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‘Google Tax’ goes into effect throughout Russia

The law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 3, 2016 essentially intends to set equal conditions for Russian and foreign Internet companies

MOSCOW, January 1. /TASS/. Legislation informally known as the "Google tax" ordering foreign companies engaged in online sales of electronic content in Russia to pay the value-added tax (VAT) is coming into force on Sunday.

The law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 3, 2016 essentially intends to set equal conditions for Russian and foreign Internet companies. However, industry representatives noted already at the bill’s discussion stage that Russian companies using foreign marketplaces for selling their content may also fall under this law and will have to pay the VAT twice.

The law stipulates the introduction of an 18% VAT for foreign companies providing services to Russians in electronic form. Foreign companies will need to register on the Russian tax service’s special electronic index and pay taxes on equal footing with Russian companies operating in the same market segment. The VAT shall be paid at the latest on 25th of the month "following the expired fiscal period." If a foreign company has a Russian division or a contractor in the country, they will be responsible for paying the tax irrespective of whether they have an appropriate agreement with foreign corporations or not.

The document also regulates the possibility of verifying compliance with the law. Tax authorities are entitled, when auditing a foreign company, to request information about transfers of funds to it from the National System of Payment Cards, money transfer operators, clearing centers, central clearing counterparties and telecom operators. Companies failing to pay the VAT will be subject to fines and penalties.

The value-added tax will apply to granting a right to use software and databases, including access to online games and loading computer games into electronic devices. The ‘Google Tax’ will cover "granting rights to use electronic books and other electronic materials, graphic images, music and audiovisual products via Internet, including enabling remote access to them for viewing or listening." The VAT will cover provision of services in electronic form, advertising services on the Internet, goods and property rights sale and purchase placement services, providing a trading floor on the Internet, support and website administration.

Trading of physical goods via the Internet is not covered by the legislation. The ‘Google Tax’ will not apply to the sales of programs and databases on material media. Consulting services via email and Internet access provision services are also exempt from the VAT.

Any foreign company providing digital services to Russians will fall under the new legislation, senior analyst of the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) Karen Kazaryan told TASS. Russian companies selling applications or games via Apple iTunes, AppStore, Google Play, or Steam marketplaces will also have to pay the ‘Google Tax’.

Foreign Internet companies started bracing for the new law in advance. In particular, Google sent out notices of a potential hike in subscription prices by 18% to its users. "Google complies with fiscal laws in all countries where it operates. We have already notified all users that Russian VAT laws will be amended in 2017. The total price of subscriptions may grow by 18% as a result. The new price will be available after January 1, 2017, when subscriptions will resume," Google’s press service told TASS.

Game prices for Russian users of the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U game consoles will rise 20% approximately, Japan’s Nintendo told TASS. "This change already accommodates a minor adjustment related to the dynamics of the ruble rate against the euro in the last 18 months," Nintendo’s press service told TASS. The company already updated prices for a portion of its product range on December 15. The price of additional content to the games will not change, Nintendo stated.

Microsoft, the owner of Xbox game consoles, did not provide details on whether its game prices would rise. "Microsoft will register in the Federal Tax Service’s system and will furnish relevant reports," the corporate press service said.

US-based Netflix online movie theater will also be subjected to the new legislation but is not going to increase the price of its services for Russians. "Netflix will follow the new Russian law and the subscription price (with VAT) will remain the same," its press service told TASS.

Apple, Sony, Steam and the largest global developers and distributors of computer games were not available for comment.