IMDB Fights California’s Age Discrimination Law on First Amendment Grounds


age discriminationWhen does an anti-age discrimination law run afoul of the First Amendment? When the government forces a website to remove disclosure of actors’ and entertainment industry members’ real ages, Inc., popular film information website, told a federal court recently.


The Inc.-owned Internet Movie Database, better known as IMDb, is suing current California Attorney General (now Senator-elect) Kamala Harris over California Assembly Bill No. 1687, which amended state law to prohibit IMDb from publishing dates of birth on its website.


The law represents a “content-based restriction on speech” that solely targets IMDb, the company said in its Nov. 10 complaint in a San Francisco federal district court seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties.


“Rather than passing laws designed to address the root problem of age discrimination, the State of California has chosen to chill free speech and undermine public access to factual information,” the company said.


The state law prohibition, which doesn’t specify any particular companies, was intended to prevent age discrimination from impacting actors and other industry members’ employment prospects.


The law requires “a commercial online entertainment employment service provider” to take down any information about a paid subscriber’s age listed in an online profile within five days, upon request. Part of IMDB’s business model includes a membership-based service to help actors and other entertainment industry members boost their online profiles and get casting calls. In the complaint, it notes that subscribers to the service, IMDbPro, have been able to remove their ages or birthdates from their paid profiles “for years.”


But IMDb’s lawyers said the bill “was artfully and deliberately crafted” to require the site to remove age information from both the paid and public websites.


The company noted that much of its content is crowd-sourced from users and not provided by IMDB itself. “IMDb routinely and gladly updates information on in order to correct verified inaccuracies. But it has always been IMDb’s policy not to alter or delete any accurate factual information on the public website,” it said.


The bill was intended to help actors – particularly women – overcome what some have described as rampant age discrimination in an industry known for valuing good looks as much as dramatic skills. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists lobbied hard for the measure.


“SAG-AFTRA has been working hard for years to stop the career damage caused by the publication of performers’ dates of birth on online subscription websites used for casting like IMDb,” union President Gabrielle Carteris said in an Aug. 24 petition to get the legislation to the California governor’s desk.

Image by Social Innovation Camp, used under a Creative Commons license.