by Rhonda Roland Shearer and Danielle Elliot, Stinky Journalism.org
Mainstream Media (MsM) have lately been hanging their hopes on armies of citizen journalists who are willingly providing them with free content. These for-profit media enterprises, which include CNN iReports, The Huffington Post, FOX uReports and MSNBC First Person, benefit financially from the original work of “volunteers” who “donate” their intellectual properties—videos, articles, commentaries and images—for no pay. This is, literally, something for nothing to these profit-seeking enterprises, a financial windfall that pads their own bottom lines at virtually no risk. While the “volunteers” have their own personal reasons for giving their work away—everything from raising their own profiles or exposing corruption and criminality to pure altruism—they may be unknowingly stepping into a tax minefield. Indeed, according to the rules of the Internal Revenue Service, this popular cost-slashing strategy—the business model for which is based on transfers of content (intellectual property) from citizen journalists to media outlets at no fee—may subject the contributors to a gift tax.
With this in mind, StinkyJournalism.org has asked the question: Is the “donation” of a citizen’s content (video, articles, commentaries, images) to for-profit media outlets that exceeds a fair market value of $12,000 in any single year subject to gift tax? Judging from the IRS guidelines, the answer is “yes.”