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