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California All But Bans Author Book Signings

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Book PassagePacific Legal Foundation

Book Passage, a renowned Bay Area bookseller, filed a constitutional lawsuit today against onerous new state restrictions that will make it extremely risky, if not impossible, for stores to sell autographed books or host author events, like the more than 700 book signings hosted by Book Passage each year.

In its First Amendment and Equal Protection lawsuit, Book Passage and co-owner Bill Petrocelli are represented, free of charge, by Pacific Legal Foundation.

At issue is AB 1570, passed by the Legislature last year.  It expanded the state’s autograph law (which formerly applied only to sports memorabilia) to cover any signed commodity worth over $5 — including books.  However, while brick-and-mortar bookstores are now covered, AB 1570 makes irrational exemptions for certain online retailers, as well as pawn brokers.

“With the passage of AB 1570, California lawmakers have threatened the vitality of bookstores and the hosting of author events, and in so doing, dealt a major blow to free speech,” said PLF Attorney Anastasia Boden.

VOLUMINOUS MANDATES — AND DRACONIAN PENALTIES

From now on, 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.

Violations of any of these commands can trigger oppressive financial sanctions — as much as 10 times the amount of any damages.

“This law’s expensive mandates — with voluminous reporting requirements and draconian penalties — create a nightmare for independent booksellers that thrive on author events and book signings,” said Book Passage’s co-owner, Bill Petrocelli.  “Consumers will also suffer.  The tradition of author events at bookstores, with opportunities for direct interaction between writers and readers, will be shattered.  The cost of record-keeping and major liability threaten to make book signings impossible, and stores such as mine do not want to engage in the massive intrusion on customer privacy that is mandated by the law’s reporting rules.”

 

FIRST AMENDMENT AND EQUAL PROTECTION VIOLATIONS

“The autograph law violates basic notions of free speech,” said Boden.  “Author events are vital to the free exchange of ideas.  They are places where people can go to be exposed to new ideas, debate with authors, and interact with other consumers.  But the new law deters, if not effectively bans, these events.”

The lawsuit also emphasizes Equal Protection violations.  “The new restrictions were held out as a means to protect consumers, but the Legislature exempted precisely those transactions — internet and pawn shop transactions — where consumer vulnerability is highest,” said PLF Senior Attorney Joshua Thompson.

With locations in Corte Madera, San Francisco, and Sausalito, Book Passage holds hundreds of book events where authors read from and sign their books.  Book Passage also operates the popular “Signed First Editions Club,” a monthly book club in which subscribers are sent a first edition book signed by an emerging author.  These are precisely the kinds of programs that are threatened by AB 1570’s new restrictions.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the case is titled, Book Passage v. Becerra.  More information, including the complaint, a video, a podcast, and an explanatory blog post, may be found at:  www.pacificlegal.org.

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© 2017 Pacific Legal Foundation

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