Case Law Details

Case Name : FactSet Research Systems Inc., In re (Authority for Advance Rulings)
Appeal Number : AAR No. 787 of 2008
Date of Judgement/Order : 30/06/2009
Related Assessment Year :
Courts : Advance Rulings (619)


1.1   The following facts are stated in the application and in the written submissions filed:

The applicant maintains a `database’ which is located outside India and which contains the financial and economic information including fundamental data of a large number of companies world-wise. The customers of the applicant are mostly financial intermediaries and investment banks which have the need for such data. The databases contain the published information collated, stored and displayed in an organized manner by Fact Set, though the information contained in the database is available in public domain. The applicant, however, through its database enables the customer to retrieve this publicly available information within a shorter span of time and in a focused manner. The database maintains historical information and all the databases of FactSet are maintained at its datacenters in USA. For a customer to access and view FactSet data, the customer need to down-load client interface software (similar to internet browser). The customer can subscribe to specific database as per its requirement. The `lion-share’ database provides information on the shareholding by global holders of global equities. The `Shark repellent’ database provides information on takeover defence strategies adopted by various U.S. Public companies over a period of time. The Mergerstat database tracks formal transfers of ownership. A Call street database includes transcripts of quarterly conference calls (e.g. analysts’s queries) held by public companies. There are some more databases also. A customer can view the data on their computer screens. The software, tools database and other related documentation are hosted on the FactSet’s main frames and data libraries. Through the tools, any commercial data on FactSet’s database can be easily woven into charts, graphs and spread-sheets. FactSet allows the data to be viewed and used only in the internal documents of its customers. The applicant seeks advance ruling on the following questions formulated by it:
1. Whether, on the facts and circumstances of the case, FactSet Research Systems Inc. (`FactSet’ or `the applicant’) will not be taxable in India under the Income-tax Act, 1961, with respect to the subscription fees?

2. Whether, on the facts and circumstances of the case, the applicant will not be taxable under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement entered into between the Government of India and the Government of United States of America with respect to the subscription fees?

3. Whether, on the facts and circumstances of the case, if the applicant is not taxable in India for the subscription fees, its customers in India will be required to withhold taxes under section 195 of the Act on subscription fees paid to the applicant?

4. Assuming that the applicant has no other taxable income in India, whether, on the facts and circumstances of the case, the applicant will be absolved from filing a tax return in India, under the provisions of Section 139 of the Act with respect to the subscription fees?

5. Broadly, the contention of the applicant is that no tax liable to be paid on the subscription fees received from the customers in India as it does not constitute `royalty’ or `fees for technical services’ either under the provisions of the Income-tax Act, 1961 or the DTAA (Treaty) between India and USA. Moreover, as the applicant does not have permanent establishment (PE) in India, the subscription fees cannot be taxed as business income in view of Article 7 of India-USA Treaty.

6. Let us now notice the material terms of MCL Agreement. The applicant is the Licensor and the Licensee is the subscriber/customer . Clause 1.a declares that the licensor grants to the licensee “limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable rights to use the software, hardware, consulting services and databases”. As regards the consulting service, it is stated that FactSet provides certain consultants who are able to demonstrate the FactSet’s products and its uses to the customers. It is clarified in the rejoinder that consulting services are not really required as FactSet provides helpdesk facilitation free of cost, though at present, there is no such facilitation Centre in India. As regards hardware, it is clarified in the rejoinder that at present no hardware is being provided to the customers in India.

4.1 According to cl. 2.a the licensor provides the services solely and exclusively for licensee’s own internal use and business purposes only in the licensee’s business premises. The licensee’s employees having a password or user ID can access the service. Further, the licensee cannot use or permit any individual or entity under its control to use the services and the licensed material for any unauthorized use or purpose. Clause 1.b makes it clear that all proprietary rights including intellectual property rights in the software, databases and all related documentation (“licensed material”) will remain the property of licensor or its third party data/software suppliers. The licensee is permitted to use licensor’s name for the limited purpose of source attribution of data got from the database in the internal business reports and the like. Licensee is solely responsible for obtaining required authorization from the suppliers for products received through them and in the absence of such authorization the licensor has the right to terminate the licensee’s access to any supplier product.

