United States: Planning Techniques for Avoiding UBIT

Last Updated: June 23 2004
Article by Suzanne Ross McDowell

Originally published November 2003

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

A. Overview of Law
B. Tax Planning to Avoid UBIT

II. Activities That Do Not Meet the Definition of Unrelated Trade or Business

A. Three-Prong Definition
B. Trade or Business
C. Regularly Carried On
D. Not Substantially Related

III. Full Utilization of Deductions

A. In General
B. Dual-use Property/Allocations
C. Exploitation of Exempt Activities

IV. Statutory Exceptions to Defintion of Unrelated Trade or Business

A. Volunteers
B. Convenience Exception
C. "Thrift Shop" Exception
D. Other Statutory Exceptions

V. "Passive Income" Modifications to UBIT

A. Overview
B. Royalties: Avoiding UBIT by Structuring Business Transactions as Licensing Agreements
C. Rents
D. Research Income
E. Other Modifications

VI. Taxation of Income from Controlled Organizations

A. Pre- Tax Reform Act of 1997 ("TRA ’97")
B. Post-TRA ’97
C. Pending Legislation

VII. Avoiding Debt-Financed Income

A. Overview of Taxation of Debt-financed Income
B. Statutory Exceptions and Exclusions
C. Tax Planning to Avoid Debt -financed Income

VIII. Corporate Sponsorship Safe Harbor Rule

A. Qualified Sponsorship Payments
B. Use or Acknowledgement
C. Advertising
D. Contingent Payments
E. Disregarded Benefits
F. Payment in Excess of Return Benefit
G. Periodicals

IX. Special Considerations for the Internet

A. Overview
B. Sponsor Lists; Hyperlinks to Sponsor’s Website
C. Banners
D. Periodicals
E. E-commerce

I. Introduction.

A. Overview of Law. The Internal Revenue Code imposes a tax at normal corporate or trust rates on the unrelated business taxable income ("UBTI") of most exempt organizations. Generally speaking, UBTI is the net profit earned by an exempt organization from activities that are not related to its exempt purposes. First enacted in 1950, the purpose of the unrelated business income tax ("UBIT") is to eliminate any unfair competitive advantage that exempt organizations may have over their for-profit counterparts by imposing a tax on business activities that are not related to their exempt purposes.

B. Tax Planning to Avoid UBIT. There are many opportunities to reduce or eliminate UBIT-- so many, that it has been referred to as the "voluntary tax." This outline examines a number of approaches to avoiding or reducing UBIT, ranging from relatively simple strategies to sophisticated tax planning. The following topics are covered.

1. Activities that are not within the definition of an unrelated trade or business. I.R.C. § 513.

2. Exceptions to the definition of unrelated trade or business. I.R.C. § 513(a).

3. Allocation of deductions from "dual use" assets. Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1.

4. "Passive Income" modifications. I.R.C. § 512(b).

5. Controlled subsidiary rules. I.R.C. § 512(b)(13).

6. Debt- financed income. I.R.C. § 514.

7. Corporate sponsorship safe harbor. I.R.C. § 513(i).

8. Application of rules to the Internet.

II. Activities That Do Not Meet the Definition of Unrelated Trade or Business.

A. Three-Prong Definition. An activity is subject to UBIT only if it satisfies all three parts of the definition of an unrelated trade or business. Specifically, it must be--

1. A trade or business

2. Regularly carried on

3. That is not substantially related to the organization’s exempt purpose. 

I.R.C. § 512(a)(1); I.R.C. § 513(a). If an activity fails to satisfy any one of the three criteria above, it is not an unrelated trade or business and will not be subject to UBIT.

B. Trade or Business.

1. Section 162. Under the Treasury Regulations, the term "trade or business" has the same meaning that it has in section 162, and generally includes any activity carried on for the production of income from the sale of goods or performance of services. Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(b).

2. Profit Motive. An activity will not be considered an unrelated trade or business unless the organization’s primary motive is to earn a profit. Portland Golf Club v. Commissioner, 497 U.S. 154 (1990).

