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May 7, 2019

Rhode Island's ACLU Files Suit Alleging Non-Fiction Author Discrimination

In its federal lawsuit against Rhode Island's Division of Taxation, the ACLU of RI challenges a special tax exemption for the state's authors which applies only to works of fiction because non-fiction is not "creative and original." The suit argues that this distinction violates the First Amendment's free speech and free press provisions.

Originally passed in 2013, the law's intent was to promote the work of local writers and artists. Sometime after its adoption, however, it appears that the Taxation Division, in conjunction with Rhode Island's Council on the Arts, made the determination regarding non-fiction's lack of creativity and originality.

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown, in a letter to the Division, included - among other arguments - the following:

The Division of Taxation has no business deciding whether "non-fiction novels" like Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song or Truman Capote's In Cold Blood are entitled to a sales tax exemption for the author based on a person's determination as to whether they are novels or works of non-fiction... How would the Division treat an award-winning book like Persepolis, which is a graphic autobiography - non-fiction told in drawings? Why is a dull and wholly derivative piece of fiction automatically deemed "original and creative" where Charles Darwin's revolutionary evolutionary theory in On the Origins of Species would never be?"

The ACLU of RI lawsuit seeks a court order barring the state from enforcing a sales tax law excluding non-fiction authors. ~TRP

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