4.2 Clause 2.c reads as follows:

Clause 2.c. Except as permitted under this Agreement or under a written agreement with a Supplier, Licensee agrees that it will not copy, transfer, distribute, reproduce, reverse engineer, decrypt, decompile, disassemble, create derivative works from or make any part of the Service, including the data received from the Service available to others. Licensee may use Insubstantial amounts of the Licensed Materials in the normal conduct of its business for use in reports, memoranda and presentations to Licensee’s employees, customers, agents and consultants, but Licensor, its Suppliers and their respective affiliates reserve all ownership rights and rights to redistribute the data and databases.”

4.3 Clause 2.d on which the Revenue placed reliance may also be noticed.
Clause 2.d: Licensor represents and Licensee acknowledges that the Service and its component parts were developed, compiled, prepared, revised, selected and arranged by Licensor, its Suppliers or their respective affiliates through the application of methods and standards of judgment developed and applied through the expenditure of substantial time, effort, money and originality and that they constitute valuable intellectual property and trade secrets of Licensor and its Suppliers. At Licensor’s expense and reasonable request, Licensee agrees to cooperate with Licensor and its Suppliers to protect the proprietary rights in the software and databases during the terms of this Agreement.”

4.4 Coming to the other clauses, the fees is payable within 30 days of receiving the invoice failing which the Licensor may suspend the licensee’s access (vide clause 4). The initial term of the agreement is as set forth in Schedule (A) and thereafter the agreement can be renewed for successive one year periods (vide cl. 5). Clause 5.c stipulates that upon termination of the agreement, licensee will cease using all the licensed material, return any licensor hardware upon request and expunge all data and software from its storage facility and destroy all documentation except such copies of data to the extent required by law. Another restriction placed by cl. 5.d is that the Licensee may not use any part of the services (for eg., Index value) to create a proprietary financial instrument or to list on its exchange facilities. In various schedules relating to different databases, the rates of `fixed price service’ and `Pay-As-you- Go Service’ are set out.

7. Most of the focus was on `royalty’ provision contained in the Act and in the DTAA and the main and substantial question argued was whether the fee received by the applicant could be brought within any of the limbs of `royalty’ definition. Section 9(1)(vi) of the Act brings the income by way of royalty within the ambit of deemed income. Explanation 2 to clause (vi) of Section 9(1) defines `royalty’ as follows:

Explanation 2 – For the purposes of this clause “royalty” means consideration (including any lump sum consideration but excluding any consideration which would be the income of the recipient chargeable under the head “Capital gains”) for –

(i) the transfer of all or any rights (including the granting of a licence) in respect of a patent, invention, model, design, secret formula or process or trade mark or similar property;

(ii) the imparting of any information concerning the working of, or the use of, a patent, invention, model, design, secret formula or process or trade mark or similar property;

(iii) the use of any patent, invention, model, design, secret formula or process or trade mark or similar property;

(iv) the imparting of any information concerning technical, industrial, commercial or scientific knowledge, experience or skill;

[(iva) the use or right to use any industrial, commercial or scientific equipment but not including the amounts referred to in Section 44BB;]

(v) the transfer of all or any rights (including the granting of a license) in respect of any copyright, literary, artistic or scientific work including films or video tapes for use in connection with television or tapes for use in connection with radio broadcasting, but not including consideration for the sale, distribution or exhibition of cinematographic films; or

(vi) the rendering of any services in connection with the activities referred to in sub-clauses (i) to [(iv), (iva) and] (v).

7.1 Article 12 of the DTAA between India and USA deals with `royalty’ and `fee for included services’. Such incomes can be taxed in the Contracting State in which they arise and according to the laws of that State (vide Art. 12.2). The term `royalty’ is defined in Art. 12.3 as follows:
Article 12.3 3. The term “royalties” as used in this Article means:

(a) payments of any kind received as a consideration for the use of, or the right to use, any copyright of a literary, artistic, or scientific work, including cinematograph films, or work on film, tape or other means of reproduction for use in connection with radio or television broadcasting, any patent, trade mark, design or model, plan, secret formula or process, or for information concerning industrial, commercial or scientific experience, including gains derived from the alienation of any such right or property which are contingent on the productivity, use, or disposition thereof; and
(b) payments of any kind as consideration for the use of, or the right to use, any industrial, commercial, or scientific equipment, other than payments derived by an enterprise described in paragraph 1 of Article 8 (Shipping and Air Transport) from activities described in paragraph 2(c) of Article 8.