3. Using Losses. An organization that engages in an unrelated activity that consistently results in losses may not be able to offset UBTI from other activities with those losses; the activity generating losses may not be a trade or business because the organization lacks a profit motive. See id. (social club’s non- member sales not conducted with the requisite profit motive to constitute a trade or business and taxpayer was not permitted to use its losses from non- member food and beverage sales to reduce its UBTI from investment income).

4. Fragmentation Rule. In determining whether an activity is an unrelated trade or business, an activity will not lose its identity as a trade or business merely because it is carried on within a larger aggregate of similar activities that may or may no t be "related" activities. Therefore, UBTI can arise even where an overall activity bears an overall relationship to an organization’s exempt purposes. I.R.C. § 513(c).

(a) For example, the sale of advertising in an exempt organization’s publications will be treated as a separate activity for purposes of the UBIT analysis. See Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(b).

(b) Similarly, in the context of merchandising, an item-by- item analysis must be conducted to determine whether sales give rise to UBTI. See Rev. Rul. 73-105, 1973-1 C.B. 264.

C. Regularly Carried On.

1. General Rule. The Treasury regulations provide that, in determining whether a trade or business is regularly carried on, "regard must be had to the frequency and continuity with which the activities productive of the income are conducted and the manner in which they are pursued." Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(c)(1).

2. Commercial counterpart/benchmark. Business activities "will ordinarily be deemed regularly carried on if they manifest a frequency and continuity, and are pursued in a manner, generally similar to comparable commercial activities of nonexempt organizations." Id.

(a) However, if the activities are of a type that a nonexempt business carries on year round, the conduct of such activities by an exempt organization over a period of only a few weeks should not cause the activities to be deemed "regularly carried on." See Treas. Reg. § 513-1(c)(2)(i).

(b) Thus, for example, the operation of a sandwich stand by a hospital auxiliary for only two weeks at a state fair does not constitute the regular conduct of a trade or business. See id.

(c) However, the operation of a commercial parking lot on Saturday of each week year round would constitute the regular operation of a business. See id.

3. Seasonal Activities. Where a non-exempt commercial organization would typically conduct a business of a particular type only on a seasonal basis, the conduct of a similar activity by an exempt organization during a "significant portion" of the season ordinarily constitutes the regular conduct of a trade or business. See id.

4. Intermittent Activities.

(a) According to the regulations, "exempt organization business activities which are engaged in only discontinuously or periodically will not be considered regularly carried on if they are conducted without the competitive or promotional efforts typical of commercial endeavors." Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(c)(2)(ii).

(b) Income producing or fund raising activities that last only a short period of time are not regularly carried on if they occur "only occasionally or sporadically." Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(c)(2)(iii). The fact that such activities occur on an annually recurring basis should not change this result. Id.

(c) National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Commissioner, 914 F.2d 1417 (10th Cir. 1990).

(i) In the NCAA case, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether income from advertising in the Final Four Tournament program was taxable as UBTI. The program, which was prepared by a commercial publisher, was produced over the course of several months, although the programs were sold only over a period of weeks at an event that occurred only once a year. Considering only the period over which the program was sold, the court held that the revenues were not derived from an activity that is regularly carried on.

(ii) The IRS refused to acquiesce in the NCAA decision and has stated that it will not follow the decision outside the Tenth Circuit. Indeed, since the NCAA decision, the IRS has issued rulings that adopt a more aggressive posture in concluding that similar activities were regularly carried on. See, e.g., PLR 9137002 (Apr. 29, 1991); PLR 9721001 (Oct. 17, 1996).

(d) Suffolk County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Ass’n v. Commissioner, 77 T.C. 1314 (1981), acq., 1984-2 C.B. 2.

(i) In the Suffolk County case, the taxpayer had entered into contracts with a professional fundraiser to produce four performances of a vaudeville show each year on a weekend and to sell advertising in a program guide to be distributed in connection with the shows. The solicitation of advertising and sale of show tickets spanned a period of approximately 16 weeks each year. Based on these facts, the Tax Court concluded that the activities were intermittent activities that were not regularly carried on.

