Finland – Supreme Administrative Court decision on the VAT treatment of non-printed books after the ECJ decision (K Oy – C-219/13)

2015 seems to start with book related VAT news in the EU. After the ECJ’s judgment in the K Oy case (C-219/13) which we previously discussed, the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court (“SAC”) delivered its ruling at the end of December. The SAC held that the standard Finnish VAT rate (currently 24%) applies to books on other physical means of support such as a CD, CD-ROM or memory stick.The ECJ left it to the national courts to decide whether fiscal neutrality (i.e. the same VAT treatment) is applicable to printed books and books published on other physical means. Even though the ECJ judgment also appreciated that this can also be impacted by the level of penetration of new technologies in the various EU Member States.

The SAC followed the argumentation of the ECJ and held that books on other physical means of support are not similar to printed books. According to the Finnish court the other physical means do not satisfy the same needs of the average consumer and therefore they cannot be subject to the reduced VAT rate. The SAC argues that books on physical means of support have a closer link to e-books downloadable from the internet, to which reduced VAT rates cannot be applied based on the EU legislation. As a result the SAC concluded that the different VAT treatment of printed books and books on other physical means of support does not offend the principle of fiscal neutrality.

What does it mean?

Considering the above decision, Italy’s recent move to apply the reduced VAT rate to e-books, as well as the pending French and Luxembourg infringement procedures indicate that the VAT treatment of the non-printed books remains an increasingly important area. It will be interesting to see how these will further develop, in light of the arguments used by the ECJ and the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court.

About Andras Salanki

Manager PwC Switzerland email: andras.salanki@ch.pwc.com Office: +41587924536

Andras Salanki is an international VAT advisor with 7 years of relevant professional experience. He spent one year on secondment in California, US, where he advised US multinationals on global VAT projects and also gained experience with IT and Internet companies based in the Silicon Valley.