California just made it super hard to get your comics signed

23
36

IMG_2342.JPG

California is known for having some pretty difficult laws where freelancers are concerned – and LA has even more, but here’s a new one that may make the simple, joyous transaction of getting your graphic novel signed very difficult. As explained by Eureka Books a new law aimed at shutting down autograph mills has put in place a very onerous list of requirements for getting anything valued at more than $5 signed. Everything will need to have a Certificate of Authority.

You might think, “Oh, you can just have a generic COA.” No. The COA has to:

Describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it.
Either specify the purchase price and date of sale or be accompanied by a separate invoice setting forth that information.
Indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer and specify the date and location of, and the name of a witness to, the autograph signing.
 Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of this third party.
The law applies to any “autographed item sold or offered for sale in or from this state by a dealer to a consumer for five dollars ($5) or more.”


Obviously doing all this for getting a signed comic book, graphic novel or artwork would be very time consuming. There are other problems described in the above post, which I urge you to read.

Retailer Brian Hibbs has posted the letter he wrote to his assemblyman on his FB page and we’re taking the liberty of reproducing it here:

My letter to my Assemblyman, read other bookseller’s views in the link below:
Dear Assemblyman David Chiu,

I am writing to you today because it has just come to my attention that the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 1570, which the Governor signed into law 9/9/16. I assume that the intention of the bill was to help combat fraudulent “autograph mills” for collectibles, but because it is written so broadly, the actual real world consequences of this bill will likely be devastating for thousands of legitimate California-based Book and Comic Book stores.
1570 demands that every signed item sold for more than $5 be given a “Certificate of Authenticity” – and not just a generic one, but a detailed one with nine (!) different criteria that must be individually detailed as to an item’s providence, including ones that raise potential privacy issues for customers who sold items to us, as it appears to be written to apply retroactively. Moreover we’re expected to retain records of the transaction for up to 7 years.

I own two comic book stores in San Francisco, and we do dozens of author events each year. As a general rule of thumb author events are break-even at best, but we aggressively pursue them in order to foster literacy, and to promote art and expression within our local community. At these events, we have authors sign all of our inventory which we then sell strictly for cover price as a bonus for our customers. To have to generate and track individual “Certificates of Authenticity” for each and every book (let alone trying to identify potentially hundreds of existing items in our inventory) would make already break-even business even less tenable.

I applaud the desire to go after fraudulent celebrity autographs, but this measure actually impacts hundreds of legitimate small, family-owned book and comic book stores in a significant way. Most small bookstores are under-funded and over-worked, and probably aren’t even aware that they’re under potential financial ruin, for even an innocent mistake. The law says that anyone who sues the bookseller…:

“. . . shall be entitled to recover, in addition to actual damages, a civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, interest, and expert witness fees, if applicable, incurred by the consumer in the action. The court, in its discretion, may award additional damages based on the egregiousness of the dealer’s conduct.” (Civil Code, section 1739.7 (g))

Ten times! That seems rather draconian, and I think it could very well lead to professional frivolous lawsuits to shake down legitimate California businesses. I very much think that something must be done immediately to address this Bill; the lowest hanging fruit might be simply to exempt books that are being sold for the printed retail cover price or less. I realize that the bill passed three weeks ago, but that doesn’t change the economic sword that this is going to poise over thousands of bookseller’s heads. Independent booksellers were not dragging their heels on this – I believe that most of my peers have absolutely no idea whatsoever that this law is on the books.

I, myself, only found out about it today! Small stores like mine don’t have the resources to be aware of pending legislation like this, and are utterly reliant on our representatives like yourself to help protect us. And I think we need your protection here.

If there is any other information I can provide to you to help you understand the potential costs to legitimate California small independent bookstores, I stand ready to provide it. Thank you for listening.

Brian Hibbs
Owner, Comix Experience
brian@comixexperience.com


Obviously this law could have some very serious unintended consequences. Developing.

23 COMMENTS

  1. It’s not just comics being signed in the future – the law appears to cover every collectible sale going forward.

    It’s an amazing read, and rather audacious. It arguably requires a disclaimer for every sale of signed work, including but not limited to original art, along with a detailed documentation of provenance. The law also defines mint condition as never having been in circulation, so that categorization is functionally dead for 99.99% of comics. The penalty for each violation — actual damages + 10X actuals + all court-related costs — could easily put even the most established dealer out of business tout de suite.

    Not legal advice, see a California lawyer, etc. etc. — and if you’re planning on selling anything signed worth over $5 at a comic-con or shop in California, seeing a top-notch CA lawyer would be a good idea.

  2. The law specifically refers to dealers selling signed items. So it shouldn’t affect creators selling their own items and signing events (especially if the item is purchased before the creator signs it). Will probably still be a issue for vendors at SDCC and WonderCon though.

