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Idaho Drafting Cloud Computing Regulation in the Wake of H.B. 598

The Idaho Sales Tax Rules Committee is currently revising Rule 027, Computer Equipment, Software, and Data Services, in response to the passage of H.B. 598.  The Committee met for the last time on July 24 to discuss the draft rule prior to the promulgation of the proposed rule.

As previously discussed in Inside SALT, the passage of Idaho H.B. 598 has resulted in the exclusion from the definition of tangible personal property of “computer software that is delivered electronically; remotely accessed software; and computer software that is delivered by the load and leave method where the vendor or its agent loads the software at the user’s location but does not transfer any tangible personal property containing the software to the user.”  However, “computer software that constitutes digital music, digital books, digital videos and digital games” is included within the definition of tangible personal property.

The discussion draft of Rule 027, released prior to the meeting, added new definitions for ‘canned software,’ ‘computer program,’ ‘computer software,’ ‘custom software,’ ‘digital product,’ ‘information stored in an electronic medium,’ ‘load and leave method’ and ‘remotely accessed computer software.’  As of the July 24 meeting, the definition of ‘delivered electronically’ was still under discussion.

The draft rule interprets H.B. 598 to assist taxpayers in identifying transactions subject to Idaho sales tax.  Following are items addressed by the draft rule:

  • The draft identifies streaming digital music, books and videos as subject to Idaho sales tax.
  • The draft explains that if canned software is loaded onto a user’s computer but has minimal or no functionality without connecting to the provider’s servers, it may be taxable based upon the delivery method of the canned software.
  • Online or remote data storage on storage media owned and controlled by another party is a nontaxable service.
  • Where the seller purchases raw data, expends time and resources to “clean up” the raw data into a usable format and charges customers for the right to use the data for a specified period of time, and the customers only have access to the full data over the internet, the charges are not taxable.
  • Digital games are treated by the draft rule as tangible personal property, and thus taxable, regardless of the method of access or delivery and regardless of whether the digital game requires the internet for some or all of its functionality.
  • Periodic charges to play games that require a constant connection over the internet to a remote server and periodic charges for a gaming service that enables certain functionality are taxable.
  • While the rule imposes sales tax on the purchase of virtual currency that enables additional content or progress in a digital game, it will not address the purchase of virtual currency used to purchase digital products such as video games, digital videos or apps.
  • The draft rule addresses the taxability of maintenance contracts.  The original rule is revised to impose tax on mandatory maintenance contracts only if the software to which the contract applies is subject to tax.  [...]

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Revise Your Tax Matrix: Remote Access of Software Exempt in Michigan and Idaho

A trend is developing in response to aggressive Department of Revenue/Treasury policymaking regarding cloud computing.  The courts and legislatures are addressing the issue and concluding that the remote access to software should not be taxed.  Here are two recent developments that illustrate the trend:

Michigan – Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Department of Treasury

On March 20, 2014, the Michigan Court of Claims held in Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Department of Treasury that certain cloud transactions were not subject to use tax because the transactions were nontaxable services.  The State has appealed this decision.

Auto-Owners engaged in transactions with numerous vendors to provide services and products that Auto-Owners used to conduct its business.  The court grouped Auto-Owners’ transactions into transactions with six categories of providers: (1) Insurance industry providers; (2) Marketing and advertising providers; (3) Technology and communications providers; (4) Information providers; (5) Payment remittance and processing support providers; and (6) Technology providers.  The transactions all involved, on some level, Auto-Owners accessing software through the Internet.  No software was downloaded by Auto-Owners.

The Michigan use tax is imposed on the privilege of using tangible personal property in the state.  Tangible personal property includes prewritten, non-custom, software that is “delivered by any means.”  Mich. Comp. Laws § 205.92b(o).  The court held that the transactions were not subject to use tax under the plain language of Michigan’s statute.

First, the court held that use tax did not apply because the court interpreted the “delivered by any means” language from Michigan’s statute to apply to the electronic and physical delivery of software, not the remote access of a third-party provider’s technology infrastructure.  Second, the court held that the software was not “used” by Auto-Owners.  Auto-Owners did not have control over the software as it only had the “ability to control outcomes by inputting certain data to be analyzed.”  Third, the court held that even if prewritten computer software was delivered and used, the use was “merely incidental to the services rendered by the third-party providers and would not subject the overall transactions to use tax.”  Michigan case law provides that if a transaction includes the transfer of tangible personal property and non-taxable services, the transaction is not taxable if the transfer of property is incidental to the services.

Practice Note:  This decision is encouraging in that the court said that the Department was ignoring the plain meaning of the statute and overreaching, and determined that the legislature must provide specific language extending the sales and use tax for such transactions to be taxable.  It is important to note that the Michigan statute uses the phrase “delivered by any means,” and the court focused on the definition of deliver in reaching its decision.  This decision will likely have implications for other streamlined sales tax (SST) member states.  Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Dep’t of Treas., No. 12-000082-MT (Mich. Ct. Cl. Mar. 20, 2014).

Idaho – H.B. 598

On April 4, 2014, Governor Butch Otter signed into law Idaho [...]

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