Bill Petrocelli, owner of the chain of small bookstores in California called Book Passage, sued California over its autograph law, saying that the law violates the constitution's freedom of speech by limiting the spread of information as well as an unnecessary violation of people's privacy rights. (Photo by Pacific Legal Foundation, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
In September 2016, California adopted a law designed to provide protection against the fraudulent sale of collectibles.
Unlike prior laws, however, this one applied to all sales of $5 or more involving all autographs and not simply those on sports memorabilia.
The law required dealers to provide a certificate of authenticity for each sale as well as extensive documentation of each transaction, which dealers are required to keep for seven years. This includes information about each buyer, which might violate existing privacy laws.
The law exempted pawn dealers and online sales, but appears to be posing a threat to book stores that hold book signings.
Book sellers saw the law as a potential threat to First Amendment freedoms and have brought a suit challenging the law. One legislative proposal, which would not completely solve the problem, would be to raise the minimum amount of covered sales from $5 to $50. Others have argued that the law might be interpreted to exempt book stores from the category of “dealers” covered by the law.
In the fall of 2017, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that exempted books from the law.
John Vile is professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2017.Send Feedback on this article