September 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

New California Law Will Make Signed Books & Art Harder to Sell

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 10.13.01 AM.pngFormer Fine Books editor Scott Brown, now proprietor of Eureka Books in Eureka, California, is leading the charge to amend or overturn a new state law that requires all autographed material sold for more than $5 to be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

On September 9, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB-1570 Collectibles: Sale of Autographed Memorabilia, slated to go into effect in January 2017. The law is meant to regulate memorabilia sales and guard against "forgery mills," but its unintended consequences for booksellers, particularly those who specialize in signed books and artwork, could be severe.

As Brown explained on his bookstore's blog:

The law requires dealers in any autographed material to provide certificates of authenticity (COA) for any signed item sold for $5 or more.

"That sounds pretty reasonable," you might be thinking. The legislature and the governor apparently had a similar response, because the law was passed with almost no discussion (though eBay's lobbyist's fingerprints are on the bill -- they managed to get themselves exempted).

Here's the problem: We sell greeting cards by local artist John Wesa. He signs each one. If we sell one for $5, under this law, we have to provide a certificate of authenticity, and we have to keep our copy of the COA for seven (7!) years. For a $5 greeting card.

Each year, we sell more than a thousand books signed by local authors, every one of these will need to have an accompanying COA. In odd-numbered years, we sell books for the Humboldt County Children's Book Author Festival. In 2015, we sold 1605 signed books to benefit the festival. That's 1605 COAs, to be filed and stored for seven years.

Not only that, but if a third-party seller is involved, he/she must be identified on the COA. So, for example, if Brown buys a signed book from a scout, or a collector who is deaccessioning, or someone who inherited a collection, he would have to supply that person's name and address to the future buyer on the COA.

Brown and fellow bookseller Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, believe this law not only imposes "considerable hardships on many businesses" but "requires significant invasion of privacy for any consumer who wishes to sell anything signed."  

The booksellers' letters to their state representatives on this topic have been posted in full on the Eureka Books blog. Brown's letter questions how this law will affect the upcoming California International Antiquarian Book Fair. He writes, "Surely many out-of-state vendors who exhibit at conventions and trade shows in California will choose not to participate because of this law."

                                                                                                                                                    Image: Signed copy of John Updike's Self-Consciousness. Credit: Rebecca Rego Barry.