Press Release

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First Amendment challenge by Bay Area book seller Bill Petrocelli and his renowned store, Book Passage, California has rescinded the state’s onerous “certificate of authenticity” requirement for the sale of autographed books.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 “I’m relieved that common sense prevailed and this bureaucratic nightmare has been repealed for book sellers,” said Bill.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 With its enactment, PLF’s First Amendment lawsuit will be withdrawn.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.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
PLF litigates nationwide to secure all Americans’ inalienable rights to live responsibly and productively in their pursuit of happiness. PLF combines strategic and principled litigation, communications, and research to achieve landmark court victories enforcing the Constitution’s guarantee of individual liberty.

Case Attorneys

Anastasia P. Boden

Attorney

Anastasia Boden is an attorney in PLF’s Economic Liberty Project, where she challenges anti-competitive licensing laws and laws that restrict freedom of speech. Anastasia’s practice largely consists of representing entrepreneurs … ›

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Oliver J. Dunford

Attorney

Oliver Dunford joined PLF’s National Headquarters in Sacramento in March 2017. He litigates across the country to defend and advance individual liberty and the rule of law. Oliver’s cases involve … ›

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Joshua P. Thompson

Senior Attorney

Joshua Thompson joined Pacific Legal Foundation in August 2007. He primarily litigates cases involving equality under the law, economic liberty, school choice, and coastal land rights. Joshua was raised in … ›

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Case Commentary

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Podcast

A victory for common sense in California

California has now rescinded the state’s onerous “certificate of authenticity” requirement for the sale of autographed books. Hear directly from Bill and case attorney Anastasia Boden about the impact of this victory for freedom, common sense, and Bill’s right to be an upstanding small business owner.

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Governor signs bill making book signings legal again

Bibliophiles and liberty lovers, rejoice! Governor Brown signed a bill that exempts books from California’s draconian autograph law.

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

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 Read more