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PA Taxes Digital Goods in Act 84

Effective August 1, 2016, Pennsylvania has joined the ranks of states attempting to expand their sales and use tax jurisdiction over digital downloads. With out-of-state internet sales taking away sales tax revenue from the states in conjunction with the sharp decline in “hard copy” sales of various media, states are scrambling to expand their tax base and capture categories of items that escaped their grasp when they evolved with the internet and technology.

ACT 84 of 2016 specifically extends to items delivered to “a customer electronically or digitally or by streaming unless the transfer is otherwise exempt. This includes music or any other audio, video such as movies and streaming services, e-books and any otherwise taxable printed matter, apps and in-app purchases, ringtones, online games, and canned software, as well as any updates, maintenance or support of these items.” While e-books and videos otherwise would be printed or “hard copy” materials subject to tax, apps and certain in-app purchases have never been available through a tangible medium.

Ultimately, the Act regains a lost tax base while also adding new items to it. The question remains that if a Pennsylvania resident makes a purchase while on vacation in Florida and listens to, for example, a one-time podcast while still in Florida, then does Act 84 of 2016 extend to that purchase? In other words, if the sale and entire use occurs within Florida but the purchaser is a resident of Pennsylvania, is the sale subject to Pennsylvania tax?

At first glance, it appears easy to tax a digital download the same way its physical equivalent is taxed. But when the location of the purchase and use can be anywhere, it becomes complicated. Streaming services and in-app purchases can be especially complex in cases when they are one-time use. For example, if a Pennsylvania resident purchases an extra “life” in a video game app while on vacation in Florida and uses that “life” while on vacation, then how can Pennsylvania possibly have jurisdiction to impose tax on that transaction?

These questions and more will likely be answered by Pennsylvania and other states in the coming years as they attempt to modernize sales and use tax laws to cover the digital downloads that once tangible (and taxable) items have evolved into.

Jeanette Moffa is an attorney who concentrates on state and local taxes at Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, P.A. She is also an adjunct professor and assistant editor to the American Bar Association’s The Sales and Use Tax Deskbook. She can be reached at 954-800-4138 or JeanetteMoffa@FloridaSalesTax.com