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First Amendment challenge by Bay Area book seller Bill Petrocelli and his renowned store, Book Passage, California has rescinded the state’s onerous “certificate of authenticity” requirement for the sale of autographed books.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.
California’s newly expanded autograph law which formerly applied only to sports memorabilia now applies to sellers of any signed commodity worth over $5, including books. The law requires sellers to provide a Certificate of Authenticity that includes detailed information about each sale, as well as personal information about buyers and previous owners—and to store those records for seven years. Failure to include or maintain a certificate, or making an inadvertent omission on the Certificate, results in a civil penalty of up to 10 times any damages plus attorney fees. Select sellers, such as some pawn brokers and online retailers, are exempt.
That law threatens Bay Area book store Book Passage, and its owner Bill Petrocelli, who makes a living by hosting author events and selling autographed books. PLF is challenging this unreasonable law under the First Amendment, because it impedes the free exchange of ideas through book sales and book events. The lawsuit also argues that the law’s irrational exemptions violate the Equal Protection Clause.
This law’s expensive mandates—with voluminous reporting requirements and draconian penalties—create a nightmare for independent booksellers that thrive on author events and book signings. Consumers will also suffer. The tradition of author events at bookstores, with opportunities for direct interaction between writers and readers, will be shattered. The cost of record-keeping and major liability threaten to make book signings impossible, and stores do not want to engage in the massive intrusion on customer privacy that is mandated by the law’s reporting rules.