WGAW amends city lawsuit

Guild disputing business tax ordinance

The Writers Guild of America West wants Los Angeles officials to let writers work and think in peace.

On Monday, the guild added teeth to a lawsuit it filed earlier this year against the city’s business tax ordinance. The guild, in an amended complaint, accuses the city of violating the First Amendment rights of guild members when it investigates compliance of the tax ordinance by writers working in their homes.

“We are pursuing our legal action against the city to protect the 5,000 members of the guild who reside in the city of Los Angeles from the very real possibility of government intrusion into the creative process,” WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr. said.

Earlier this year, the guild filed suit against the city’s home occupation and business license ordinances; subsequently, in May, the City Council repealed the home occupation ordinance’s permit and fee requirements. Writers who work in their homes, however, may still be subject to taxes as though they were businesses.

Petrie said the city has not shown an “understanding of the threat to First Amendment rights brought when writers working in their homes are subjected to the same business tax enforcement and allocation laws that apply to companies located in commercial areas.”

The tax provisions allow the city clerk, with help from the chief of police, to examine all places of business in the city, including residences, to make sure individuals comply with tax laws. The city clerk is also allowed to send deputies into places of business to demand evidence of the amount of the tax paid.

“Most of our members write at home,” Petrie said. “The city is now calling them businesses and subjecting them to the potential for searches in their private residences. City employees could come into your home unannounced to demand documents and records. There is nothing in the tax ordinance to protect against it being used, for example, to harass a screenwriter who is writing a screenplay exposing corrupt city officials.”

Petrie also noted that the “tax allocation” test in the city’s business tax ordinance is as intrusive to the creative process as is the potential for home searches.

Under this provision, the city can investigate whether a writer created a script in Los Angeles or outside the city. Tax obliga-tions for work done inside city limits differ greatly from those done elsewhere. The provision effectively allows the government to ask where writers do their thinking, the WGAW contends.

“Allowing city officials to force writers to justify claims about where they had an idea for a script, a book or news article is unacceptable,” Petrie said.

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