CBLDF Case Files – California BOE v. Paul Mavrides

A five year fight to proclaim original art exempt from sales tax wins in victory for the creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers

In a 3-2 vote, the California State Board of Equalization finally agreed with Paul Mavrides’ five year long crusade to have comic book artwork qualified (in the state of California) as “intangible ideas presented in manuscript form” and that, as such, comic art should be exempt from sales tax regardless of the form in which it is delivered to the publisher. Mavrides has been contesting the BOE’s erroneous interpretation of a sales tax law — that only prose manuscripts qualified for the exemption — since 1991. Shortly after the decision was announced on January 11, 1996 Mavrides commented, “It’s gratifying that, after five years of struggle, the State of California, through the decision of the Board of Equalization, has officially and rightfully recognized that what cartoonists and comic creators trade in are ideas, not pieces of paper.”

Mavrides paid the assessed $1,400 in disputed sales tax and fines for comic books he sold in 1990 but challenged the validity of the assessment through a lengthy–and costly–appeal process. “The money consistently has been the least important matter to me. I was more in fear of the domino effect it would have had both on comic publishers and my colleagues in the comics field.” The legal bills involved in overturning the BOE’s initial interpretation of the law that kept Mavrides embattled with bureaucratic hassles were paid for by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. At the time, CBLDF Executive Director Susan Alston said, “To date Mavrides legal bills have totaled over $75,000, of which $23,000 is still due. It may take about 18-24 months of aggressive fund raising to finish paying the legal bills for this one case.”

“Without the help of literally thousands of individuals along the way, it would have been impossible for me to persevere. Monetary aid, donations to the CBLDF, legal assistance, public statements of protest, press coverage, organizing work, and moral support–each action, large and small, contributed to this victory for free speech. My appreciation and thanks to everyone whose steadfast efforts contributed to this significant and precedent-setting victory,” added Mavrides.

Board of Equalization members voted to change the former regulations to clarify that comics are an expression of ideas and thus should be considered as part of an author’s manuscript, which took effect in late 1996.

This win cost the CBLDF $70,000–and took the Fund two years to pay off in monthly installments.