October 12, 2016

Consult your lawyer before you sell that signed Neil Gaiman: a California collectibles law update



Neil Gaiman signing books after a reading in Berkeley in 2005. Who knows how much those things could go for some day? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, we wrote about California booksellers concerned that a new state law regulating the sale of signed memorabilia could inadvertently affect their businesses. In a series of blog posts, Scott Brown, co-owner of antiquarian bookstore Eureka Books in Eureka, CA, had raised the possibility that the law, which requires dealers to issue certificates of authenticity for signed merchandise selling for over five dollars, could affect stores that host author events and even individuals seeking to resell signed books to used booksellers.

Several commentators have differed with Brown in their reading of the law. At Reason.com, Brian Doherty updated his initial report after speaking to an unnamed “legislative source,” who maintained that language in the bill defining “dealers” meant that most booksellers would be exempt from the new requirements.

Doherty explains:

At 1739.7 (a) (4)(A) the definition of “Dealer” has an extra word than its definition in the text atop the bill… saying that a dealer “means a person who is principally in the business of selling or offering for sale collectibles.”

With that word “principally,” this source believes that a book dealer who only sells a few, some, or at any rate a small percentage of his total sales, autographed items (which is what “collectibles” means in the letter of this law) is not apt to be considered to have to obey this law and its onerous paperwork requirements.

In other words, bookstores not primarily in the business of selling signed volumes wouldn’t be regulated under the law.

Meanwhile, in response to a scathing critique of his reading of the law at C.E. Petit’s publishing law blog Scrivener’s Error, Brown argued in another blog post that bookstores that regularly host author events could, indeed, be defined as “dealers,” putting them at risk of attracting “frivolous” lawsuits. The question of whether individuals reselling signed books to antiquarian shops like Eureka will need to guarantee the authenticity of their wares remains unclear — according to Brown, Eureka will certainly be liable under the new law, but he didn’t go into how they’d establish authenticity with their sources.

In any case, given widespread confusion about how the law will apply to different kinds of booksellers, it seems time the state legislature issued some kind of statement. Until then, amateur speculation continues.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.