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New California Autograph Law Hurts Legitimate Dealers While Doing Nothing to Fix Forgery Problem

Posted Dec. 14, 2016 | Filed under General


UPDATE: thanks to lobbying of the California legislature by autograph dealers like myself, book dealers and other affected small businesses, Assembly Bill 228 was passed and went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. AB 228 fixed all of the major issues with AB 1570. My original blog post is below for future reference.

The state of California delivered coal in the stockings of legitimate autograph dealers like myself with a new law that takes effect in 2017. With an assist from Luke Skywalker himself, actor Mark Hamill, California passed a poorly written law full of unintended consequences and potential liability that is only loosely tied to authenticity.

The general populace has always been overly concerned with Certificates of Authenticity (COA). However, common sense tells you that a criminal who forges fake autographs is not going to hesitate to create a COA that is 100% fraudulent as well. So attempting to legislate authenticity by mandating the most reputable autograph dealers include more information on their COAs only serves to force the crooks to lie a little bit more.

Even more concerning, the specific COA information demanded by this law includes: "(7) Indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the California autograph dealer and specify the date and location of, and the name of a witness to, the autograph signing." and (8) Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of the third party."

These clauses are problematic for multiple reasons. First of all, there is a privacy issue with disclosing the seller of autographed items, especially when his or her name and address will be printed on the COA which may be circulated for years, if not decades. This may give serious pause to any collector thinking of selling to any California autograph dealer.

Secondly, forcing authentic autograph dealers to reveal exact information about where they obtained their items allows fraudsters to copy this information for their own use, and obviously gives competitors proprietary information. Not to mention, the wholesale and retail markets for autographed memorabilia are not distinct as with widgets or most products; they are massively blurred. Therefore disclosing the purchase information would in some cases be referring your customers to a competitor.

I could go on and on, but the overarching issue is that the fake autograph problem -- especially bad with modern Hollywood and entertainment autographs, and no doubt why Hamill got involved -- is a law ENFORCEMENT issue, not an issue of new laws being needed. This law hurts genuine autograph dealers.

Forging fake autographs and knowingly selling fake autographs is ALREADY punishable by numerous existing civil and criminal laws, federal, state and local. The problem is NO ONE IS ENFORCING THEM. I am not exaggerating. I literally mean NO ONE. Not the FBI, not US Postal Inspectors, not state attorney generals, not local police.

While AB-1570 may have had the best of intentions, unfortunately it isn't going to do anything about the epidemic of fake autographs. It will, however, hurt legitimate California autograph dealers and make it more difficult for anyone in California who owns or inherits autographs -- whether it be one or a thousand -- to ever sell them.