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Bay Area Bookseller Challenges California Autograph Law In Federal Court

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A Bay Area bookseller sued the state in federal court in San Francisco Thursday to challenge a law that requires extensive documentation for autographs on collectible items, including books.

Book Passage and co-owner Bill Petrocelli claim the law enacted last year violates booksellers' right of free speech by threatening "onerous compliance obligations and potentially ruinous fines" when bookstores seek to sell books signed by authors.

They also contend it violates the right of equal treatment because online retailers and pawnshops are exempted from the requirements while small independent bookstores are not.

"This law is so draconian it's hard to believe anyone could comply," Petrocelli said at a news conference at Book Passage's San Francisco store at the Ferry Building

"It requires incredibly voluminous record-keeping. If we had to do everything this law requires, it would bankrupt us," he said.

Book Passage was founded in 1976 by Bill and Elaine Petrocelli and now has stores in Corte Madera, Sausalito and San Francisco.

Petrocelli said one of the mainstays of the business is author events, in which writers talk about their books and sign copies for customers. Book Passage holds 700 to 800 such events at its three locations and sells thousands of signed books annually, he said.

The statute, known as California's autograph law, was originally enacted in 1992 to combat fraud in autographs on sports memorabilia.

Last year, partly in response to concerns by movie celebrities that their autographs were also at risk for fraud, the Legislature revised the measure to cover autographs on all "collectibles" sold for more than $5.

The amended law went into effect on Jan.1.

Although it exempts pawnshops and online stores from the requirements, the law makes no exception for author-autographed books sold in physical stores. Petrocelli said he doesn't know of any discussion of the impact on booksellers when the law was being enacted.

The law requires dealers of autographed items to provide a certificate of authenticity that describes the item, guarantees its authenticity, states whether the item was signed in the presence of the dealer and gives the date and location of the signing and the name of a witness.

Dealer must keep copies of the records for seven years and post signs about the law. Consumers who receive no certificate or a false certificate can sue for 10 times their actual damages and for legal fees.

"This law threatens to end the sale of autographed books in California," said Anastasia Boden, a lawyer for Book Passage.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction blocking the state from enforcing the law. Boden, who works with the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, said she did not know when a hearing will be held.

The defendant in the lawsuit is California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is responsible for enforcing state laws. Press Secretary Tania Mercado said, "We are reviewing the complaint."

© Copyright 2017 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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