fun, not profit, the license requirement doesn’t apply.

The uproar began after the city Revenue Department recently sent out letters to Philadelphia residents who reported business revenue with the Internal Revenue Service but hadn’t gotten a city business license.

Some bloggers are complaining that the fee would impinge on their free speech and would discourage dissent. They also say it’s unfair to require a business to pay taxes if it’s making only $25 or $50 a year.

The blog, which is based in San Francisco, called the fee “absolutely ridiculous.”

“Philadelphia decided to pick on bloggers,” stated a post on the blog Monday. “They will, of course, lose any legal challenge in court, but they’ll go ahead with the idea anyway because that’s what fools do — act without thinking.”

Two City Council members have proposed legislation that would change some of the requirements for all small businesses, including bloggers. If approved, the proposal would still require them to pay for a business privilege license but they wouldn’t be required to pay taxes on the first $100,000 in profit.

That’s not sitting well with some bloggers.

“I think it’s ludicrous,” said Seano Barry, whose blog Circle of Fits focuses on music in Philadelphia and offers up concert and music reviews.

“I review shows in the city. I sometimes write for a couple of other blogs,” he told The AP. “Sometimes I get access to the shows, sometimes I don’t. To put the ads up is to cover the cost of going downtown.”

In the last two years, Barry said he’s made about $11 and change from the tiny ads on his site, nothing else.

“This is not a business,” he said. “Really, it’s a labor of love.”


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