(ii) Unlike the NCAA case, the IRS has acquiesced in the Suffolk County case, stating: "The issue is factual and it cannot be said the Court’s findings and conclusions were clearly erroneous." See A.O.D./C.C.-1984-020 (Mar. 22, 1984). Though hardly a resounding endorsement of the court’s conclusions, this Action on Decision at least represents a tacit acknowledgment that certain recurring activities that occur over the course of several weeks a year may not be treated as "regularly carried on" for purposes of determining whether the activity is an unrelated trade or business.

(e) In light of the loosely defined and varying standards that may apply in different jurisdictions and the Service’s obvious antipathy toward the NCAA decision, the regularly carried on prong of the definition can be an uncertain planning tool.

D. Not Substantially Related.

1. General Rule.

(a) Whether an activity is substantially related to an organization’s exempt purposes is a fact-based inquiry that necessitates an examination of the relationship between the activity and the accomplishment of a particular organization’s exempt purposes. See Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(d)(1). The inquiry does not look to whether the activities compete with similar activities of nonexempt organizations.

(b) To be "related," the activities must have a "causal" relationship to the achievement of the organization’s exempt purposes (other than through the production of funds). See Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(d)(1)- (2). To be "substantially" related, the production of goods or performance of services from which the income is derived must "contribute importantly" to the accomplishment of the organization’s exempt purposes, giving consideration of the size and extent of the activities involved. See id; Treas. Reg. § 1.513- 1(d)(3).

2. Considerations of scale. However, if activities that otherwise contribute importantly to the accomplishment of the organization’s exempt purposes are conducted on a larger scale than is reasonably necessary for the performance of such functions, the portion of the income attributable to the excess will be considered income from an unrelated activity. See Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(d)(3).

3. Nature of organization/stated exempt purposes. To be "substantially related," the activity must be related to the stated exempt purposes of the particular exempt organization involved. Therefore, even if an activity may serve a legitimate section 501(c)(3) charitable, educational or other purpose, if such purpose is not a stated purpose of the relevant organization, the activity will not be considered substantially related, and income from the activity may give rise to UBTI. See Rev. Rul. 73-105, 1973-1 C.B. 264 (sale of science books by an art museum is unrelated).

4. Museums.

(a) Most of the guidance involving exempt organizations’ sale of merchandize has arisen in the context of museum shops. In determining whether a particular item is related, the Service has framed the issue as whether the primary purpose for selling the item is to further the organization’s exempt purpose or to generate income.

(b) Items that generally may be related to an exempt organization’s purpose include reproduction of items in a museum’s collection; adaptations of items in a museum’s collection if there is literature explaining the relationship of the item to the original; books, tapes, records and films on the subject of the organization’s exempt mission; children’s educational toys and games; and, utilitarian products that have accurate depictions of wildlife, flora or fauna, or artwork.

(c) Items that generally are not related include those that are utilitarian in nature such as clothing and household items unless they are replicas of period pieces or adaptations of items in a collection with accompanying literature (e.g., scarves, neckties); contemporary items at prices equal to those charged by commercial entities (e.g., contemporary watches sold by a museum with a timekeeping collection); souvenirs, inexpensive mementos, and logo items such as coffee mugs, t-shirts, and tote bags. 

See generally TAM 8326003 (Nov. 17, 1982), modified, TAM 9720002 (Nov. 26, 1996); TAM 9550003 (Sept. 8, 1995); Rev. Rul. 73-104, 1973-1 C.B. 263.

5. Travel Tours.

(a) The conduct of travel tour activities by exempt organizations has been of particular interest to the Service for the past several years and is a challenging area for tax planners. After much study, the Service issued final regulations concerning travel tours effective February 7, 2000. See generally Treas. Reg. § 1.513-7.

(b) Unfortunately, the final regulations did not enumerate any specific factors that determine relatedness of travel tour activities to exempt purposes. Instead, the regulations adopt a general facts and circumstances approach and provide several examples.

(c) Among the relevant facts and circumstances to be considered are how the travel tour is developed, promoted and operated. Although there is no substantiation requirement built into the rules, the examples suggest that contemporaneous documentation concerning these circumstances is important to the analysis. See 2002 CPE Text at 196.

(d) The regulations explicitly provide that the fragmentation rule applies to travel tours. See Treas. Reg. § 1.513-7(b). Therefore, an exempt organization may operate some tours that are related and others that are not.

