May 15, 2017

Book Passage files suit against a new California law that threatens their ability to sell signed books


Book Passage has a thriving author events program, but says a new California law threatens its viability.

Back in October, we wrote about a new California law concerning the sales of signed memorabilia, which booksellers were worried might affect sales of signed stock. Shelf Awareness reports that independent California bookseller Book Passage has filed suit to contest the law.

Passed by the California legislature last year and effective this past January 1, Assembly Bill 1570 expanded the state’s autograph law, which originally applied only to sports memorabilia, to cover any signed commodity worth more than $5, including books. At the same time, the plaintiffs noted, “AB 1570 makes irrational exemptions for certain online retailers, as well as pawn brokers.”

Signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016, law aims to crack down on fake celebrity autographs; it had the outspoken support of Luke Skywalker himself, Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who has had a problem with fake autographs showing up on memorabilia.

“The public is being swindled on a daily basis and the numbers are huge,” Hamill told the Los Angeles Times in an interview. “I just can’t keep quiet when I see people I love being hurt.” He later remarked that fans are “stalked by these dealers that have shopping carts with 50 posters and stacks of photographs.”

In reality, the suit alleges, law will hit booksellers incredibly hard, endangering the future of author events or signed copies.

Represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, Book Passage—with stores in Corte Madera, Sausalito and San Francisco, Calif.—and co-owner Bill Petrocelli have filed suit against a state law that, the plaintiffs say, “will make it extremely risky, if not impossible, for stores to sell autographed books or host author events.”

The suit argues that the law is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.

The plaintiffs said that “if the owners of a bookstore dare to offer autographed books, they are confronted with a thicket of new legal obligations, liabilities, and vulnerabilities. They must personally guarantee the authenticity of each autograph, on pain of major financial penalties if they turn out to be wrong. They must provide a certificate of authenticity with the name and address of the person from whom they obtained the signed item. When an author signs a book in the presence of the store owner, the certificate must specify the date and place of the signing, and identify a witness to it. Sellers must state whether they are bonded, and note whether the item is part of a limited edition, the size of the edition, and whether future editions are in the works. And they must keep records on every sale for seven years.” Fines can be as much as 10 times damages.

The booksellers filing suit have good reason for alarm; Book Passage not only hosts over 700 author events a year, but also runs a monthly Signed First Editions Club.



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.