Title: THE COMMISSIONER OF INCOME TAX – INTERNATIONAL TAXATION -3 vs SPRINGER NATURE CUSTOMER SERVICES CENTRE GMBH (EARLIER KNOWN AS SPRINGER CUSTOMERS CENTRE GMBH)
Judgment Reserved on: 25.05.2023
Judgment Pronounced on: 12.07.2023
+ ITA 306/2023
CORAM: HON’BLE MR JUSTICE RAJIV SHAKDHER
HON’BLE MR JUSTICE GIRISH KATHPALIA
Delhi High court Dismissed the appeal against the order of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal concerning Assessment Year (AY) 2013-14. Via the impugned order, the Tribunal has partly allowed the appeal preferred by the respondent/assessee.
Facts of the case
On March 31, 2015, the respondent/assessee submitted its return of income (ROI) for the pertinent AY, which was 2013–2014. The respondent/assessee originally processed its declaration of “nil” income under Section 143(1) of the Income Tax Act of 1961 through the aforementioned ROI. However, the ROI was chosen for examination, and as a result, the respondent/assessee was served with a notice dated 20.08.2015 issued under Section 143(2) of the Act. Three increases to the respondent’s income were made by the Assessing Officer (AO) through order dated 04.05.2016, which was issued in accordance with Section 143(3) read with Section 144C(3)(a) of the Act.
The first addition dealt with a sum equal to Rs. 24,84,114 being paid to the respondent/assessee by Springer India Pvt. Ltd. (also known as “SIPL”) in India in accordance with a Commissionaire Agreement. This addition was made up of two parts. The second increase, which the AO made, was for Rs. 16,67,83,110. This sum reflected the subscription costs the respondent/assessee had paid to two Indian companies, Informatics Publishing Private Ltd. and ZS Associates, for e-journals. The third increment amounts to Rs. 2,62,85,504 in total. On behalf of SIPL, the respondent/assessee collected this sum from Indian-based third parties whose consumers were purchasing online journals and/or books. The aforementioned sum is listed as “gross proceeds from sale by AE (Associate Enterprise) of Indian journal in printed form” in SIPL’s Form 3CEB report.
The AO saw the aforementioned three additions as royalties, and to that end, it made use of Section 9(1)(vi) of the Act and Article 12 of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement between Germany and India (often known as the “DTAA”). The respondent/assessee opted to file an appeal with the Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals) (abbreviated “CIT(A)”) because it was unhappy with the changes that had been made. In a ruling dated 22.01.2019, the CIT(A) partially upheld the appeal. The second part of the initial addition, which was equal to Rs. 1,94,279 and had been labelled as “service charges” for the sale of “Indian journals in printed form,” was eliminated by the CIT(A). Insofar as the second and third additions were concerned, the CIT(A) confirmed the same, i.e., both with regard to the amount, as well as the treatment accorded to them by the AO. In other words, these amounts were treated as royalty, by the CIT(A) as well.
It is this decision which led to the respondent/assessee preferring an appeal with the Tribunal. As mentioned above, the CIT(A) affirmed the deletion of the first component of the first addition by the Tribunal in the assailed order dated 14.10.2022. The Tribunal cited a ruling issued by its coordination bench in the case of Springer Verlag GmbH v. DCIT in ITA Nos. 434 and 3826/DEL/2019, which was rendered on August 23,2022. The AYs 2014–15 and 2015–16 were covered by the Tribunal’s ruling.
Regarding the second addition, the Tribunal overruled the respondent/assessee’s argument, which claimed that the subscription fee could not be considered a kind of royalty. Regarding this matter, the Tribunal adhered to the ruling made by the Supreme Court in Engineering Analysis Centre of Excellence (P.) Ltd. v. CIT,  432 ITR 471 (SC).
Analysis of the court
In this case, the Tribunal disagreed with the CIT(A)’s conclusion. There was Rs. 22,89,835 at stake. The services provided by the respondent/assessee must unquestionably come within one or more of the following categories, namely managerial, technical, or consulting services, in order for this addition to be upheld as FTS. This is clear from a straightforward reading of Section 9(1)(vii)(b) of the Act, read with Explanation 2, and Article 12(4) of the DTAA.
Section 9 establishes a deeming fiction for income accruing or generating in India, which includes, among other things, FTS paid by a resident. Explanation 2 to the aforementioned provision defines FTS as any payment (including lump sum payments) for the provision of managerial, technical, or consulting services. Payments for the recipient’s own construction, assembly, mining, or similar projects are not considered to be FTS, nor are payments that would otherwise be considered compensation subject to taxation under the “salaries” heading.
As a result, the services provided by the respondent/assessee under the Commissionaire Agreement must fall under one or more of the aforementioned categories, namely management, technical, or consultant services, in order for the consideration received to be considered FTS. The respondent/assessee received a commission for providing the services at a rate of 9.9% on the net revenue total of “any and all” sales commissioned through the respondent/assessee’s intermediary. The assessor/respondent was authorised to keep the commission while transferring the revenue to SIPL or by any other commission payment arranged between SIPL and itself.
Nothing in the Commissionaire Agreement suggests that the respondent/assessee was required to identify, create, define, or evaluate the goals that SIPL needed to achieve, or even to frame the policies that led to these goals, supervise, carry out, or modify already-adopted policies. In a sense, the respondent/assessee was not carrying out executive or supervisory duties. The respondent/assessee was only required to provide assistance with company operations.
We do not feel motivated to challenge the Tribunal’s judgement on the removal of the added item in the sum of Rs. 22,89,835, on account of commission that the respondent/assessee got. We believe that the CIT(A) erred in concluding that the respondent/assessee’s receipt of the aforementioned sum possessed FTS characteristics.
The coordination bench judgement of this Court in DIT v. Panalfa Autoelektrik Ltd. addressed the characteristics of what constituted FTS in great detail. The coordination bench has addressed the order issued by the Authority for Advance Ruling (AAR) in Wallace Pharmaceuticals (P.) Ltd. in this ruling. Mr. Bhatia’s attempt to separate the ruling in DIT v. Panalfa Autoelektrik Ltd. must fail because it misinterprets the judgment’s real ratio.
The second addition is therefore brought into focus. We must note that Mr. Bhatia stated during the argument that the additional Rs. 16,67,83,110/- that the respondent/assessee received from its affiliates as a subscription fee for e-journals could not be considered a royalty due to the ruling made by the Supreme Court in Engineering Analysis. The idea that the subscription fee should be classified as FTS or, alternatively, as royalty has been raised for the first time in the written submissions, in contrast to the submission.
According to us, the argument that a subscription fee should be classified as FTS cannot be recognised because the appellant and revenue did not take this stance before the Tribunal. This flip-flop was made by respondent/assessee would do well to abjure.
Considering that there is no evidence on file indicating that the respondent/assessee has granted the right in respect of copyright to the relevant subscribers of the e-journals, we also believe that the subscription fee cannot be classified as royalty. The only thing the respondent/assessee did was sell the publication that was protected by a copyright to the relevant organisations without granting any copyright to the content in question.
Given the ruling issued by the Supreme Court in the instance of Engineering Analysis, we believe the Tribunal acted correctly when it erased the addition made under this heading. For the aforementioned causes, we believe that there isn’t a significant legal issue that warrants our examination. The judgements mentioned above address the problems that were presented.
As a result, the appeal is dismissed.
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Written By – Shreyanshu Gupta