(e) In its 2002 CPE Text (at p. 196), the IRS provided seve ral examples of related and unrelated travel tours:

(i) Environmental research trips conducted by a Section 501(c)(3) organization are substantially related to its exempt scientific purposes where tour participants assist biologists in collecting data for a scientific study and share rustic base accommodations with few amenities.

(ii) Travel tours conducted by a Section 501(c)(3) organization devoted to the study of ancient history and cultures are substantially related to its exempt educational purpose where tours of archaeological sites led by experts are part of a coordinated educational program designed to educate tour participants.

(iii) Travel tours conducted by a Section 501(c)(3) organization devoted to the study of the performing arts are not substantially related to its exempt educational purpose where the tour program is primarily social and recreational in nature, and the scheduled activities, which include sightseeing and attendance at various cultural events, are not part of a coordinated educational program.

III. Full Utilization of Deductions.

A. In General. Section 512(a) defines UBTI to mean "gross income derived by any organization from any unrelated trade or business . . . regularly carried on by it, less the deductions allowed by this chapter which are directly connected with the carrying on of such trade or business, both computed with the modifications provided in subsection (b)." (Emphasis added). To be deductible in computing UBTI, therefore, expenses, depreciation and similar items not only must qualify as deductions under Chapter 1 of the Code, but also must be "directly connected with" the operation of the trade or business. See Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1(a). To be directly connected, the item of deduction must "have proximate and primary relationship to" the carrying on of the business. See id.

B. Dual-use Property/Allocations.

1. Where an item of deduction is attributable solely to unrelated business activities, the item of deduction is proximately and primarily related to that business. See Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1(b).

2. However, where facilities and personnel are used both for an exempt purpose and in connection with an unrelated trade or business (i.e., dual use), the expense, depreciation or similar item must be allocated between the activities "on a reasonable basis." See Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1(c).

3. Organizations that operate unrelated trades or businesses (or which have activities reclassified by the Service as unrelated activities) obviously have an incentive to allocate as many deductible items as possible to the unrelated activities in order to minimize or eliminate the taxable net profit arising from those activities.

4. What is Reasonable? In a case involving the various student (i.e., related) and commercial (i.e., unrelated) uses of the field house owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Internal Revenue Service ("Service") argued that the school should allocate fixed expenses to commercial uses based on the proportion the commercial use bore to the total time the field house was available for use. The school, on the other hand, argued that the allocation should be made based on the proportion the commercial use bore to the total amount of time the field house was actually in use (which results in a larger percentage of the fixed costs being allocated to the commercial, unrelated use). The court held that the college’s methodology was reasonable. See Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst. v. Commissioner, 732 F.2d 1058 (2d Cir. 1984). The Service did not acquiesce in the decision, but did not appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

C. Exploitation of Exempt Activities. Special rules apply where an unrelated trade or business activity exploits an exempt activity. Although not limited by the regulations, this rule seems to apply primarily to the sale of advertising in a periodical containing editorial material related to the accomplishment of the organization’s exempt purpose. See Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1(d).

1. In most such cases, expenses, depreciation and similar items attributable to the conduct of the exempt activities will not be deductible in computing UBTI, because they are incident to a related activity. See Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1(d)(1).

2. However, where the unrelated activity is of a kind ordinarily conducted by a taxable organization and the exempt activity is of a type normally conducted by taxable organizations in pursuit of such businesses, expenses and other items attributable to the exempt activity may be deductible in connection with the unrelated activity under certain circumstances. See Treas. Reg. § 1.512(a)-1(d)(2). This will be the case only to the extent that the amount of such items exceeds the amount of income derived from the exempt activity, and the allocation of such items to the unrelated activity does not result in a loss from that activity. See id.

IV. Statutory Exceptions to Defintion of Unrelated Trade or Business.

A. Volunteers. Section 513(a)(1) excludes from the definition of "unrelated trade or business" activities in which substantially all of the work in carrying out the trade or business is performed without compensation, i.e., by volunteers.

