Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Victory for Books

Back in August, I wrote about the idiocy of a new California law that included signed books in legislation that cracked down on fraud in the autographed memorabilia business. I’m thrilled to report that books have now been exempted from this law.
Lawmakers started out trying to prevent fake autographs on sports memorabilia. Fine – I see why you’d want to make sure the signed football you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars for was actually signed by that star player.
But the law that went into effect earlier this year affected a lot more than sports. It required booksellers to provide certificates of authenticity for any signed book and say whether they were bonded or insured “to protect the consumer against errors and omissions of the dealer.” They had to keep copies of those certificates of authenticity for at least seven years. And when an author signed in the presence of store owners, the certificate had to specify the date and place of signing and identify a witness to it.
Ridiculous, right? Those requirements would’ve financially broken bookstores, especially independent ones that host numerous book signings and community events.
But now, I’m shocked – shocked – to report that cooler heads prevailed. The California Legislature recently passed an amendment to this law that specifically exempts signed books from any of these requirements.

“The bill would exclude, among other items, works of fine art, signed books, furniture, and decorative objects, from the definition of an autographed collectible.” (emphasis added)

Thank goodness. It’s difficult enough being an author – or a bookseller – without having to worry about extraordinarily unnecessary regulations. They’re needless because bookstores don’t sell signed books for more than ones that aren’t signed. Having an author sign a book adds no monetary value to it. A buyer pays the same whether it’s signed or not. Yes, an author and a bookstore will likely sell more books with a signing event than if there hadn’t been one, but that doesn’t mean each actual signed copy increases in value. It doesn’t.
The quick revision of this law is thanks to one of the best independent bookstores in the country, Book Passage in the San Francisco Bay Area, which hosts more than 700 author events a year among its three locations. The store and co-owner Bill Petrocelli sued the State of California, asserting that the original law violated the First Amendment because it harmed 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. 
Book Passage bookstore, Bay Area, California: Hero to book buyers and book signers everywhere.
The lawsuit was filed on Petrocelli’s behalf by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which withdrew the legal action upon passage of the new legislation.
It isn’t often that I can type the phrase, "Common sense prevailed." I’m very glad I get to do so in this case.

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