Bookseller Files Lawsuit over California's Autograph Law

In response to California's recently passed autograph law, Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation filed a First Amendment lawsuit in the Northern District of U.S. District Court in California on behalf of Bay Area bookstore Book Passage and its co-owner, Bill Petrocelli, seeking a repeal of a law they consider unconstitutional.

The complaint, Passage v. Becerra, alleges that Assembly Bill 1570  makes it illegal for Book Passage to host author talks and signing events. According to section 1739.7 of the law, anyone selling an autographed book worth more than five dollars must provide a "certificate of authenticity," which must include a description of the book, the signatory's identity, the identity of any third parties witnessing the autograph, date of sale, insurance information, and other such details. A copy of these records must be maintained by the seller for seven years. Violating these requirements subjects a seller to huge fines: "a civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney's fees, interest, and expert witness fees, if applicable, incurred by the consumer in the action. The court, in its discretion, may award additional damages based on the egregiousness of the dealer's conduct." (California Civil Code § 1739.7(g))

The law went into effect on January 1.

Book Passage alleges AB-1570 is a violation of the First Amendment because of the undue burden it creates on the bookseller to both disseminate books, autographed or otherwise, and burdens protected speech.The lawsuit also claims that AB-1570 irrationally exempts pawn shops and online retailers from the law but not brick-and-mortar storefronts. "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.

Petrocelli says Book Passage hosts over 700 author events a year and that this new provision to the autograph law will create a "massive bureaucratic nightmare," severely hampering his ability to continue hosting author talks at his three stores.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing Book Passage pro bono in the lawsuit. "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.

A spokesperson for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said they are reviewing the complaint.

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Speaking on behalf of the ABAA regarding any legal action, Executive Director Susan Benne said: "We fully understand and share the frustrations and problems AB-1570 has caused since its passage. The ABAA has chosen to pursue a legislative solution by collaborating with California lawmakers to amend the legislation to protect our members, rather than suing the state of California to overturn it in court. A protracted lawsuit would be costly, could take years to resolve, and risks a judgement adverse to our interests."

                                                                                                                                                                                  See the complaint here.