B. Convenience Exception. Also excluded are activities carried on by a Section 501(c)(3) organization (or college or university described in section 511(a)(2)(B)) "primarily for the convenience of its members, students, patients, officers, or employees." See I.R.C. § 513(a)(2); Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(e)(2). For example, a laundry operated by a college for the purposes of laundering dormitory linens and the clothing of students would be considered an activity conducted for the convenience of the colleges students, and thus would not constitute an unrelated trade or business. See Treas. Reg. § 1.513-1(e) (flush language).

C. "Thrift Shop" Exception. Also excluded by statute from the definition of unrelated trade or business is the "selling of merchandise, substantially all of which has been received by the organization as gifts or contributions." I.R.C. § 513(a)(3). The regulations explain that this "exception applies to so-called ‘thrift shops’ operated by a tax-exempt organization where those desiring to benefit such organization contribute old clothes, books, furniture, etc., to be sold to the general public with the proceeds going to the exempt organization." Treas. Reg. § 1.513- 1(e) (flush language).

D. Other Statutory Exceptions. The Code also provides for several other statutory exceptions from the definition of "unrelated trade or business," including:

1. Certain qualified public entertainment activities (see I.R.C. § 513(d)(2));

2. Certain qualified convention and trade show activities (see I.R.C. § 513(d)(3));

3. Certain cooperative hospital services (see I.R.C. § 513(e));

4. Certain bingo games (see I.R.C. § 513(f));

5. Certain pole rentals by mutual or cooperative telephone or electric companies (see I.R.C. § 513(g));

6. Distribution of low-cost articles incidental to the solicitation of charitable contributions (see I.R.C. § 513(h));

7. Certain rentals and exchanges of mailing lists among certain exempt organizations (see id.); and

8. Qualified corporate sponsorship payments (see I.R.C. § 513(i)). The rules relating to corporate sponsorship payments are discussed in greater detail below.

V. "Passive Income" Modifications to UBTI.

A. Overview. Since the enactment of the UBIT in 1950, the Code has excluded several types of income such as interest, dividends, annuities and royalties from the definition of UBTI. See I.R.C. § 512(b). These UBTI "modifications," which generally involve so-called "passive" income, present a number of tax-planning opportunities. Royalties, rents and income from research activities are each discussed in this section. However, "passive income" excluded under Section 512(b) may nevertheless be taxable if it is derived from debt-financed property, see section 514, or paid by a controlled subsidiary, see section 512(b)(13). See below for a discussion of debt-financed property and taxation of income from controlled subsidiaries.

B. Royalties: Avoiding UBIT by Structuring Business Transactions as Licensing Agreements.

1. In General. Licensing often offers an exempt organization the ideal situation-- good business planning and good tax planning. There are many situations where licensing is the best way for an exempt organization to engage in a business activity. Some typ ical examples include:

(a) An exempt organization licensing the right to use its trademark on products that the organization does not have the expertise to produce and market itself. E.g., clothing, toys, coffee mugs, etc.

(b) An exempt organization that holds a patent that has commercial potential but requires further development may license the right to develop the idea protected by the patent to a third party in order to exploit it commercially.

(c) Many exempt organizations license the right to their mailing lists to earn revenues that can be used to further the organization’s exempt purpose.

2. Definition of Royalty for Tax Purposes. The term "royalty" is not defined in the Code or the Treasury regulations. In the leading IRS ruling on the definition of royalty, Revenue Ruling 81-178, 1981-2 C.B. 135, the Service defined a royalty as a payment for the use of a valuable right, generally including payments for the use of trademarks, trade names, service marks, or copyrights, whether or not payment is based on the use made of such property, and payments for the use of an individual’s name, photograph, likeness, or facsimile. The Service distinguished payments for personal services from payments for the use of intangible property.

3. How to Structure Licensing Agreements to Produce Tax-Free Royalty Income.

(a) Transactions that do not involve provision of services by the licensor. In situations where the exempt organization licenses its intellectual property to a third party and is not involved in any activity that could be construed as providing a service, the income should be treated as royalty and excluded from UBIT. It is important, however, to be sure that the agreement is drafted as a royalty agreement and it may be necessary to retain a lawyer to ensure that the agreement is properly drafted.

