Philadelphia 'blogger fee' turns into blog fodder
Money is short and times are hard, so municipal governments have to look everywhere for the funds to keep cops on the beat and buses on the street. Or so one would think from the news out of Philadelphia, where the city has been asking bloggers with any sign of a business model to pay for a "business privilege license."
Philadelphia City Paper writer Valerie Rubinsky broke the story last week:
After dutifully reporting even the smallest profits on their tax filings this year, a number -- though no one knows exactly what that number is -- of Philadelphia bloggers were dispatched letters informing them that they owe $300 for a privilege license, plus taxes on any profits they made.
That license consists of a one-time $300 fee, although bloggers thinking of going into tax exile may prefer to pay $50 a year instead. Or it seems you can refrain from running any ads on your blog, turning it into a hobby in the city's eyes.
As the City Paper's follow-up today notes, the story quickly took off, drawing sometimes-inaccurate coverage under headlines like the New York Daily News's "Cash-strapped Philly: Bloggers must pay for business license." (Note: It's possible that some of this coverage, at least in other National League East cities, comes from people tired of seeing obnoxious Philly fans in their own ballparks.)
Kidding aside, there are real policy issues here. The city government put itself into this box with a law requiring anybody running a business of any sort to pay for this license, so bloggers running ads next to their copy shouldn't be exempt if the requirement also applies to people selling old junk on eBay, collecting an ad-revenue share from funny cat videos posted on YouTube or hawking custom t-shirts at CafePress. For that matter, I wouldn't object to Philly taxing transactions in FarmVille... but maybe that's just me.
In other cities, no such problem exists. The District, for example, only requires a business license for activities that would require other forms of oversight, such as food sales or rental housing. Blogging and other sorts of writing are free from that requirement, although if you make real money from your blog--hey, stop laughing!--D.C. will want its share.
But there is an upside here: By in essence gift-wrapping such a fun story on a slow news week, Philadelphia has provided a form of economic stimulus for bloggers everywhere. If you've already opined on this subject, please take a moment in a follow-up post to express thanks to the good people up Interstate 95 who made it all possible.
August 23, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Policy and politics , The business we have chosen
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