  3. *cough*cough*Comic-Con*cough*cough* (also: Wondercon, APE)

    Also:
    Any American Library Association conferences (Anaheim: 2012, San Francisco, 2015)
    Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
    D23 (do not mess with the Mouse, although they seem to support the law)
    Amazon and its associate retailers. (Amazon has 10 fulfillment centers (Sacramento (!) coming online) and two sorting centers in California.)
    71 Barnes & Noble stores.

    Text is here: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1570
    The author of the bill is Ling Ling Chang, Assembly Member, 55th District

  4. The record-keeping requirements + potential penalties for any misfiling or inability to prove actual signing in court provide a substantial incentive for stores not to have signings. There’s also the bit about having to keep the address of each donor/seller on file, and each signed item also has to have a serial number on it. Here’s a selection from the text of the law::

    The certificate of authenticity shall be in at least 10-point boldface type and shall contain the dealer’s true legal name and street address. The dealer shall retain a copy of the certificate of authenticity for not less than seven years. Each certificate of authenticity shall do all of the following:
    (1) Describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it.
    (2) Either specify the purchase price and date of sale or be accompanied by a separate invoice setting forth that information.
    (3) Contain an express warranty, which shall be conclusively presumed to be part of the bargain, of the authenticity of the collectible. This warranty shall not be negated or limited by reason of the lack of words such as “warranty” or “guarantee” or because the dealer does not have a speci c intent or authorization to make the warranty or because any statement relevant to the collectible is or purports to be, or is capable of being, merely the dealer’s opinion.
    (4) Specify whether the collectible is offered as one of a limited edition and, if so, specify (A) how the collectible and edition are numbered and (B) the size of the edition and the size of any prior or anticipated future edition, if known. If the size of the edition and the size of any prior or anticipated future edition is not known, the certi cate shall contain an explicit statement to that effect.
    (5) Indicate whether the dealer is surety bonded or is otherwise insured to protect the consumer against errors and omissions of the dealer and, if bonded or insured, provide proof thereof.
    (6) Indicate the last four digits of the dealer’s resale certi cate number from the State Board of Equalization.
    (7) Indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer and specify the date and location of, and the name of a witness to, the autograph signing.
    (8) Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of this third party.
    (9) Includeanidentifyingserialnumberthatcorrespondstoanidentifying number printed on the collectible item, if any. The serial number shall also be printed on the sales receipt. If the sales receipt is printed electronically, the dealer may manually write the serial number on the receipt.
    (c) A dealer shall not represent an item as a collectible if it was not autographed by the personality in his or her own hand.
    (d) No dealer shall display or offer for sale a collectible in this state unless, at the location where the collectible is offered for sale and in close proximity to the collectible merchandise, there is a conspicuous sign that reads as follows:
    “SALE OF AUTOGRAPHED MEMORABILIA: AS REQUIRED BY LAW, A DEALER WHO SELLS TO A CONSUMER ANY MEMORABILIA DESCRIBED AS BEING AUTOGRAPHED MUST PROVIDE A WRITTEN CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY AT THE TIME OF SALE. THIS DEALER MAY BE SURETY BONDED OR OTHERWISE INSURED TO ENSURE THE AUTHENTICITY OF ANY COLLECTIBLE SOLD BY THIS DEALER.”

    (f) No dealer shall display or offer for sale a collectible in this state at any trade show or similar event primarily featuring sales of collectibles or other memorabilia that offers onsite admission ticket sales unless, at each onsite location where admission tickets are sold, there is prominently displayed a specimen example of a certificate of authenticity.

  5. so next year at SDCC lines will be backed up while creators are asked to sign COA’s for all the ebay-ers and graded comics junkies that already dominate their lines incase they want to sell it in the future. Also how does this affect second hand selling like ebay?

    This is completely ridiculous. The law is far too broad, and Brian Hibbs is spot on that this seems like a PERFECT way for scammers to make a living shaking down any small business owner they want with frivolous lawsuits. “hey i’m willing to cancel the suit if you pay me $500 for my losses here over that signed book you sold me without at COA”

  6. I would expect that any court (though it’s California so who knows) would interpret the law to mean an autographed item being sold for more than $5 over its standard retail price, but no one should have to go through a trial to obtain that result. It’s definitely sloppy drafting, by people whose only idea of “autographed memorabilia” is of things with negligible inherent value (photos, baseballs, etc) and not anything even slightly valuable in its own right.

  7. That said (just read the full text at the link Torsten posted) looks like creators themselves are exempt from the definition of “dealer”. You can sell your own autographs with impunity!

  8. The law doesn’t say you can’t sign autographs without providing CoAs. It says you can’t sell autographed items. which real fans who get their stuff autographed for their own pleasure, not for resale, won’t care about.

  9. The definition of collectible leaves no room for a court to read as $5 over SRP: “Collectible” means an autographed item sold or offered for sale in or from this state by a dealer to a consumer for five dollars ($5) or more.”

