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Repeal California’s Terrible Autograph Law

January 3rd, 2017  |  Published in AB1570, Book Collecting, Bookselling, Feature

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Here’s my New Year’s resolution: Repeal California’s terrible new autograph law.

Sign our Change.org petition to repeal the law.

The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board called it the worst of the 1000 bills passed in 2016, referring to it as “one truly horrible law” and writing, “This bill never should have passed. The Legislature must fix or repeal it immediately when it resumes business.” So let’s get to it!

As a fitting cumeuppance, the author of the law, Ling Ling Chang, was defeated in her quest for re-election. Here are the bill’s sitting co-sponsors:

Cristina Garcia. State Assembly 58th District. Downey area, Los Angeles

Catharine Baker. State Assembly 16th District. Walnut Creek / Pleasanton, East Bay
William C. Brough. State Assembly 73rd District. San Clemente area, Southern California
James Gallagher. State Assembly 3rd District. Chico, Northern California
Tom Lackey. State Assembly 36th District. Lancaster / Palmdale, Southern California

Benjamin Allen, State Senate 26th District. Santa Monica / Beverly Hills, Los Angeles area
Joel Anderson, State Senate 38th District. Escondido / El Cajon, San Diego area
Tom Berryhill, State Senate 8th District. Fresno area
Janet Nguyen, State Senate 34th District. Santa Ana area, Southern California

[More blog posts on AB1570]

Top 7 Reasons to Repeal AB1570

1. Most Californians Are Harmed
Nearly everyone in California has a signed item in their possession: a signed book, a piece of art, or perhaps a signed baseball from their childhood.

Under AB1570, when a California consumer sells a signed item worth $5 or more to a reputable dealer, to an art gallery, or via auction, the consumer’s name and address must be included on a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) accompanying it.

This requirement is both an invasion of privacy and represents a danger to the seller, as the COA provides a literal road map for potential thieves.

The law offers not accommodation for items sold to dealers before the law went into effect, thereby retroactively changing the expected privacy of previous transactions.

2. It Partially Repeals the Landmark Reader Privacy Act
The Reader Privacy statute prohibits booksellers from revealing the reading habits of their customers unless compelled by a court order.

AB1570 now requires some booksellers to disclose the reading habits of customers who sell, donate, or otherwise dispose of signed books. The autograph law unintentionally weakens the Reader Privacy Act.

Michael Risher, a lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, told the New York Times, “The law is an invasion into privacy and should be amended.”

3. The Law Exposes the Very Consumers It Intended to Protect to Lawsuits
For purposes of this law, a “dealer” is defined to include California consumers who sell signed items at auction (Dealer includes … “persons who are consignors … of auctioneers.”)

Any consumer who sells a signed item through an auction house is a consignor and therefore by definition a dealer. When a dealer fails to supply a COA, they are subject to civil action under AB1570.

4. It Compels Auction Houses to Reveal Their Consignors
All auction houses are covered by AB1570, whenever they sell a signed item. In addition to requiring a COA from each consignor, AB1570 requires a second COA from the auction house itself. This COA must include the name and address of the source of the item (the consignor). This provision would cover estate auctions, auction sales of signed artwork, signed books, or signed entertainment memorabilia.

Confidentiality of consignors is a tenet of auction houses. The New York Times recently quoted a representative of Bloomsbury Auctions as saying, “one of the fundamental cornerstones of the auction world is our client’s privacy.” Not anymore; not in California. This puts California auctioneers at a distinct disadvantage.

 5. New Bookstores Seem to Be Covered By the Law If They Sell Online (and they all do)
Many aspects of AB1570 are maddeningly vague, but this is the single worst sentence in the single worst law of the year:

Dealers, to whom the law applies, “includes a person engaged in a mail order, telephone order, online, or cable television business for the sale of collectibles [signed items].” (1739.7(a)(4)(a)).

Rewording it: This law applies to anyone engaged in the online sale of signed items. So, if a new bookstore holds an author signing and then offers the signed books on its website, it is engaged in the online business of selling signed items.

There is a temptation to read “engaged in business” as primarily in the business, but engaged is, in fact, a much lower threshold, that is met with even a small volume of business. Businesses primarily engaged in the selling signed items are covered by other sections of the law, so presumably the legislature meant to extend the law to a much broader group of online sellers.

It should be noted that once someone meets the definition of dealer that all signed items sold by that business must have COAs.

6. Seven Years of Recordkeeping Is Ridiculous for a $5 Item
Dealers are required to keep copies of the COAs they issue for seven years and they are required to issue COAs for items priced at as little as $5.

7. AB1570 Hurts Book Fairs and Art Shows
Out-of-state dealers are required to comply with the autograph law when exhibiting at shows in California. Show promoters are required to notify dealers that they are subject to legal action for failing to comply. Already, this law has caused two dealers to cancel participation in the 50th Annual California Antiquarian Book Fair. The law will also deter out-of-state art dealers from exhibiting in California. This will ultimately hurt collectors.

 

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