California Bid for Amazon’s IMDb Age-Posting Info Denied

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By Joyce E. Cutler

California won’t get documents on Amazon.com Inc.'s IMDb’s age-posting practices in a suit over a law the state says would help curtail age discrimination ( IMDb.com, Inc. v. Becerra , N.D. Cal., No. 3:16-cv-06535, order denying discovery motion 6/27/17 ).

The state government’s requests for information on IMDb’s policies, practices, as well as lobbying efforts against the law “are more than annoying,” Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said June 27. “They’re disturbing,” he said.

The request for documents came after Chhabria barred enforcement of a law that would restrict the ability of websites such as IMDb to post the ages of people in the entertainment industry. Chhabria had said it was difficult to imagine how the law doesn’t violate free speech.

California subsequently sought the information from IMDb to show that the law was necessary to achieve the compelling purpose of combating age discrimination in the industry, the court said. Assembly Bill 1687 took effect Jan. 1 and was backed by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

“It’s one thing for a legislature to enact a speech restriction without an adequate justification,” the court said in denying California’s request for discovery. “It’s another thing for the government’s lawyers to double down on their client’s constitutional error by imposing irrelevant, burdensome, even harassing discovery obligations on a party that seeks only to vindicate its First Amendment rights in court.”

The California Department of Justice told Bloomberg BNA it is reviewing the order. It is unclear how the court will ultimately rule on the constitutionality of the statute.

David Greene, senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Washington, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief, told Bloomberg BNA in a June 28 email that the ruling was a “strong rebuke (it’s hard to imagine a stronger judicial rebuke) of the government’s fishing expedition.”

While Chhabria said he expects cross motions for summary judgment, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the state just conceded defeat and sent the Legislature back to the drawing board,” Greene said.

Hueston Hennigan LLP represented IMDb.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The discovery ruling is at http://src.bna.com/qi0.

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