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Last December, California governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1570, authored by former Republican assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang. Chang’s measure alters the state’s “autograph law,” formerly limited to sports memorabilia, to include any signed item worth more than $5, including books.
As Anastasia Bolden of the Pacific Legal Foundation notes, this makes it “extremely risky, if not impossible,” for Book Passage, a Bay Area bookstore, “to continue selling autographed books or hosting author events.” Book Passage has hosted signing events for Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader, Caitlyn Jenner, Charles Krauthammer and other high-profile authors, along with local writers, poets and cookbook authors. The shop must now provide a “certificate of authenticity” and keep it for seven years. Even an inadvertent omission can subject a seller to “outrageous penalties” including: actual damages, plus a civil penalty of up to 10 times the damages, plus court costs, plus reasonable attorney’s fees, plus expert witness fees, plus interest.
The National Law Review, in an article headlined “California’s New Autograph Law: Not What I Signed Up For,” warns of similar perils for art dealers, who “should not wait to learn the law applies to them until it is too late.” PLF is challenging the “poorly written” and “overbroad” measure in court, but Anastasia Bolden is too kind.
Government has no role in the bedrooms of the nation or the bookstores of the nation. Legislators should “make no law” like AB 1570 but Ling Ling Chang did and Jerry Brown duly signed it. Chang lost her state senate race and her bill is a loser for authors, readers, booksellers, and freedom of expression in general. Bolden knows who the winners are, as she explains: “professional plaintiff’s lawyers must be chomping at the bit.”