Anything but games are illegal?

I’m having this most surrealistic dialog with a very agreeable iTunes support person, about invoicing. The thing is I bought a few apps from the iTunes app store, among which Omni Focus for the iPhone, but the invoice (or “receipt”) I got from Apple doesn’t mention sales tax at all. Just the net amount in Swedish crowns. It is, however, correctly addressed to my company.

As practically anyone realizes, this is super weird and means I can’t recover the sales tax when I enter this document into my accounting. So I wrote to iTunes support and asked for a correct invoice. The ensuing conversation follows (I took out the name of the iTunes representative).

Hi,

I got this invoice through email but there is no mention of VAT.
Since the invoice is Swedish, there ought to be VAT (MOMS) and IT
MUST BE SPECIFIED! I can’t use this invoice in my accounting like
this. I’m buying on a company account, which is clear from my
account info.

What do I do now?

Thx
– Martin

Reply 1:

Dear Martin,

I understand you are concerned as to why your email receipt for an
iTunes Store purchase does not summarize the amount of tax you paid
on the purchase.  You require this information due to purchasing
this music on a company account.

I am sorry that the receipt is not completely to your requirements,
however The iTunes Store sells only to customers as end-users for
personal, noncommercial use in their respective countries of
residence.   The amount you see on your receipt is a total
(including tax) with this purpose in mind.

For more information, you can review the iTunes Store Terms and
Conditions:

http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/ww

I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you Martin.

Regards,

D
iTunes Store Customer Support

http://www.apple.com/support/itunes/ww/

My response:

D….,

Ok, so you officially claim that iTunes Store products are NOT for
commercial use??! THAT is an interesting observation, if I’ve ever
seen one. Especially since I’m developing commercial applications for
the iTunes store! Oh, boy, is this going to be an interesting article…

But may I also point you to the Swedish law, if that is of any
consequence to you?

http://www.skatteverket.se/skatter/mervardesskattmoms/sarskilt/faktureringsregler.4.18e1b10334ebe8bc80001420.html#Vadskaframgaavenfaktura

The above is a page on the Swedish tax department page that says in
detail what MUST be part of a receipt, and VAT/MOMS is one of those
REQUIRED details.

So, please, D….., don’t brush me off. Take this higher, pronto. I
want a better answer than what you just provided me with. I’m
certainly not going to settle for that.

Regards,

– Martin

His response:

Martin,

D….., here again from iTunes.   Thank you for writing back to me.   Although I do understand your concern here, I want you to know that before I responded to you I spoke to my supervisors and again this morning with regards to your issue.

Again the response is the same.  Purchases from the iTunes Store are for non commercial purposes only (as referenced in the usage section of the terms of sale).  Although I do realize you may be working on projects for Apple, this does not change the fact that the items sold on the iTunes Store can only be used for personal reasons.

I wish that I could help you further here Martin, but keep in mind that Apple does not own the content that we distribute.   We are selling on behalf of our content providers, and the specific terms of your agreement with Apple when purchasing from the iTunes Store is that the content may not be used for commercial purposes (even if you are working on projects for us).  Thus, any attempts to claim your purchases for tax reasons would be in violation of the terms of sale.

Again Martin, please accept my apologies.

Regards,

D……
iTunes Store Customer Support

http://www.apple.com/support/itunes/ww/

My response today:

D…..,

Yes, but you’re avoiding my two main arguments. One is that I’m developing business applications, while you’re telling me that you don’t sell applications for business use. So I can’t sell my applications on the app store. Right? It’s only for games, right? How come you seem to approve applications that are clearly intended to help with accounting, time management, or even professional health care apps, like what your own VP Forrestal bragged about during a keynote? These applications are clearly against your own policy and should never be approved for distribution.

So, tell me again, why should I bother developing professional applications? Just to have them refused on policy grounds, because they’re not games?

Secondly, Swedish law requires you to specify sales tax, REGARDLESS of if you sell to a business or a private person. You didn’t answer this one either.

Regards,

– Martin

Yes, I did check the Apple iTunes store policy on the Swedish site, and sure enough, it says they only sell for “end-user” consumption and not for business purposes. This seems to preclude most of the things one would use the iPhone application platform for. Very, very strange. It seems as if D…. is thinking I’m buying music on a company account, which would be weird, I admit, but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m buying business apps on a company account, but the iTunes policy makes no allowance for anything but music and games, it seems.

