Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Despite Prior Veto, Missouri Governor Signs Click-Through Internet Affiliate Nexus Provision into Law

As we reported last month, on June 5, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that included an Internet affiliate nexus provision. What a difference a month makes. On July 5, Governor Nixon signed a different bill, S.B. 23, that amends Missouri’s definition of “engages in business activities in this state” under Mo. Stat. § 144.605(2) to add a presumption of nexus for retailers with “click-through” online advertising agreements with residents of the state. Under the Missouri statute, “a vendor shall be presumed to engage in business activities within this state if the vendor enters in an agreement with one or more residents of this state under which the resident, for a commission or other consideration, directly or indirectly refers potential customers” to the vendor by an Internet link or otherwise, so long as the vendor realizes at least $10,000 in sales from such referrals. The presumption may be rebutted by submitting proof that the affiliates were not engaged in activities that were significantly associated with the retailer’s ability to make or maintain a market for sales in the state. In particular, such proof may consist of “sworn written statements from all of the residents with whom the vendor has an agreement stating that they did not engage in any solicitation in the state on behalf of the vendor during the preceding year.” See Mo. Stat. 144.605(e), (f).

The Missouri statute continues a disturbing trend among state “click-through” Internet affiliate nexus laws under which a presumption of nexus is created regardless of whether the compensation paid to the in-state affiliate is based on sales completed by the retailer. Statutes recently enacted in Kansas, Maine, and Minnesota contain similar language, as do statutes already on the books in Arkansas, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont (although Vermont’s statute is not yet in effect). By the plain terms of such statutes, a passive “pay-per-click” advertising arrangement would be sufficient to create a presumption of nexus. Such a presumption is inconsistent with the reasoning of the New York Court of Appeals’ decision upholding the New York affiliate nexus law. See Overstock.com, Inc. v. Department of Taxation and Finance, 20 N.Y.3d 586 (2013). In Overstock, the Court emphasized that “no one disputes that a substantial nexus would be lacking if [in-state] residents were merely engaged to post passive advertisements on their websites.” 20 N.Y.3d at 596. These several states’ affiliate nexus statutes are at odds, on their face, with this fundamental principle.

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