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I wanted to try out the Google Cloud Vision API for free, but there was this notice:

This service can only be used for business or commercial reasons. You are responsible for assessing and reporting VAT.

If I were in the US, I would choose the "Individual" account type, but if I select "Germany" as country (that's where I am currently), then I do not get that option, and can only register as a business.

Does this mean that it is illegal for me to use it, as I am not a business? I also won't use it for commercial reasons, is this also illegal? If yes, is there a way I could use the API without violating any laws?

  • There seems to be some EU rule. Move out of the EU, or get them to change the rules. – user6726 Jun 9 '16 at 15:47
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    The question seems to depend on what Google considers a "business?" (Which they may conclude depends on what the EU considers a "business," which I suspect has something to do with having a VAT number.... In which case: Can an individual get a VAT number in Germany?) – feetwet Jun 9 '16 at 15:51
  • Yip, individuals can have a VAT number in Germany if they register as individual entrepreneurs ("Einzelunternehmer"). This is easily done in practice but would place some accounting and tax reporting burdens on you. – Tim Jun 9 '16 at 21:33
  • (To add: Individuals in Germany can have a business without having a VAT number if their annual turnover doesn't exceed a certain threshold. Insofar the Google clause is not precise as they obviously don't care if you are a business or not but that you have a VAT number.) – Tim Jun 9 '16 at 21:43
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I strongly suspect that the restrictions on accounts for residents in Germany are based on EU-wide cross-border VAT regulations: Google wants to avoid being responsible to collect VAT from you that it would have to forward to German tax authorities if you would act as private person. Instead, as a German business, you would be responsible to forward VAT to your local tax authorities directly, with Google not being involved.

The applicable VAT regulations here in case you would be a German business would be EU directives related to VAT reverse charge procedures and they would apply because the Google legal entity with which you would be contracting would be a EU entity, namely Google Ireland Limited, according to the Google Cloud Platform Terms of Service. Practically, the EU VAT reverse charge rules would relieve Google from VAT accounting and administration.

It follows that if you only want to try out the API and no actual payments will be made to Google from you, you would be fine. However, if Google will charge you for API use, they say by this clause that it is your responsibility to report VAT to German authorities. As you couldn't do that if acting as private person, Google would be responsible and could be in trouble if German authorities would investigate. In the end, by this clause they state that you'd be liable towards them if they actually run into such trouble.

So, technically it is not illegal to use the API for non-commercial purposes but you would commit a breach of the agreement between Google and you that could lead, at least in theory, to a liability of you towards Google if German tax authorities would ask Google to pay the VAT you were supposed to pay.

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Since this question is a bit dated, things have changed. If you are an individual user in EU then the VAT will be added to your invoice. But if it is noticed that you are using the account for business purposes, then your account will be changed to type business and then you are liable for taking care of VAT (Except for in Ireland - where VAT is added to invoices in case of business accounts as well) More details here

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