May I Have Your Autograph: Celebrity Culture & Consumer Protection

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

As someone who needed an explanation for the word “Brangelina” this week, I’m not sure I’m the most qualified to comment on a new law meant to protect against fake celebrity autographs. While we live in a society that seems overexposed to celebrity culture, we also live in a state in which entertainment and celebrity is big business. The legislature did the right thing to stop dealers from selling forged celebrity autographs because the law is more about protecting consumers than a special sop to celebrities.

Assemblymember Ling Ling Chang authored AB 1570, passed unanimously by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by the governor, requiring certificates of authenticity to prove celebrity signatures on memorabilia are real. Fake signatures subject the sellers to a heavy fine.

Chang joined fellow Assembly members Evan Low and Cristina Garcia, Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, and West Covina police chief David Faulkner, representing the California Police Chiefs Association, at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank Tuesday to celebrate the new legislation.

Chang noted that the signed memorabilia market is a $1 billion industry with many fakes to bamboozle unsuspecting consumers. She said up to three-quarters of signed memorabilia from entertainers like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles have proved false.

Hamill recognized that collectables is a legitimate business with many responsible dealers, but he became frustrated telling fans that they paid for a fake signature. While admitting that at fan shows he sells his autograph, and at other times gives it away, he said it was no fun to tell an 8-year old that they owned a fake autograph. That was the reason he agreed to support Chang’s measure.

Because California lays claim to the movie and television industry and the celebrity culture it brings, the California legislature has been drawn in over the years to provide laws when celebrities argue their privacy is violated or their images—even those of dead celebrities—are being inappropriately used for profit.

This new legislation seems to fall into a broad definition of artistic and personal protection reinforced by law. While copyright protections are intended to promote useful arts and sciences, and courts have declared a right to privacy, protection of one’s personal and identifiable signature seems worthy of protection, as well.

If celebrity is to take a prominent position in our culture, ultimately it’s the consumers who pay a heavy price for forgery.

Oh, and for you fellow non-celebrity following troglodytes out there, if you want a further explanation of “Brangelina,” here’s a link to the front page story in the Los Angeles Times. Front page! See what I mean about celebrity culture?

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