Collectors say California autograph law hurts business; needs rewrite

Posted at 6:56 PM, Jun 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-07 21:56:09-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A new law intended to protect people from buying fake autographs might be doing more harm than good.

The law was passed last year thanks, in large part, to the efforts of actor Mark Hamill.  

Over the decades since "Star Wars" became a blockbuster hit, memorabilia from the movie has become a big business. Hamill was disturbed by how many fans were duped into purchasing fake autographs, whether through online sites like eBay, or professional dealers.

He helped the legislature to pass a new law which significantly increases the penalties for selling fake memorabilia and requires a detailed certificate of authenticity to accompany autographs.

But the law is now coming under fire for unintended consequences.

Critics say the law is poorly written and far too broad. Instead of only applying to sports and entertainment autographs, which are the most targeted for fraud, the law applies to every single autographed item sold in California for more than $5. Not complying with the strict regulations opens anyone who sells an autograph to lawsuits.

Local booksellers have been hit particularly hard.  

"It's harder to sell in California now," says Marc Kuritz, owner of Churchill Book Collector in Clairemont. "There are tons of folks who won't sell to Californians anymore, won't buy things from Californians."

Bookstores who host signings from local authors are now required to provide those certificates of authenticity and keep detailed records of every item sold. This is despite the fact, they say, that there is very little fraud because most authors are not famous, making forging a signature pointless.  

"There's no value attached to 95 percent of books that are signed," estimates Dennis Wills, owner of D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla.

The law's effects go far beyond books. The law could be interpreted as affecting individuals who decide to sell an autographed item, including posting them on sites such as eBay or Craigslist.

San Diego State Assemblymember Todd Gloria is working on a new bill aimed at fixing the law's issues. His bill would limit the strictest regulations to only sports and entertainment autographs. It would also create specific definitions for "dealers" and "autographed collectibles" to separate professional sellers from casual collectors.  

The bill passed the State Assembly in May and will likely come up for a vote in the State Senate in June.