Update: I very quickly got this response from D…:

Hey Martin,

D….., here again from iTunes.   You make some good arguments here Martin, but I really am sorry that as a 1st level representative there is little myself, or my supervisors can to to alter the way the receipts are sent out, or make any adjustments to our terms of sale to suit individual needs.

Please know that I do understand how this may feel frustrating to you.   I have felt the same way before in similar circumstances.  I have found in situations like this that voicing your opinion is a good way to get the “ball rolling”.

Please note that Apple does take the feedback from our customers very seriously.  This is the reason for our feedback page – to create a forum where our users can vent, praise or share whatever feelings they have to allow us to meet your needs, and grow as a company.

I would encourage you to share this link with all of your friends and family who wish to see the changes you require, and have them all submit the same request.

Here is that link for you.

http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html

I know it can seem like a straight feedback link will yield no results so I will also invite you to check out the following link. This is a letter from Apple’s CEO addressing customers who purchased an iPhone very early on at $599, then the price was reduced to $399 shortly after.   Mr. Jobs heard our customers and Apple responded accordingly.

http://www.apple.com/hotnews/openiphoneletter/

I hope that you will consider sharing your thoughts on the feedback page.

Regards,

D…..
iTunes Store Customer Support

http://www.apple.com/support/itunes/ww/

Now, that’s a great idea! I’ll do that. I hope others will as well. This is what I sent in through the feedback page:

Hi,

After purchasing a professional app from the app store (OmniFocus) I received a receipt without Swedish VAT specified. When I complained to the iTunes support, I was told that the iTunes store, by policy, only sells non-business applications for non-business purposes to private persons, and does not allow any professional use. Which explains why receipts don’t specify VAT so they can’t easily be used for accounting purposes. I checked you policies and sure enough, you don’t allow business apps.

Now, this is clearly absurd. Many people like me buy apps for business purposes from the iTunes app store and many organizations like mine do or plan to develop business applications for the iPhone.

In other words, your policy and sales both effectively stop us from both buying and selling business related software for the iPhone. This can’t possibly be your intention, or is it? Especially since Scott Forrestal demoed a number of clearly business oriented apps in his keynotes. This makes no sense!

You’ll find the details on my blog, with a copy of the email exchange I had with your support:

http://ursecta.com/wp/2009/08/anything-but-games-are-illegal/

Regards,

– Martin

PS: this feedback form requires me to check all the things I use iTunes for, but nowhere do you mention anything related to the app store. Don’t you even know it exists?



Update: The Register picked up the story, as did an Italian site and a few others. If you want the story in Italian: setteB.IT

17 Comments on “Anything but games are illegal?”


By Apple Admits iPhone not a Business Tool? | Mobility Site. August 24th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

[...] customer complained, as explained on his blog, and was told that "the specific terms of your agreement with Apple when purchasing from the [...]

By Apple: iPhone apps not for business usage -> TamsIJungle. August 24th, 2009 at 9:35 pm

[...] iPhone apps not for business usage By admin  Email This Post  Print This Post An individual trying to get a VAT receipt for an iPhone app got the following response from Apple Customer Care: [...]

By Mo. August 25th, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Have you contacted the relevant Swedish trade regulator (I don’t know who this is, in Britain it would be the Office of Fair Trading)? Such [government-sanctioned] bodies usually have the power to investigate and impose fines for non-compliance with law on what must be included in a receipt and so on.

By martin. August 25th, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Mo,

I’m saving that as the next step if Apple doesn’t respond or refuses. Meanwhile a number of sites have picked it up and I’ve also emailed Phil Schiller about it. No response yet.

By Caleb. August 25th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

My quick response is that the end-user agreement is a red herring to the discussion. My Swedish is still at a beginners level, but as you pointed out Skatteverket (eng: Swedish tax agency) requires that all receipts and invoices explicitly state how much moms (VAT) was paid.

It is merely a side effect that businesses can then reclaim the VAT on their purchases using their receipts.

As an iPhone app developer looking at pricing at such it appears that Apple is compliant in collecting the various VAT amounts in the stores and paying it, they just aren’t including it on the receipt from iTunes purchases. Under Swedish regulation that appears to be illegal.

By Thomas. August 25th, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Dear Martin,

even though I completely understand your issue and hope Apple will recognize this.

I am a little disappointed by the tone of your mails to “D”.
That guy was trying to be as helpful and supportive as an Apple employee in this position can be and in all of your responses you sound like a jerk, to be honest.

Please keep in mind that these guys are on the very bottom of the hierarchy and get tons of complaining emails everyday. There is, in my humble opinion, no need to make life any harder/unpleasent for them.

