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Monday, July 22, 2019

IMDb lawsuit over celebrities' ages sparks First Amendment issues

By S. Laney Griffo | Dec 9, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - IMDb.com has sued the State of California for enforcing a bill that prohibits the website from publishing celebrities’ ages and birthdays.

California Assembly Bill 1687 states, “information obtained on an Internet website regarding an individual’s age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination.”

IMDb fights the enforcement of AB 1687 | Shutterstock

IMDb filled the case Nov. 11 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging AB1687 violates its First Amendment rights.

In the case, IMDb said it will, “be faced with the choice of removing accurate information of public interest from the marketplace of ideas or suffering financial and other penalties for refusing to censor itself.”

IMDb is an entertainment website that provides information about movies, television shows, actors and actresses, directors, producers and other people involved with making movies and shows.

The company employees a database content team that is responsible for making sure the information on the website is accurate.

In September, Assemblyman Ian Calderon worked with members from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) to create the bill that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 24

“SAG-AFTRA recognizes that age bias has existed for years in the casting process, and this is unlawful and damaging to the careers of our members,” a spokesperson from SAG-AFTRA told Legal Newsline. “Age discrimination is wrong for performers, and all employees, for that matter.”

The spokesperson added that although casting personnel aren’t always actively looking for the ages of performers, they often see them on website.

“This creates either a conscious or unconscious bias in the process, and SAG-AFTRA believes all performers should be fairly considered for roles,” the spokesperson said

IMDb said in the case it also believes in preventing age discrimination but this bill violates free speech without fixing the problem.

“One can have sympathy for actors that are rejected because of age,” First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams said, “But the notion of passing a law that criminalizes truth seems alien to jurisprudence.”

IMDb offers IMDbPro, a membership service for industry professionals that allows them to access information of other professionals as well as control which information is provided for their own accounts.

“To be clear, for years, IMDbPro subscribers have had the power to remove their ages or birth dates from their paid profiles,” IMDb said in the case.

SAG-AFTRA believes it is exactly because of IMDbPro that AB 1687 is not a violation of free speech.

“The bill goes directly to the heart of the issue: granting job seekers, who pay for a service, the right to remove age information from a commercial entertainment website used by employers,” the spokesperson said. “The bill makes no attempt to regulate information on the Internet beyond this targeted fix of a specific and pervasive problem.”

First Amendment Coalition executive director Peter Scheer also fears what the law means to free speech.

“If this kind of limitation were upheld, it would be the sanctification of censorship,” Scheer said. “Public officials could make laundry lists of perfectly accurate information that couldn’t be posted on the internet.”


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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California