If an out-of-state business collects subscription proceeds from a South Carolina resident, must it pay South Carolina tax on that income?
With subscription-based services all the rage nowadays, the concept begs the question: What about taxes? Based on a recent case holding, it is clear that cable provider DirectTV had hoped to circumvent this minor detail – but was instead slapped with an $8.5 million income tax bill for failing to pay taxes on revenues from consumer subscriptions in the state of South Carolina. The case, which was decided by a state administrative judge within the Department of Revenue – hinged on the concept of “income-producing activity,” and whether the cable company actually engaged in taxable activity within the state of South Carolina. The case also serves as a glaring reminder of a foundational principle that, in life, only two things are inevitable: death and (federal and state) taxes.
Basis of DirectTV’s claims: It never actually made money in South Carolina
DirectTV asserted throughout the course of the litigation that the monthly subscriptions maintained by South Carolina residents did not “count” as the source of its income. Rather, its income is derived from “national marketing, content development, broadcast operations and customer service — business activities that are conducted outside of South Carolina.” By that reasoning, the company shouldn’t have to pay income tax in any state outside its state of incorporation, right?
Not really. Invoking a much more thorough level of reasoning, the administrative law judge concluded that the actual revenue-producing activity conducted by DirectTV involved its “delivery of the signal into the homes and onto the television sets of customers….[and] all of those income-producing activities related to South Carolina customers occurred entirely within South Carolina.
Thankfully, the judge also took a moment to rebuke the respondent for its argument, stating that it was of “no practical value.” Between 2006 and 2011, DirectTV has generated over $2 billion in subscriber fees from South Carolina homes and businesses, including $136 million in revenue from cable equipment and boxes.
If you are struggling with a state taxation issue or would like to discuss a general business matter, please do not hesitate to contact the Florence and Myrtle Beach business law attorneys at Willcox, Buyck & Williams today: 843-536-8050.