Bibliophiles and liberty lovers, rejoice! Yesterday Governor Brown signed a bill that exempts books from California’s draconian autograph law. That law requires sellers of autographed goods to provide a certificate of authenticity with a litany of information on it and keep detailed sales records for seven years, or face draconian penalties—which made it risky, if not unfeasible, for many booksellers to continue selling signed books. Back in May, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Bay Area bookstore Book Passage and its co-owner, Bill Petrocelli. With the passage of AB 228, booksellers are free again to host author signings and sell autographed books without fear of litigation or ruinous fines.
Formerly, the autograph law was limited to sports memorabilia. But last year, at the behest of Mark Hamill, the legislature expanded it to apply to any autographed item worth over $5—sweeping in signed books. By all accounts the inclusion of books was inadvertent, but the repercussions were dramatic. Under the onerous new restrictions, sellers have to include personal information about witnesses to the signing or any previous owners of the item. Failure to include any of the required information, or to keep the certificate for the full seven years, results in outrageous penalties. A single omission—like failing to note whether the item is part of a special edition—can subject a seller to actual damages, plus a civil penalty of up to 10 times the damages, plus court costs, plus reasonable attorney’s fees, plus expert witness fees, plus interest. For many booksellers, the the threat of liability would be too great.
The law was ostensibly passed to protect people from fraud. But it made little sense when applied to stores like Book Passage, which sell books that are autographed in the consumers’ presence—and thus present no risk of fraud. The store hosts over 700 author events a year—in which authors give talks, read passages, interact with readers, and autograph their books. It also curates a monthly book club, wherein readers are sent a first edition book signed by an up-and-coming author. In that context, consumers aren’t buying the books as investment—they’re buying them for their own pleasure. And there’s little risk that the signature is inauthentic.
While our lawsuit was pending, PLF attorney Joshua Thompson and I testified in support of the repeal effort. AB 228 was passed last month and yesterday the Governor signed it. We’re happy to report that California booksellers like Bill Petrocelli and Book Passage are now free to continue hosting book signings, to book lovers’ delight.
You can watch a fun video about the lawsuit from our friends at Reason TV, below: