October 7, 2016
In California, sell that signed Neil Gaiman at your own risk!
by Kait Howard
A new California law prohibiting the sales of autographed memorabilia without a certificate of authenticity may have unintended repercussions for booksellers in the state.
Rebecca Rego Barry at Fine Books & Collections reports that a law signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Sept. 9 “meant to regulate memorabilia sales and guard against ‘forgery mills’” may end up hurting booksellers, “especially those who specialize in signed books and artwork.” The law, which goes into effect in January 2017, would require autographed memorabilia being sold for over $5 to be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, making sellers liable for damages to consumers, plus a “civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages,” should the certificate by proved false.
Scott Brown, co-owner of the antiquarian bookstore Eureka Books in Eureka, California, and a former editor at Fine Books, is leading a fight against the law, which he sees as threatening not only dealers of antique or collectible books, but also amateur collectors and even stores that sell books autographed by authors.
In a post on the Eureka Books blog, Brown explains:
Consider bookstores that do a lot of author events. Let’s imagine that Neil Gaiman does one of his typical massive book signings in February for his forthcoming book, Norse Mythology. Say 1,000 people show up and buy books at $25.95. The bookstore either has to issue 1,000 COA, or risk being sued for $25.95 x 1,000 x 10, plus attorney’s fees. Call it $300,000.
While Brown acknowledges the law is intended merely to “crack down on fraudulent autograph sales,” and it’s hard to imagine a bookstore being penalized for failing to furnish certificates of authenticity for stock signed by an author, the vague wording of the law—which doesn’t actually include the word “book”—does seem to impose sweeping regulations that would apply to any booksellers in California selling autographed copies. For antiquarian dealers like Eureka, the risks may be even greater.
You can read more of Brown’s analysis of the law here. He is urging California residents to contact their local representatives with concerns.
UPDATE: In light of new developments, we have more on this story here.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.