Persons engaged in the business of rendering service are consumers, not retailers, of the tangible personal property which they use incidentally in rendering the service. Tax, accordingly, applies to the sale of the property to them. If in addition to rendering service they regularly sell tangible personal property to consumers, they are retailers with respect to such sales and they must obtain permits, file returns and remit tax measured by such sales. If their purchases of tangible personal property are predominantly for consumption rather than for resale, they should not give resale certificates covering such purchases but should follow the procedure prescribed in the regulation governing "Tax-Paid Purchases Resold."
The basic distinction in determining whether a particular transaction involves a sale of tangible personal property or the transfer of tangible personal property incidental to the performance of a service is one of the true objects of the contract; that is, is the real object sought by the buyer the service per se or the property produced by the service. If the true object of the contract is the service per se, the transaction is not subject to tax even though some tangible personal property is transferred. For example, a firm which performs business advisory, record keeping, payroll and tax services for small businesses and furnishes forms, binders, and other property to its clients as an incident to the rendition of its services is the consumer and not the retailer of such tangible personal property. The true object of the contract between the firm and its client is the performance of a service and not the furnishing of tangible personal property. Similarly, an idea may be expressed in the form of tangible personal property and that property may be transferred for a consideration from one person to another; however, the person transferring the property may still be regarded as the consumer of the property. Thus, the transfer to a publisher of an original manuscript by the author thereof for the purpose of publication is not subject to taxation. The author is the consumer of the paper on which he has recorded the text of his creation. However, the tax would apply to the sale of mere copies of an author's works or the sale of manuscripts written by other authors where the manuscript itself is of particular value as an item of tangible personal property and the purchaser's primary interest is in the physical property. Tax would also apply to the sale of artistic expressions in the form of paintings and sculptures even though the work of art may express an original idea since the purchaser desires the tangible object itself; that is, since the true object of the contract is the work of art in its physical form.
When a transaction is regarded as a sale of tangible personal property, tax applies to the gross receipts from the furnishing thereof, without any deduction on account of the work, labor, skill, thought, time spent, or other expense of producing the property.
Examples of service enterprises and regulations pertaining thereto will be found in regulations which follow.
Cal. Code Regs. Tit. 18, § 1501
Note: Authority cited: Section, Revenue and Taxation Code. Reference: Sections 6006 and 6015, Revenue and Taxation Code. Advertising Agencies, Commercial Artists and Designers, see regulation 1540 (unrevised series 1902). Installers, Repairers and Reconditioners, see regulation 1546, et seq. Occasional Sale exemption, application to Service Enterprises, see regulation 1595. Tax-Paid Purchases Resold, see regulation 1701. X-ray Laboratories, see regulation 1528 (unrevised series 1933).