By Claire Booth
I will be appearing Tuesday night at one of the best bookstores in the state of California, the independent Book Passage. It has three locations in the Bay Area – I’ll be at Corte Madera with the fantastic Allison Brennan. And we’ll be signing books. Which, thanks to the California Legislature, could become an activity so risky for booksellers and intrusive for their customers that it will have to stop.
Lawmakers started out trying to crack down on fake sports memorabilia and autographs. Okay, that makes a little bit of sense. You’d want to make sure that the signed baseball you’re buying for hundreds of dollars really was signed by that Big League player. But the law that actually passed swept a lot more than memorabilia up in its tidal wave of legislative idiocy.
No dealer shall display or offer for sale a collectible in this state unless, at the location where the collectible is offered for sale and in close proximity to the collectible merchandise, there is a conspicuous sign that reads as follows:
“SALE OF AUTOGRAPHED MEMORABILIA: AS REQUIRED BY LAW, A DEALER WHO SELLS TO A CONSUMER ANY MEMORABILIA DESCRIBED AS BEING AUTOGRAPHED MUST PROVIDE A WRITTEN CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY AT THE TIME OF SALE. THIS DEALER MAY BE SURETY BONDED OR OTHERWISE INSURED TO ENSURE THE AUTHENTICITY OF ANY COLLECTIBLE SOLD BY THIS DEALER.”
For a book??? A certificate of authenticity from a bookseller that has to be bonded in order to sell to you?? I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor. Because, wait, there’s more.
When an author signs in the presence of store owners, the certificate must specify the date and place of signing and identify a witness to it. They must say whether they are bonded or insured “to protect the consumer against errors and omissions of the dealer.” They must keep copies of their certificates of authenticity for at least seven years.
Violations of any of these can mean “oppressive financial sanctions”—as much as 10 times the amount of any damages, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Look, we all know quite well that book authors aren’t sports stars, or rock stars, or anybody else whose signature can command four or five figures. Ipso facto, there are no forgery rings or criminal enterprises going on with autographed copies of standard books sold off the shelf in bookstores. (I’ll leave the question of signed copies of a first-edition Hemingway for another day.)
Because there’s no money in it. Bookstores don’t sell signed books for more than ones that aren’t signed. And they sure can’t afford the staffing necessary to deal with all those legal requirements. They already put forth a lot of time and energy just to put on a book signing. Yes, they’ll likely sell more books than if they didn’t host one, but they also do it for a whole lot more reasons that. They do it to:
Increase a sense of community among its customers.
Bring attention to often wide varieties of viewpoints and subject matters.
Help authors increase their visibility with readers.
And this brings me back to Book Passage. It hosts more than 700 author events a year among its three locations. Book signings are a key part of its business. So the store and co-owner Bill Petrocelli are suing the State of California to stop from enforcing the law.
The lawsuit asserts that the law violates the First Amendment because it harms the ability of the store to provide a forum for authors and ideas, as well as the ability to disseminate signed books that contain those ideas. The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it excludes online dealers and pawn brokers, who can continue to operate as before with little oversight.
Here’s Bill Petrocelli with more:
So in conclusion, I’ve always been delighted to appear at Book Passage. This time, I’m damn proud to appear at Book Passage. And if you’re reading this and live in California, please contact your legislator to express your disapproval and your local bookseller to express your support.