Much Adieu About Nothing: No, Authors, California Isn’t Abusing You (or Bookstores)

15533401437_9fe45fc988_hOne of the hot stories this past week were the protests against a new law in California, but according to legal experts the protests are merely a tempest in a teapot.

Governor Brown signed a bill which, if you believed the protesters, would make it difficult for anyone to sell an autographed book in the state of Calif. The law required that dealers maintain records and issue a certificate of authenticity for every item of memorabilia they sell. Dealers are now required  to track who signed the item and when, and they also have to track who they bought an autographed item from.

That's not a bad idea on the face of it, but San Francisco-based Eureka Books has come up with a worst case scenario where the new law makes selling autographed books an incredible hassle:

Let’s say you like to go to author events and get books signed. Eventually, your shelves fill up, and you want to trade books in at a shop like Eureka Books.

Guess what? Remember that Certificate of Authenticity that sounded so reasonable? Well your name and address has to go on the certificate of authenticity because I (as the person issuing the COA) have to say where I got the book. This applies to signed books, artwork, and any other autographed items you own.

...

Consider bookstores that do a lot of author events. Let’s imagine that Neil Gaiman does one of his typical massive booksignings in February for his forthcoming book, Norse Gods. Say 1000 people show up and buy books at $25.95. The bookstore either has to issue 1000 COA, or risk being sued for $25.95 x 1000 x 10, plus attorney’s fees. Call it $300,000.

This sounds terrible, yes, but the problem with all these scenarios is that they are all figments of a fevered imagination.

According to the legal blog Scrivener's Error, almost everyone who is protesting this law screwed up by not actually reading the law first.

They don't like the law, but they also point out that it only applies to dealers, which are defined as "a person who is principally in the business of selling or offering for sale collectibles".

Guess what?

Authors who sign the book as well as online marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay are excluded from the group defined as "dealers", and since the vast majority of bookstores aren't "principally in the business of selling or offering for sale collectibles", this law won't impact them either.

Or as Scrivener's Error put it:

None of the recordkeeping requirements for "collectibles" (defined in § 1739.7(a)(2) as "an autographed item sold or offered for sale in or from this state by a dealer to a consumer for five dollars ($5) or more") apply to anyone except "dealers." Not to private citizens reselling stuff from their uncle's estate. Not to individual artists who sign their paintings or postcards or prints or sculptures. More to the point here, not to authors who sign books for fans at conventions or bookstores... or to bookstores that happen to have a few author-autographed copies lying around, or even that offer — amongst all of their other business — to have a book personalized by the author for a holiday internet order.

That was just an acorn, Chicken Little; the sky is not falling today.

image by Ozzy Delaney

About Nate Hoffelder (11591 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

8 Comments on Much Adieu About Nothing: No, Authors, California Isn’t Abusing You (or Bookstores)

  1. Good. Thanks for following up and posting.

  2. OK, I’ll bite. Where in that article does it clearly explain why the definition of “collectible” as given in the law can’t and doesn’t apply to autographed books?

    Scrivener’s Error writes:

    None of the recordkeeping requirements for “collectibles” (defined in § 1739.7(a)(2) as “an autographed item sold or offered for sale in or from this state by a dealer to a consumer for five dollars ($5) or more”) apply to anyone except “dealers.”

    That’s a pretty vague definition.

    How is an autographed book notan autographed itemoffered for salefor $5 or moreSure, there’s the thing about “by a dealer,” but all the law says is that a dealer is someone who sells collectibles. If a book qualifies as a collectible–and by that remarkably vague definition, why wouldn’t it qualify?–then naturally a bookstore, being that it sells books, and has “knowledge or skill peculiar to” books, would thus qualify as a dealer. It’s a tautology. If a book is a collectible, then by definition a bookstore is a dealer. And that broad definition would easily cover works of art, too.

    Sure, books aren’t necessarily what first comes to mind when one thinks of “collectibles.” You think of, like, Franklin Mint commemorative plates and stuff. But by the definition specifically written into the law, a book or painting would absolutely qualify.

    Maybe the definition of “dealer” would lean toward covering only full-fledged stores, and not individual people signing and selling their own stuff at conventions, but it seems to me that anyone who wanted to enforce it wouldn’t have to stretch a point very far to saddle the hapless individual person with whatever legal expenses it takes to get it tossed out.

    So, no, I don’t actually see anything in that Scrivener’s Error article that reassures me it doesn’t actually cover bookstores and art prints. They say, “Silly book people, of course it doesn’t,” but the only “evidence” they provide to back up their contention seems to do precisely the opposite.

  3. Grumble. Apparently the HTML code for lists doesn’t work here. So let’s try that again:

    How is an autographed book not

    * an autographed item
    * offered for sale
    * for $5 or more?

    Sure, there’s the thing about “by a dealer,” but all the law says is that a dealer is someone who sells collectibles. If a book qualifies as a collectible–and by that remarkably vague definition, why wouldn’t it qualify?–then naturally a bookstore, being that it sells books, and has “knowledge or skill peculiar to” books, would thus qualify as a dealer. It’s a tautology. If a book is a collectible, then by definition a bookstore is a dealer. And that broad definition would easily cover works of art, too.

    • You misunderstand.

      They didn’t say a signed book was not a collectible; they said the law does not apply to bookstores because they don’t meet the definition of being a dealer.

      The keyword here is “principally”. If you’re not “principally” in the business of selling collectibles then this law does not apply to you.

      • All right, I suppose that’s a fair cop. So it wouldn’t apply to ordinary bookstores that sold a few autographed books in addition to their regular titles, is what they’re saying.

        There are, of course, bookstores whose main line of business is selling autographed books, but there are so few of those relative to all the rest of the bookstores that I guess they’re special cases. But there are some bookstores that do a lot of business in autographed books in addition to their regular books. How much autograph business do they have to do to be considered “principally” in that business?

        And then there are artists and authors whose business at conventions consists “principally” of selling autographed copies of their own work. And as I read the law, simply autographing a work doesn’t make you a dealer, but selling it seems like it ought to whether you autographed it or not.

        I suppose the courts will sort it out.

  4. Even Scrivener’s Error wrote: “…it should have been submitted to experienced consumer-protection litigators for cleanup, but instead looks like someone’s first draft.”

    What’s not to love about laws written in such a slovenly fashion that “the courts will sort it out” is the best we can hope for? 😉

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