October 16, 2017

California rescinds autograph mandate for book sellers

Repeal of the harsh regulation follows PLF’s constitutional challenge


Sacramento, CA; October 16, 2017
: 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First Amendment challenge by Bay Area book seller Bill Petrocelli and his renowned store, Book Passage, California has rescinded the state’s onerous “certificate of authenticity” requirement for the sale of autographed books.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.

Bill Petrocelli and Book Passage were represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation. The repeal bill, AB 228, has now been signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“The repeal of these regulations is a major victory for freedom of expression—for authors, store owners, and patrons alike,” said PLF attorney Anastasia Boden. “It means book sellers like Bill can once again host discussions between authors and patrons without confronting mountains of unjustified paperwork and risking ruinous fines.”

The mandate was passed last year in response to concerns expressed by actor Mark Hamill about fake entertainment memorabilia. It expanded the state’s autograph law (which had applied only to sports memorabilia) to cover any signed commodity worth over $5—sweeping in signed books. It required each signed item to come with a certificate of authenticity that included a litany of information, and forced sellers to keep a copy for seven years. Even inadvertent violations could lead to crippling financial sanctions—as much as 10 times any damages.

Book Passage hosts over 800 signings yearly, so its potential liability was staggering. “I’m relieved that common sense prevailed and this bureaucratic nightmare has been repealed for book sellers,” said Bill. “Now we can continue the great tradition of holding author events at book stores without fear of legal liability and draconian penalties.”

The repeal legislation exempts books from the law. With its enactment, PLF’s First Amendment lawsuit will be withdrawn.

“Thankfully, Bill’s challenge and protests from book sellers up and down the state opened lawmakers’ eyes to the threat to free speech,” said Boden. “There’s a lesson here for policymaking in general. Before launching some new government initiative, lawmakers and bureaucrats should always review it with an eye to its impact on small businesses and individual liberty. They should not let a reflexive urge to regulate—to ‘do something’ about some supposed problem—blind them to the practical and constitutional implications of their proposed actions.”

“Pacific Legal Foundation fights for freedom of expression because it is fundamental to the exercise of every liberty,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “While we prodded lawmakers to rethink and repeal a wrongheaded law, when that doesn’t happen, we are determined to battle through the courts to vindicate fundamental rights.”

The case is Book Passage v. Becerra. More information can be found at: pacificlegal.org/bookpassage.

Case Documents

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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For Media: If you are on deadline or need immediate assistance, please call/email our media team at 202-465-8733 or media@pacificlegal.org

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