(b) Transactions where licensor wants to provide services. Where it is important or necessary for the licensor to provide services, careful tax planning is important to maximize royalty treatment for income received. In numerous cases involving affinity credit cards and the licensing of mailing lists, the Service took the position that the provision of services in connection with the licensing of intellectual property taints the entire payment. The courts rejected this position, see, e.g., Sierra Club v. Commissioner, 86 F.3d 1526 (9th Cir. 1996), and the Service has indicated that it has the issue of allocation under consideration in the National Office, but no guidance has been issued. Memorandum from IRS National Office to EO Area Managers (Dec. 16, 1999).

(i) Using a for-profit subsidiary. One tax planning technique to protect the royalty character of income received for use of intellectual property is the use of a wholly-owned forprofit subsidiary to provide services to the licensee. In this situation, the exempt organization parent can license its intellectual property, such as trademarks and mailing lists, to a third party pursuant to a licensing agreement and receive income that will be treated as a royalty for tax purposes. A wholly-owned for-profit subsidiary can provide services to the licensee pursuant to a separate agreement and receive income for services which is taxable. The services might include, for example,

  • Receiving, reviewing, and recommending modifications to strategic and operating plans of the service providers;
  • Auditing and inspecting management reports, complaints, finances, and statistical data of the service providers;
  • Approving the nature and timing of communications of the service providers with X's members;
  • Monitoring performance of the service providers and helping resolve claims, disputes, and other problems with the service providers;
  • Creating marketing services respecting X's membership list; and
  • All other activities as are necessary to promote the service providers.

Assuming that the for-profit subsidiary is separately incorporated and separately run, its activities will not be attributed to its parent and the provision of services will not affect the character of the income received by the parent for the use of its trademarks and mailing lists or other intellectual property. See PLR 199938041 (June 28, 1999), modified, PLR 200149043 (Aug. 1, 2001). See also PLR 200303062 (Oct. 22, 2002).

(ii) Separate contracts. If setting up a separate subsidiary is not feasible or desirable, the organization should consider entering into separate contracts for licensing of intellectual property and provision of services. Both agreements should require a payment that reflects fair market value.

(iii) Allocation of income received. If separate contracts are not feasible, the organization should maintain careful records of the time and resources spent on providing services to commercial entities in connection with licensing the organization’s intangibles to such entities. The portion of the payment received by the organization under a license that is commensurate with the value of the services provided by the organization to the program should be allocated to compensation for services and treated as UBTI on the organization’s annual information return. In Oregon State University Alumni Ass,n, Inc. v. Commissioner, 193 F.3d 1098 (9th Cir. 1999), aff’g 71 T.C.M. (CCH) 1935 (1996) and 71 T.C.M. (CCH) 1093 (1996), the court indicated that allocation may be a reasonable solution to deciding the issue of royalty vs. services in the context of licensing agreements between tax-exempt organizations and for-profit businesses.

4. Common Licensing Transactions. There has been a great deal of litigation involving the exclusion of income from UBTI under the royalty exclusion. The decided cases provide tax practitioners with substantial guidance in structuring such transactions.

(a) Affinity Credit Cart Programs.

(i) In the typical affinity credit card arrangement, an exempt organization licenses to a bank the right to use the exempt organization’s name, logo, or trademark on credit cards issued by the bank and on marketing materials promoting the card. The organization also licenses its member list or other mailing list to the bank so that the bank can promote its credit card to the organization’s members, donors, alumni or other affiliated persons. The bank typically pays the exempt organization a fee for each card issued and a percentage of purchases made using the credit card.

(ii) The tax treatment of these arrangements has been the subject of extended litigation. See, e.g., Oregon State Univ. Alum. Ass’n v. Commissioner, 193 F.3d 1098 (9th Cir. 1999); Sierra Club, Inc. v. Commissioner, 86 F.3d 1526 (9th Cir. 1996), aff’g in part, rev’g in part and remanding, 103 T.C. 307 (1994) and 65 T.C.M. (CCH) 2582 (1993). Exempt organizations took the position that payments from the bank were royalties, while the Service claimed that the exempt organizations provided services to the bank and that the provision of services caused the payments to fail to qualify as royalties for purposes of Section 512(b)(2). In a series of cases, the courts found that services provided by the exempt organizations were either de minimis and, therefore, did not affect the categorization of the payments received as payments for the use of the organization’s intellectual property or that activities that the Service viewed as services to the bank were in fact permissible activities undertaken by the exempt organization to protect the value of its intellectual property. In Memorandum from the IRS National Office to EO Area Managers (Dec. 16, 1999), the Service announced that it will not pursue cases presenting similar facts in the future.

