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California threatens to shut down book signings and therefore small booksellers

15 May 2017

From The Pacific Legal Foundation:

Today we filed this First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of beloved Bay Area bookstore Book Passage, and its co-owner, Bill Petrocelli.

Book Passage is a hub of literary activity and free expression.  In addition to selling books, it hosts over 700 author events a year—in which authors give talks, read passages, interact with readers, and autograph their books.  Bill keeps copies of these signed books to sell later—which you can see scattered down the aisles of his store.  Book Passage also curates a monthly book club, wherein readers are sent a first edition book signed by an up-and-coming author.

Book Passage doesn’t charge a premium for the autograph; all of its books are sold for their cover price. But a newly enacted California law makes it extremely risky, if not impossible, for Book Passage to continue selling autographed books or hosting author events.

Acting on purported consumer protection concerns, the legislature recently expanded its autograph law (which formerly only applied to sports memorabilia) to include any signed item worth over $5—including books.  Under that law, sellers must produce a certificate of authenticity and maintain detailed records of every sale for seven years.  Sellers must, among other things:

  1. Note the purchase price and date of sale,
  2. specify whether the item is part of a limited edition,
  3. note the size of the edition, anticipate any future editions,
  4. disclose whether the seller is bonded,
  5. divulge any previous owner’s name and address,
  6. if the book was signed in the presence of the seller, specify the date and location of the signing, and identify a witness to the autograph.

Link to the rest at Pacific Legal Foundation and thanks to Meryl and others for the tip.

PG suggests an amendment to the state constitution that limits the California legislature to a single two-week legislative session each year so it focuses on matters that really require laws.

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22 Comments to “California threatens to shut down book signings and therefore small booksellers”

  1. “PG suggests an amendment to the state constitution that limits the California legislature to a single two-week legislative session each year so it focuses on matters that really require laws.”

    Good idea. The Texas Legislature only meets once every two years, but that’s too often.

    • You beat me to it. That schedule keeps us (in Texas) from so many unnecessary laws.

    • That would simply make things worse.

      California’s biggest problem is legislation by ballot initiative. Get enough signatures, then get enough votes, and you can get a bad law passed. Cut back on the legislative term then they will have less time to fix the mistakes.

      Also, Texas is not a good example of sound govt. Its legislative session is just small enough to fit in a woman’s uterus.

  2. “PG suggests an amendment to the state constitution that limits the California legislature to a single two-week legislative session each year so it focuses on matters that really require laws.”
    And the legislators should get paid accordingly.

  3. I don’t know anything about this law, and maybe the wording leaves unintended consequences. But if this is being applied to goods sold as “Authorgraphed”, then indeed, I can only see it as a good thing.

    There should be nothing stopping the author from singing their name in person on people’s books. The seller just can’t stock random “authographed” editions they sell as such. (At least, not without a traceable authentication.)

    Suggetion: List the book “As-is:”.. and include a picture of the defaced page.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Indeed.
      The lawsuit seems to be something of a panicky over-reaction.

      A signed book is not the same thing as an autographed book: There’s the question of what the consumer is buying, the book or the signature. The signature has to have intrinsic value on its own, regardless of container, to be an autograph.

      If the store sells signatures wrapped in books then the law should apply, regardless of whether it hurts his bottom line. Memorabilia stores are also impacted. (I’ll forgo the direct “special winter precipitation” characterization.)

      The suit may be a way to force the courts to clarify what the IdiotPolicticians™ failed to properly define while “protecting” citizens from their own choices. (A common pastime among the otherwise idle political class.)

      • In many states, I’d say it’s a panicky overreaction. In California, I’d say panicking is frequently the appropriate response to what the legislature says.

        I’ve read the bill. As I read it, whether the bookstore is right to be concerned depends on authors qualifying as “Personalities” (which would be the word that is undefined). If authors are, then the signature is an autograph and the books would need a certificate of authenticity. Assuming bookstores qualify as dealers, which I don’t think they do, but…

        • I have a mental picture of Ye Famous Author trailing an entourage of lawyers, notaries, official witnesses, et al to every signing. And a half dozen or so lawyers for the book store there to make certain the other side has all the paperwork filled out and filed correctly. Along with two state officials, just because.

