Bless the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for suing in federal court a really ridiculous state Division of Taxation stance that a special sales-tax exemption for the works of published authors in the state applies only to fiction writers because, the division asserts, nonfiction isn’t “creative and original.’’ (The division also favors work by musicians and such visual artists as painters and sculptors.)
Of course, historians and other nonfiction writers, even including some journalists writing news and commentary articles, must often be highly original and creative in coming up with topics, and in crafting engaging narratives combining analyses and syntheses -- all with the aim of drawing and holding readers. There is artistry in this.
The ACLU’s argument is that the Division of Taxation’s distinction violates the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and the press. I don’t know about that but I do know it’s grossly unfair and illogical. Whether authors in general should get preferential sales-tax treatment is another issue. It reminds me a bit of when I worked for the old International Herald Tribune, technically a French company, we journalists had 25 percent lopped off our French income tax in what was in effect a government subsidy to encourage the practice of journalism; it was partly in reaction to the censorship during the Nazi occupation of France.