8. The first question is whether the amounts received by the applicant constitute consideration for the transfer of any rights in respect of the copyright or for the use or right to use any copyright of a literary/scientific work.

8.1 The expression `copyright’ is not defined in the Income tax Act. It must be understood in accordance with the law governing copyright in India viz. Copyright Act, 1957. In State of Madras vs. Ganon Dunkrley & Co.*, the Supreme Court held that the expression `sale of goods’ in Entry 48 of List II (VII Schedule) of the Govt. of India Act is a nomen juris and shall be construed in its legal sense. The legal sense can only be what it has in the law relating to sale of goods and therefore the said expression shall bear the same meaning as it has in Indian Sale of Goods Act. Looking at the Treaty, we have Art.2.2 which clarifies how the undefined terms shall be understood. In substance, it says that an undefined term shall have the meaning which it has under the taxation law of the State concerned. When the term is not defined in the taxation law (I.T.Act), the definition in the law governing the subject-matter ought to be adopted, more so when there is no basic difference between the statutory definition and the ordinary legal concept. Section 16 of Copyright Act lays down that no person shall be entitled to copyright or any similar right in any work otherwise than under and in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other law in force.

8.2. Section 14 gives the meaning of copyright. This Section was substituted for the previous one by the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 1994. Section 14 in so far as it is relevant is extracted hereunder:

14. For the purposes of this Act, “Copyright” means the exclusive right subject to the provisions of this Act, to do or authorize the doing of any of the following acts in respect of a work or any substantial part thereof, namely:

(a) in the case of a literary, dramatic or musical work, not being a computer programme –

(i) to reproduce the work in any material form including the storing of it in any medium by electronics means;

(ii) to issue copies of the work to the public not being copies already in circulation;

(iii) to perform the work in public, or communicate it to the public:

(iv) to make any cinematograph film or sound recording in respect of work;

(v) to make any translation of the work;

(vi) to make any adaptation of the work;

(vii) to do, in relation to a translation or an adaptation of the work, any of the acts specified in relation to the work in sub-clause (i) to (vi)
9.3 We are, therefore, of the view that the subscription fee received by the applicant from the licensee (user of data base) does not fall within the scope of clause (v) of Explanation (2) to Section 9(1) of the Act.

10. Even examining from the standpoint of Treaty, we do not think that “the use of or right to use any copyright of a literary or scientific work” is involved in the subscriber getting access to the database for his own internal purpose. It is like offering a facility of viewing and taking copies for its own use without conferring any other rights available to a copyright holder. The expression `use’ (of copyright) is not used in a generic and general sense of having access to a copyrighted work. The emphasis is on the “use of copyright or the right to use it”. In other words, if any of the exclusive rights which the owner of copyright (the applicant) has in the database are made over to the customer/subscriber so that he could enjoy such rights either permanently or for a fixed duration of time and make a business out of it, then, it would fall within the ambit of phrase `use or right to use the copyright’. What rights of exclusive nature attached to the ownership of copyright have been passed on to the subscriber atleast partially? Is the licensee conferred with the right of reproduction and distribution of the reproduced work to its own clientele? Can it be publicly exhibited or its contents be communicated to the public? Is the applicant given the right to adapt or alter the `work’ for the purpose of marketing it? The answer is obviously – no. The underlying copyright behind the data base cannot be said to have been conveyed to the licensee who makes use of the copyrighted product.

13. In the result, the questions are answered as follows :
Qn.Nos.(1) & (2):

The subscription fee is not taxable in India as royalty. It is liable to be taxed only as business income if at all it is found by the Department that an agency PE exists. At present, on the facts stated by the applicant, we must hold that PE is not in existence and therefore the income is not liable to be taxed in India.

The customers are not required to withhold the tax, until and unless the Department finds the existence of PE after due enquiry.

At present, there is no obligation to file the return in view of our finding that there is no royalty income and on the facts stated by the applicant, there is no PE

Accordingly, the ruling is pronounced on this 30th day of June, 2009.

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Category : Income Tax (28832)
Type : Judiciary

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