THX
Thomas

By martin. August 25th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Caleb,

Yes, I totally agree. If they’d given me a plain old receipt for “end user consumption” but included the VAT, I couldn’t have cared less. I would never even have checked the EULA (it was iTunes support that pointed me to it). But as it is, the iTunes receipts are on my desk, can’t put them in my accounting, and the same goes for my prospective corporate customers.

I’ll only do the IRS complaints thing if Apple ignores this problem. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

By martin. August 25th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Thomas,

I agree up to a point. I was a jerk for the first few messages, and then I wasn’t. I could simply not believe he was telling the truth, I mean would you? In the beginning I thought I really was talking to a moron, since no company with common sense would have a policy like this. Turns out I was wrong.

But I did point out in my text that he was very agreeable and I wish I could change my initial tone, but I can’t. That was what I wrote.

I should add that I exchanged a few more messages with him, asking him to look over the post and approve it before I went public with it, and he had absolutely no problem with it. So I guess he agreed I was a jerk too…

By Pierre Bernard. August 25th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

You probably have not paid Swedish VAT on your purchases. iTunes purchases by customers in Europe are handled by the iTunes Store in Luxembourg.

Thus you have been charged Luxembourgish VAT. Which of course, you cannot reclaim from the Swedish government. For sales to companies within the European Union, you would need to provide the vendor with your VAT ID. In that event you should not be charged for VAT. It however seems that Apple is not equipped to handle that. Thus they refuse to sell to businesses.

By Caleb. August 25th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

If Apple was failing to collect and pay VAT on purchases in iTunes that would be a surprise. They correctly collect 25% VAT on all purchases from the online store (I have a receipt for a MacBook Pro from International Sales in Ireland and I think ADC purchases are based out of the Netherlands), and those receipts correctly identify the VAT paid as local to Sweden. In fact though my receipt says Ireland I definitely spoke with a Swede and it’s my understanding that we have Applecare and sales branches in the country. The iTunes receipts fail to provide this information, but the prices certainly seem to account for the local VAT, or else they are ripping iPhone developers off with the currency exchange rate between the Swedish kroner and Euro.

By martin. August 25th, 2009 at 5:59 pm

@Caleb: ADC (Apple Developer Connection) stuff comes out of Ireland. I’ve bought the WDC 2009 sessions and an ADC membership, and both came (erroneously) with Irish VAT (21%) specified. Both times Apple had to credit it and issue a new invoice, which they are willing to do. Takes a while, but they do. In one case (ADC membership) they simply credited me the VAT and then some, in the other case (the WDC 2009 sessions, I’m still waiting for a resolution, so I don’t know if they’ll charge 25% Swedish VAT or no VAT at all (either way is ok for me).

The difference with the app store is that they don’t and won’t. It seems to me that they only considered music and video sales, and didn’t modify their policy when the app store came along.

By Techknology’s Blog » Apple: iPhone Apps Can’t Be Used for Business. August 25th, 2009 at 10:00 pm

[...] the full exchange here, then hit the jump and sound off. Share and [...]

By Tony. August 26th, 2009 at 12:52 am

Just FYI, I checked my App Store invoice and as I’m from Australia, prices do include GST (Goods and Services Tax) and the appropriate ABN, so theoretically, I should be able to claim it on my tax.

By Apple states iPhone apps are not for business use « IT News Blog. September 22nd, 2009 at 12:17 pm

[...] Posting in his blog, the Sweden-based customer was told that “the specific terms of your agreement with Apple when purchasing from the iTunes Store is that the content may not be used for commercial purposes… any attempts to claim your purchases for tax reasons would be in violation of the terms of sale.” [...]

By Tom Dupre. January 29th, 2010 at 12:20 am

I’ve just had a similar exchange of emails after buying a £60 app from iTunes. It is of course nonsense that iTunes only sells non-business apps; the categories include ‘business’ and ‘finance’. However I don’t think this is relevant, at least in the UK:

> If you are registered for VAT, then whenever you supply goods or
> services to someone else who is also registered for VAT you must give
> them a VAT invoice. <
from:
http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/managing/charging/vat-invoices.htm

By setteB.IT | App Store, la dose di software è solo per uso personale. June 22nd, 2011 at 1:27 am

[...] nell'intento. Il dettaglio della scoperta si può leggere sul blog dello svedese J. Martin Wehlou, che ha pubblicato tutte le domande e risposte con l'assistenza di Apple, contattata dopo aver [...]