California threatens to shut down book signings and therefore small booksellers

Liberty Blog:

Failure to disclose any of the required details, or to keep the certificate for the full seven years, results in outrageous penalties. Even an inadvertent omission can subject a seller to 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. Professional plaintiff’s lawyers must be chomping at the bit. If Bill sold just 100 signed copies of a $30 book, but six years later, couldn’t locate the records noting the size of the edition, he’d be liable for (at minimum) $30,000. Bill sells tens of thousands of signed books each year.

For many booksellers like Bill and Book Passage, this massive threat of liability will make holding author events too much of a risk. And the loss to California’s marketplace of ideas will be gargantuan. Book signings aren’t just central to Book Passage’s business model, they’re vital to up-and-coming authors with less represented views, who use book signings to lure new readers. Many famous authors got their start by doing signing events. While Book Passage hosts such big names as Isabelle Allende and Khaled Hosseini, it also frequently hosts local poets, fiction writers, and even chefs who have authored cookbooks.

Even worse than irrational, the law is pernicious: despite the law’s vast breadth (it also covers paintings, sculptures, and auctioneers), certain sellers have secured exemptions. Online retailers and pawn shops, those places where uninformed buyers are most vulnerable, do not have to comply.