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Criticism Escalates for N.Y. Porn Tax Proposal

Criticism Escalates for N.Y. Porn Tax Proposal
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Feb 16, 2009 4:30 PM PST    Text size: 
ALBANY, N.Y. — In light of a $15 billion state budget deficit, N.Y. Gov. David Paterson (D) has proposed an additional 4 percent tax on all "digitally delivered entertainment services," including online adult content.

Following the proposition, the "iPod tax" was immediately met with criticism from not only the adult entertainment industry, which has largely dismissed the tax as a publicity stunt, but also from the conservatives, who fear that such a tax would "legitimize" the downloading and viewing of adult content.

"You're sending a message to children, and you're sending a message to teenagers: If you're taxing it, how can it be wrong?" said state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long. "I don't know how you can sink much deeper."

David Lazarus, a business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, also criticized the tax, calling it "knuckleheaded" and "incredibly shortsighted," but disagreed with Long's point about legitimization.

"When it comes to online porn," Lazarus told XBIZ, "the critics seem to be misplaced when they say this would legitimize the practice that many feel is wrong. The simple fact is that if it's something that millions of people are already using, it's already legitimized."

Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, added that, "A tax focused on adult entertainment is a tax on expression plain and simple. Having to pay extra just because some folks don’t like our message is censorship - whether on a page or online, censorship is censorship."

Paterson's proposed tax is the most recent of a seemingly popular trend in that it follows similar propositions in California and more recently, Washington.

Washington's porn tax, recently proposed by state Rep. Mark Miloscia (D), would impose an 18.5 percent tax increase on all products and services that "are primarily oriented to an interest in sex," with the exception of online adult material.

The proposed 25 percent porn tax in California, issued by Assembly Member Charles Calderon (D) in 2008, was rejected because the majority feared the adult entertainment industry would leave the state and take its billions with it, particularly since Southern California's San Fernando Valley is considered by many to be the "porn capital of the world."

Lazarus agrees that imposing a tax increase on Internet porn in New York could have a negative impact on the state.

"New York's loss would almost certainly be Southern California's gain," he said. "[The tax] will only apply to New York companies, so in theory, any online porn merchant closes down in New York and moves out to the thriving Southern California porn industry. People will continue moving away from the tax. If you tax New York, they will move to California; if you tax California and Washington and all the other states, they will move to France. And with online porn, it doesn't really matter where you are."

He added that the main problem with Paterson's iPod tax, as well as the other proposed statewide taxes, is that they are "isolated to one state. It's not like porn is going to go away. It's simply going to find the path of the least resistance."

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