29 September 2016

No, Authors, California Isn't Abusing You (or Bookstores)

There is no contenxt without contexnt. And recent fearmongering put forth by marginally literate "booksellers" and blindly spewed forth by more than one authors' organization that should know better demonstrates that pretty bloody well.

First, a bit of background. California recently passed, and Governor Brown signed into law, "An act to amend Section 1739.7 of, and to amend the heading of Title 1.1A (commencing with Section 1739.7) of Part 4 of Division 3 of, and to amend Section 1739.7 of, the Civil Code, relating to collectibles," AB 1570. This amendment is intended to deal with the continuing problems of fraud and misrepresentation in sports and celebrity memorabilia, such as people being sold baseballs purportedly autographed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Naturally, though, because it's "government regulation," some nitwits have decided to purposefully misinterpret it for their own political purposes... by not reading the bloody statute.

I'm not going to defend the writing in the statute as a paragon of virtue. It isn't; it should have been submitted to experienced consumer-protection litigators for cleanup, but instead looks like someone's first draft. It is, however, reasonably clear to anyone moderately familiar with statutory construction who actually follows up the cross-references. The critical part is not buried in the middle. It's right up front, in the definitions that form the very first substantive section of the bloody bill (all emphasis added):

[new Civil Code § 1739.7(a)(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.

(B) “Dealer” does not include any of the following:

(i) A pawnbroker licensed pursuant to Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 21300) of Division 8 of the Financial Code, if the collectible was acquired through a foreclosure on a collateral loan, provided that the pawnbroker does not hold himself or herself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to collectibles.

(ii) The personality who signs the memorabilia.

(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.

Naturally, that's from Section 2 of the actual bill.

None of the recordkeeping requirements for "collectibles" (defined in § 1739.7(a)(2) as "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") apply to anyone except "dealers." Not to private citizens reselling stuff from their uncle's estate. Not to individual artists who sign their paintings or postcards or prints or sculptures. More to the point here, not to authors who sign books for fans at conventions or bookstores... or to bookstores that happen to have a few author-autographed copies lying around, or even that offer — amongst all of their other business — to have a book personalized by the author for a holiday internet order.

Naturally, this entire contretemps arises from

  • Booksellers, not collectibles dealers
  • Who didn't read the statute, but instead saw something in the middle that might be inconvenient to them if it applied to them (which by the terms of the statute it doesn't)
  • Who know nothing of the best practices already customary among legitimate collectibles dealers and don't know that this statute largely codifies those best practices

and the blind inability of some organizations of authors — who are, all too often, actually in conflict with booksellers' actual (not necessarily proclaimed) interests — to actually think before scaring their members with something that doesn't apply to them.

I grant an F in reading comprehension to any of the fearmongering jerks responsible for this. And that's inexcusable for authors' organizations, arts-advocacy organizations... or for booksellers and other vendors who purport to support authors and the arts. I'll mutter my dark thoughts about "quasipartisan ideological agendas and naked self-interest" elsewhere.