August 26, 2010

Paying to Blog or Write - What do you say?

It's common practice for many businesses to have to get a license or some kind of registration, depending on the location, of course. But let's say you blog or are a freelance writer. Maybe you have a few ads on your blog, or sell a few things here and there...

Well if you live in Philadelphia, that city believes that in both cases, you need a "business privilege" license allowing you to operate. And in this case, it'll cost you $50 a year or $300 a lifetime to do it. See full story.

And by the way, it doesn't matter whether you make $10 a month or your blog or writing, or $1,000 a month.

Is this a case of a governmental entity reaching their hand into your pocket and finding another way to make money off people? Finding another way to tax the Internet or making people who are making good money pay up? But what's the sense in taxing someone $50 who doesn't make much on their venture? And if you're a freelance writer, why should you have to pay more?

What's your opinion?


  1. That is disgusting. Your blog is like an on line Diary. If it came to that over here, I'd make my blog private and only invite my friends and family to view it.

  2. Chris, my opinion is that this is a bizarre thing; imagine if every city had their own similar requirement?

    I can see an argument for treating freelance writers the same as other independent, small business owners - it's not a question of abridging the freedom of speech, really - but the frustration and ridiculousness of the situation is summed up well, at the end:

    "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.'"

    I think an argument could be made, by such bloggers, that it is a HOBBY, not a BUSINESS, in which case the license should not apply (or should apply to grandmas who knit, and occasionally sell a handmade item).

    In any case, if the law stands (which it could - after all, governments have successfully gone after small children and their lemonade stands in similar cases), there may be some consolation in that the business can write that off as a business expense. The PC would also have to be tax deductable, I think - the fact that the government deemed it a business would be prima facie evidence of that, surely? The home office space, too. And Web hosting fees...

    And of course, the business could claim a loss over the first couple of years. After which it would be deemed by the IRS to be a "hobby." And at that point, surely, one could go back to Philly and say, "Look, I'm going to file suit in federal court and let you and the IRS battle it out to determine whether my business is a business or a hobby. But I'm telling you right here and now, if it's found to be a hobby under federal law, I'm going to need a refund of those fees..." ;)

    Or look at it this way: many a writer could have a great deal of fun, at Philadelphia's expense, for just $50 to $300.

    Oh...wait. We can do that now, for free.

  3. In my opinion, there's a very clear First Amendment problem here.

    The government shouldn't be granting licenses allowing people to write. Period.

  4. Debbi, they're not. They're granting licenses to operate a writing or blogging business.

    If you keep a strictly personal blog and do not advertise your business, your books, your writing services, or run ads on it - in short, if you do not even INTEND to earn money from it - then there is no issue here.

    They will, likely, succeed in this. In fact, it looks as though they already have, with regard to freelance professional writers - they are just extending it to "professional bloggers." And assuming they do succeed, how many states or municipalities will follow suit? Times are tough - I expect they all will, in order to raise revenues. Then the problem becomes one of mobility - in how many different venues will you be expected to have such a license? What if you move? Is there any reciprocity? It's ludicrous, but clever.

  5. Yes I think it just becomes another way for cities, etc. to make money off you. As a writer, you need to be online,to "advertise," but that in essence then becomes another tax, when you already pay enough, esp. if you are self-employed. For tax purposes if you're a writer, you don't want your writing to be a hobby if you need to make deductions...

  6. No one has mentioned the loss of "FREEdom of speech?" (Not free if a price is attached)
    I am sure Philly is not the only city trying to make an additional buck off this. And I am sure that once word of this gets out other opportunistic cities will begin to write similar ordinances.
    Should this be passed, I would fight for stipulations on how much income needs to be generated before the license becomes necessary. Think of your favorite authors- most are considered freelancers. And most would be able to afford $300. What, in return, is a city willing to supply for that payment? There should be benefits.
    Or- to get around it, an enterprising local paper could say the city's bloggers are part of their staff, thus exempt.
    (I know, that would bring up other issues.)
    Who would be responsible for enforcing the law? Will Philly have to hire cyber stalkers?
    I think Free Enterprise is a concept that gets attacked enough.


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