  10. Also, eBay is exempt, though, say, Heritage would not be exempt.

    “Dealer” does not include any of the following:
    (iii) A provider or operator of an online marketplace, provided that the online marketplace provider or operator is not principally in the business of selling, or offering for sale, collectibles, in or from the state, exclusively or nonexclusively, or does not hold itself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to collectibles.

  11. “creators themselves are exempt from the definition of “dealer”. You can sell your own autographs with impunity!”

    As Jeff noted, this is a serous disincentive for stores to have author events, which in turn will drive down sales and profits for creators. This can also mean that literary events that have traditionally been free may turn into costed events as booksellers are forced to recoup these extra expenses.

    Also, at least a certain percentage of creator patrons are likely to be buying for potential resale. They’re going to want paper trails from creators then, and it looks like this law requires third party sales to disclose the address of participants, which appears that it could be those original creators?

    I’d read the whole first link from Eureka Books that has two superb letters about the potential effects — it’s broader than you think!

    -B

  12. If I’m reading the law correctly, all you have to do is deny that the ink-scribble on the item should be in any way considered an “autograph”. IANAL, obviously.

  13. Folks, I think the reaction to this is overblown (I went to law school, passed the bar in 2 states and practiced law for a while, although admittedly am not an expert in this area of the law). This law hinges on the definitions of “dealer” and “collectible”. Here is the language from the law:

    (2) “Collectible” means an autographed item sold or offered for sale in or from this state by a dealer to a consumer for five dollars ($5) or more.

    (4) (A) “Dealer” means a person who is principally in the business of selling or offering for sale collectibles in or from this state, exclusively or nonexclusively, or a person who by his or her occupation holds himself or herself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to collectibles, or to whom that knowledge or skill may be attributed by his or her employment of an agent or other intermediary that by his or her occupation holds himself or herself out as having that knowledge or skill. “Dealer” includes an auctioneer who sells collectibles at a public auction, and also includes persons who are consignors or representatives or agents of auctioneers. “Dealer” includes a person engaged in a mail order, telephone order, online, or cable television business for the sale of collectibles.

    This law applies to collectibles, which by definition here must be signed. Moreover, only Dealers are subject to the restrictions in this law. The key word in the definition of Dealer is “principally”. That means individual sellers, whose main line of work is NOT selling autographed items, are NOT Dealers under this law, and thus their sales don’t apply. So, I saw a guy at a show recently selling only autographed comics. Yeah, that guy is screwed. But if you have a few autographed pieces mixed in with your myriad unsigned items, I think you’ll be safe.

    Everyone should step back from the ledge – unless you deal “principally” in signed memorabilia.

  14. California lawmakers must be really bored. They love to pass laws that make life more expensive and less enjoyable. And, if it puts entrepreneurs out of business it’s just icing on the cake. Great place to visit, glad I don’t have to live there.

  15. Cherubim, I understand your perspective, but judges + regulators can make adverbs do a lot of work, and the cost of pinging the depths of an adverb can be business-breaking. For example, I could make a strong argument that an original art dealer, either exclusively or as a substantial part of the business model, would fall under the category – that’s a big reason I’ve been commenting; this could be deadly for dealers at comic-cons.

    Also, please note that I’m not coming at this from an uninformed point of view. I too went to law school (Yale, so, y’know, not totally dumb), passed the bar in two states, and have been teaching for almost twenty years, but I find that whole credential touting game distasteful so prefer not to go there.

  16. Also, the only way to “prove” whether you are “principally” dealing in “collectibles” is to get sued. Geez, no thanks!

    My fav part is that if you are specific in saying “THIS IS *NOT* a collectible!”, it doesn’t matter, since that is just “opinion”:

    -B

  17. Seen at dealer booth: “All books to be signed, now JUST $4.99 EACH!!!*
    *Plus a donation to Dealer Loophole Support Fund, equal to market value of the comic”

  18. Glad the politicians have nothing better to do in CA. Taking my note pad out and writing down the names of every politician who passed this so I can vote them out of office. Wished they would have dealt with all of the real problems we face in CA.

  19. Not sure what all the fuss is about. If you have a comic book store and a guest is there signing their comic books, all the store has to do is have a certificate for each of those comics or books ready to go from the event. Why shouldn’t A consumer know for certain that the item was truly signed by the artist or author? I don’t buy much in the way of already autographed items, but I do like to get my stuff signed from the creator directly. Seems like this is about the additional books or comics that the bookstore owner might want to get done at their events. So get a damn certificate. Seems to me that I would like to have certificates proving the autographs I’m selling. As a bookstore owner charge a few extra dollars for the extra time it took to get the certificate. I think items that have this certificate can actually be charged a slightly higher fee because they do have The required proof that it is real.

  20. I don’t see how this applies to author/artist signings. The dealer is NOT selling an autographed item. The dealer is selling an item, and the the author/artist is signing it after the sale. It was not an “autographed item” at the time of sale.

    But, if the author/artist or dealer wants to sell an item that was previously signed by the author/artist, then the new law would apply. It would not apply to cons or signings in stores.

Comments are closed.