        • Several legal experts have said that the majority of bookstores do not qualify as dealers under this law, no.

          http://www.ebookne.ws/2r1XqPZ
          http://www.bookne.ws/2pUTSyK

          The bookstore that sued, however, is one of the few that qualifies as a dealer.

  4. I suggest this cover their paychecks – and rubber stamps won’t give them a pass.

  5. “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help!”

  6. I’m reminded of someone I know who used to sell items on ebay. He came into possession of a large display box full of old-new posters of a famous actress in a signature swimsuit pose and started selling them for a reasonable price. It turned out that all of his sales were to one person, and upon investigation, that person was selling autographed copies of the poster at a much inflated price.

    I know it’s a first world problem, but there is a line somewhere across which all autographs are worthless since they are all suspect.

    Why do we say the law is overkill? Why shouldn’t someone selling something be required to prove it is what they say it is?

    Now we can’t sell autographs unless we maintain a chain of attribution. What a hardship! Seriously? Deal with it. I’ll be over here with my mini-violin.

    Apparently Mark Hamill (yes, him) is one of the forces (cough) behind this…

    http://www.originalprop.com/blog/2016/01/29/mark-hamill-assemblywoman-ling-ling-chang-working-on-autograph-anti-fraud-legislation-california-assembly-bill-ab-1570/

    • “I know it’s a first world problem, but there is a line somewhere across which all autographs are worthless since they are all suspect.”

      Many, many, many ‘real’ autographs are fakes. An awful lot of them were written by machines, not by humans (look up ‘autopen’ sometime).

      “Why shouldn’t someone selling something be required to prove it is what they say it is?”

      And how do you plan to prove it? Get Big Name Star to sign a piece of paper ‘proving’ that they actually signed the other piece of paper that they signed? Then to sign another piece of paper to ‘prove’ they signed the piece of paper to prove they signed the piece of paper you’re selling?

      Welcome to the infinite regress.

      The whole thing is just another Nanny State intrusion into a business the Nannies don’t understand.

      • Mickey Mantle once said that the Yankees stars had the ball boy sign at lot of the “autographed” baseballs they were asked for.

  7. This is fake news.

    This is posturing to get publicity.

    The law doesn’t apply to authors, or the person who is doing the signing/autographing.

    The law only applies to vendors who are either:
    * primarily in the business of selling signed/autographed collectibles; or
    * hold themselves out as having special expertise in signed/autographed collectibles
    … and a general bookstore is neither. (I don’t think even a comic-book store qualifies, unless it appraises, etc. beyond just selling comics.)

    So there’s no plaintiff with standing to object to the law in the first place! (And, of course, that leaves aside that all the law does is codify best practices for collectibles while excluding everyone who only occasionally sells a collectible.)

    I commented in more detail on this last fall.

    Hint: If the Pacific Legal Foundation is involved, it’s about the ideology of regulation, not about the substance. The PLF’s method generally consists of slippery-slope arguments (and some slippery slopes do exist — they’re just not as common as the PLF proclaims) and similar outrage. Whether or not you agree with that ideology, you should be aware that the ideology is driving the PLF, and take its press releases and similar statements with an appropriate measure of sodium chloride.

  8. Welcome to the Socialist Republic of California. The government knows what’s good for you and will protect you in spite of yourself. And tax you like milking a cow until the horns show through the udders.

  9. In the example at hand, the signatures are applied to a mass-produced item with a well-established unsigned retail price, usually printed on the cover.

    So if the law exempted any products sold for no more than their suggested retail value where an established retail market exists for the unsigned product, then everyone should be happy. They control the memorabilia upscale (unless people are buying unsigned “genuine MLB baseballs” or such for hundreds of bucks) and they allow the small business promotions for books, small-time musicians etc.

  10. The threat to independent bookstores just jumped the shark.

  11. IMHO, this is one of those things that should fall under Let the Buyer Beware.

    And the fact that CA is legislating such things tells me they have no sense of priorities. Or they’re like the WA state legislature where they fill their normal session with such inanities then have to call for a special session (for which they’re paid more) at the end of the year to deal with things that MUST be done (like the budget).

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