The Virginia Tax Commissioner recently addressed whether an individual was subject to the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) Tax for operating an online food and nutrition blog. Under Virginia law, localities can impose BPOL tax for engaging in business at a definite place within the locality. However, localities are prohibiting from imposing taxes or fees on newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and “other publications” issued “regularly at average intervals not exceeding three months, provided the publication’s subscription sales are exempt from state sales tax.” After noting that a blog was not a newspaper, magazine or newsletter, the Commissioner applied the legal doctrine of ejusdem generis (meaning “of the same kind” with reference to the items preceding it) to determine whether a blog was an “other publication,” as contemplated by the statute. After reviewing how newspapers, magazines, and newsletters were historically produced, the Commissioner determined that a blog was not similar to a newspaper, magazine, or newsletter. Notably, when the BPOL exemption was enacted in 1988, all of these items were available in a tangible format only and so the Commissioner considered these specific items in their historical context as tangible media. The reference in the exemption to the state sales tax reinforced this position because the sales tax generally applies only to tangible personal property. The Commissioner concluded that the business activity of operating a blog may be subject to the BPOL tax because a blog is not produced or delivered in a tangible form. For more information on Ruling No. 20-4, please contact Sarika Bakshi at 703-286-8467.
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