German Court Forces ‘Big Brother’ Winner to Pay Taxes on Prize Money

Sascha Sirtl - H 2012
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Reality TV shows are real work, Germany’s federal tax court rules, demanding contestants pay taxes on their winnings.

BERLIN – In a ruling that will cast a pall across reality shows from Bavaria to Berlin, German authorities have demanded a winner of Germany’s version of Big Brother to pay taxes on his $1.2 million (€1 million) prize money.

Germany’s Federal Tax Court ruled this week that appearing in reality shows such as Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! is real work and should be taxed accordingly. The ruling could have a major impact on the TV production landscape in Germany, particularly if it is extended to apply to winners of music talent shows such as Idol and The Voice.

The court ruled against Sascha Sirtl, the winner of the 2005 season of Germany’s Big Brother, who had argued the prize money he received should be treated similar to a lottery windfalls, which are not taxed under German law. The winners of Germany’s Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? for example, do not pay tax on their prize money.

But the court ruled that reality shows resemble real work enough to consider any money earned by appearing on them as income. The court found that because Big Brother contestants had to spend long periods of time under observation during shooting, the show should be seen as a job and not a game when it comes to taxing winnings.

Sirtl’s lawyer, Burkhard Binneweis warned the ruling could have a major impact other reality shows, particularly ones – like The Voice – where contestants are filmed for extensive periods of time in preparation for their live performances.