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DMLP Guide to the IRS Decision-Making Process under Section 501(c)(3) for Journalism and Publishing Non-Profit Organizations

The Digital Media Law Project (DMLP), hosted at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, is pleased to announce the publication of its Guide to the Internal Revenue Service Decision-Making Process under Section 501(c)(3) for Journalism and Publishing Non-Profit Organizations.

With the journalism industry in a state of flux, there are a growing number of news ventures attempting to operate as non-profit organizations. Many of these ventures depend upon receiving a federal tax exemption from the IRS under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. However, confusion about the IRS’s standards in applying Section 501(c)(3) has led to applications for tax-exempt status being delayed or denied. It has also led to criticism of the IRS as being arbitrary in its decision-making process and adverse to the journalism industry.  

 “Over the past several months, the Digital Media Law Project has become aware of a pattern of delays at the IRS in decisions on the tax status of news-oriented non-profits,” said Jeff Hermes, director of the DMLP. “After speaking with some of the affected non-profits and reviewing the applicable law, we determined that there was a gap in understanding of the IRS decision-making process. We have attempted to close that gap with the Guide.”

The Guide provides practical and detailed information regarding the standards that the IRS applies when reviewing a journalism venture’s application for a tax exemption. It is available as an interactive Internet-based resource on the DMLP’s website at, and has also been published in PDF format through the Social Science Research Network at

For more information, contact

ABOUT THE DIGITAL MEDIA LAW PROJECT:  The DMLP (formerly the Citizen Media Law Project) works to ensure that individuals and organizations involved in online journalism and digital media have access to the legal resources, education, tools, and representation that they need to thrive.  The DMLP carries out its mission through its five core initiatives: (1) its detailed Legal Guide on media and business law topics for non-lawyers; (2) its searchable Database of Legal Threats directed at online publishers; (3) its Research & Response initiative to address breaking issues and trends in digital media law; (4) its nationwide attorney referral service, the Online Media Legal Network; and (5) its regularly-updated DMLP Blog on current issues in media law, technology law and journalism.

The DMLP was founded and operates thanks to generous grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Harnisch Foundation and the Philip L. Graham Fund.

ABOUT THE BERKMAN CENTER FOR INTERNET & SOCIETY:  The Berkman Center is a research center founded at Harvard Law School in 1997. Now a University-wide Center, it serves as the locus for a network of Harvard and other faculty, students, fellows, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and others working to identify and engage with the challenges and opportunities presented by the Internet. The Center is devoted to research and teaching on issues at the intersection of emerging technologies, law, public policy, industry, and education and to the development of dynamic approaches and rigorous scholarship that can affect and support the public interest. For more information, visit

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