July 6, 2017

California Legislature to consider two bills that repeal the unconstitutional autograph law

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

Back in May, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of Book Passage and Bill Petrocelli. The lawsuit challenged a newly-enacted law that made the sale of autographed books unconscionably difficult . As we explained at the time, the statute was ostensibly adopted to protect individuals from fraud when they purchase sports or entertainment memorabilia.  But the statute cut way too far, and threatened individuals like Mr. Petrocelli with ruinous fines if he continued to hold book signing events. As a result, the law plainly violated the First Amendment, and we sought to get it declared unconstitutional.

Since the filing of our lawsuit, we have been following two bills in the California Legislature designed to repeal the onerous provisions: Assembly Bill 228 and Senate Bill 579. As with many legislative fixes, these bills have gone through multiple iterations. Some of those versions were horrible — even worse than the current law, while other versions were only slight improvements. Today, however, as things stand at 4 pm, Thursday, July 6, 2017, both bills clearly and unequivocally exempt books from the onerous requirements of the law.

Needless to say, we are very happy with the way the bills read right now, but we are treading very cautiously. The Legislature may amend the bills again, and any new revisions could once again create First Amendment concerns. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that the Governor will sign either bill. That said, Pacific Legal Foundation supports the current versions of both bills.

Indeed, on Monday, I will be testifying in support of Senate Bill 579 when it goes before the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. On Tuesday, lead attorney, Anastasia Boden will be testifying in support of Assembly Bill 228 when it goes before the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee.

If either bill passes and is signed by the Governor, we will happily dismiss our lawsuit. California booksellers would be free to continue book signings, and the law would no longer apply to our clients. However, we are fully prepared to litigate this case through the courts if the onerous provisions are not repealed. All we can do is counsel the Legislature on the unconstitutionality of the current statute, and hope they do the right thing.

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Book Passage v. Becerra

In the wake of a First Amendment challenge by Bay Area book seller Bill Petrocelli and his renowned store, Book Passage, California has rescinded the state’s onerous “certificate of authenticity” requirement for the sale of autographed books. The regulation would have made it extremely risky, if not impossible, for stores to sell signed books or host author events.

Under the former law, sellers of any autographed good worth over $5—including books—were required to provide a Certificate of Authenticity that included details about the transaction and the personal information about buyers and previous owners. Any omission, or failing to maintain the records for seven years, resulted in outrageous fines. Following PLF’s lawsuit, the legislature passed AB 228, which exempts books from the mandates.

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