(iii) Guidelines. From the affinity card cases, it is clear that a tax-exempt licensor of intellectual property can take actions to safeguard the value of its intellectual property such as reviewing promotional materials for the card that include the use of the organization’s name and mark. An organization also can advertise the card in its publications if it charges the bank issuing the card the same rate that it would charge any other party for a similar ad. It is advisable to have arrangements for advertising in a separate agreement. Based on the court’s approach to advertising, it seems logical that an exempt organization could also provide other products or services so long as it charged an arms length rate. For example, the organization might sell products to the bank which the bank would then offer as premiums to members who signed up for a card. However, while there is logic to this argument, there is also a tendency for the courts to look at the overall level of activity on the part of the exempt organization and, accordingly, exempt organizations should proceed cautiously when going beyond the facts of the decided cases. 

From the affinity card cases, organizations also can conclude that they should not directly promote or market the card to their members but, rather, should leave that to the bank. While promotion in a de minimis fashion is not fatal, organizations should be careful to limit such promotion. In the event the organization does engage in promotion, it should obtain reimbursement from the bank for any out of pocket costs. Similarly, the tax-exempt organization should not control marketing plans but should merely approve materials to ensure that the organization’s name and mark is properly presented and the materials are not in any way damaging to, or inconsistent with, the organization’s reputation and goodwill. The organization also should not endorse the card beyond the endorsement that is implicit in the license of the organization’s mark.

(b) Mailing Lists. The issue whether income from the sale or rental of an exempt organization’s mailing list, beyond exchanges or rentals of members lists among certain exempt organization, as described in section 513(h), constitutes a royalty or is taxable as UBTI has also been the subject of much litigation. As a general matter, income from mailing list rentals will be considered a nontaxable royalty so long as the organization does not perform services in connection with the arrangement. To be considered royalty-related, the activities of the exempt organization must be for the purpose of exploiting or protecting the organization’s intellectual property, not for the benefit of the renter or purchaser. See, e.g., Common Cause v. Commissioner, 112 T.C. 332 (1999); Planned Parenthood Fed’n of Am., Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 1999-206 77 T.C.M. (CCH) 2227 (1999).

The mailing list cases differ from the affinity card cases in one significant respect. Affinity card agreements are usually exclusive and thus, while an exempt organization may occasionally enter into a new agreement or renew an existing agreement, the organization is not entering into affinity card agreements on an ongoing basis. By contrast, an organization that views its mailing list as a valuable asset and has made a decision to exploit that asset to raise revenue wants to enter into numerous nonexclusive agreements to rent its list to third parties. Moreover, the ongoing commercial exploitation of mailing lists requires marketing and database management. Because of the substantial industry that supports the mailing list rental business, exempt organizations have been able to structure their mailing list rental activities so that the organization does not provide more than de minimis services to the lessee of the lists and, thereby, have obtained royalty treatment for amounts paid for use of the list.

(c) Publishing. In contrast to the affinity card and list rental cases, exempt organizations have not been successful in structuring agreements for the publication of magazines as licensing agreements that give rise to royalty income. In these cases, the publications were closely associated with the exempt organizations and the organizations exercised far more day-to-day control than in the affinity card and mailing list cases. The Service has generally been successful in attributing the publisher’s activities to the taxexempt organization under the agency rationale and in using this attribution to characterize the resulting income as compensation for services rather than royalties. State Police Ass’n of Massachusetts v. Commissioner, 125 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1108 (1998). In addition, at least one court has held that income from licensing the organization’s intangibles to a service provider in connection with publishing the organization’s own publicatio n will be treated as UBTI regardless of whether the organization provides any services in connection therewith because the publication is used to promote the organization itself rather than the licensee’s product. Arkansas State Police Ass’n, Inc. v. Commissioner, 282 F.3d 556 (8th Cir. 2002), aff’g, 81 T.C.M. (CCH) 1172 (2001).

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