I’m thrilled to bring you today’s episode of poorly written legislation in the USA, complements of California, the same state that brought you cancer warnings on bread and other fun and well-meaning laws. The subject of today’s legislation is bill “AB-1570: Collectibles: sale of autographed memorabilia” which was passed earlier this month. As Teleread reports, AB-1570 is very poorly written, although I think it has good intentions. It attempts to address issues of fraud in the collectibles/memorabilia industry by requiring a certificate of authenticity for any signature that may be on the item. The certificate would need to include things like when and where it was signed, who the previous owners were and their addresses, and information about whoever is selling the item.
That all seems fine and dandy when applied to things like sports memorabilia and other contemporary, high-value collectables. And there’s the rub. Previously, only sports memorabilia were covered by the existing laws, but AB-1570 extents beyond just contemporary items to all signed merchandise sold for more than $5. That’s a big problem. How are used bookstores supposed to provide a certificate for their current inventory? They don’t know when and where Mark Twain signed that copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, much less that $10 fiction paperback that has a signature inside the cover from the author nobody can remember.
And what about paintings and art prints? They’re usually signed. The certificate for the next Monet up for auction will have to include when & where it was signed. The local artist whose paintings are in the coffee shop down the street will have to provide a certificate too. Anything that’s signed and costs more than $5 now requires one of these certificates.
I understand why the legislature wants to extend the protection of the law to things like signed books and prints of artwork. It’s a fine idea. But by setting the bar at $5 and not making an exception for existing merchandise they’re going to create problems. Not the least of which will be events like the San Diego Comic Con.
I’m not worried about the big vendors who sell hundreds of pre-signed photographs for $100 (or more) a piece. They’re exactly the kind of people this law is meant to target. I’m thinking about the Artist Alley guys. Anyone not aware of this law could get in trouble, where the punishment is possible ejection from the event and/or a fine up to 10 times the “damages”. The law gets a little fuzzy about how it would be applied to people like myself who sell their own works signed. It includes in its definition of “Dealer” (who the law applies to) an exception for “The personality who signs the memorabilia.” But what if I’m not at the table and my assistant makes the sale of a pre-signed book? What about my publisher? Maybe that’s okay as long as I’m present at the event, but what if I’m not? Or does it even matter? The Teleread article suggests that if the artist signs their work and sells it, then they ought to be on the hook to provide a certificate. If that’s the case, can I just make the sale, finish the transaction, and then offer to sign the book? That would be a hassle, but it seems like a pretty big loophole that circumvents the spirit of the law without breaking the letter of it.
There’s no doubt in my mind that forged signatures on memorabilia is an issue, possibly a bigger issue than I realize. But I really think the CA legislature dropped the ball on this one. They need to set a higher bar for this law because $5 is just too low. For cryin’ out loud, I lost 5 bucks when I accidentally bought counterfeit Pokemon cards for my daughter. I was upset, but not about to go to court.