The Utah Supreme Court has upheld a lower court finding that customer mailing lists should be taxed, a decision that makes a real-estate marketer liable for more than $7,750 in back taxes.
At issue was whether the lease or sale of information conveyed by a tangible medium, such as mailing lists, should be taxed as a personal property transaction, according to the state Supreme Court opinion released Wednesday.The unanimous ruling stated that the gummed mailing labels and magnetic tapes purchased by Mark O. Harolden were worth more to him than the cost of the materials used to convey the information.
"A Picasso painting is personal property, but its value is hardly the value of the canvas, the frame and the paint. Any number of other examples prove the same point," the opinion said.
Haroldsen uses direct mail advertising to contact potential customers for his business, which is selling books and tapes on real estate investment as well as conducting seminars.
The customer lists in question were purchased or leased during a three-year period that began in July 1979 from seven companies and three list owners, all located outside Utah.
The companies put together the lists based on the demographics of people most likely to be interested in Haroldsen's products and seminars.
Haroldsen argued that the mailing lists could not be considered personal property under state law and said the money he spent on them were for the efforts to compile them.
Third District Court Judge Timothy R. Hanson agreed with the Tax Commission that the lists were personal property for tax purposes and found that compiling the lists took little expertise on behalf of the companies.
The ruling affirms a Utah State Tax Commission order holding Haroldsen liable for $7,750 plus interest in taxes.