U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, appointed by Barack Obama, has overturned a California law that allows actors the power to remove information about their age from their online profiles on IMDb. The judge ruled the law, which was intended to combat age discrimination in Hollywood according to California and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is a direct restriction on truthful speech that violates the constitutional First Amendment.
The IMDb age discrimination argument was first made in 2011 when an actor sued Amazon-owned IMDb, which is an online database that collects all information related to films, television programs, and video games, including details on the cast and production crew. The female artist alleged she was not getting work after the filmmakers saw her age listed on the service. The actor’s lawsuit was not successful, but state lawmakers passed a law allowing actors to censor their age on IMDb. Since then, the law has required online entertainment employment service providers, such as IMDb, to remove age-related information from an online profile at the request of a paid subscriber, even if the information was supplied by another source.
“The law prohibits certain speakers from publishing certain truthful information — information that, in many instances, is supplied by members of the public — because of concerns that a third party might use that information to engage in illegal conduct,” Chhabria wrote in his decision. An argument for the law “would enable states to forbid publication of virtually any fact,” he added. “That a third party could misuse truthful information is almost never sufficient to justify suppression of that information.”
The real issue the state is trying to solve, Chhabria added, is gender discrimination. “[This is] a manifestation of the industry’s insistence on objectifying women, overvaluing their looks while devaluing everything else,” the judge wrote. “If the government is going to attempt to restrict speech, it should at least develop a clearer understanding of the problem it’s trying to solve.”
Chhabria said the law was under-inclusive because it doesn’t protect actors who don’t have an IMDbPro account or who have not asked IMDb.com to take their age down. At the same time, the judge also found it to be over-inclusive in how it covers even those that do not already have protection against age discrimination under California law (i.e., actors under 40 years of age).
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief operating officer and general counsel for the Screen Actors Guild, said the organization would appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He submitted the following statement: “SAG-AFTRA is extremely disappointed with today’s ruling in IMDb v. Becerra and SAG-AFTRA. The Court, unfortunately, fails to understand or recognize the massive impact gender and age discrimination has on all working performers. That discrimination is facilitated by IMDb’s insistence on publishing performers’ age information without their consent. The ruling also refuses to recognize the reality of the commercial nature of IMDb’s database publishing operation. Despite sworn testimony submitted by SAG-AFTRA, the Court incorrectly concluded there were no material disputed factual issues while precluding the parties from acquiring additional evidence or permitting the case to go to trial. SAG-AFTRA will continue to defend this much-needed law by appealing this ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”