California’s IMDb-targeting “ageism” law looks as though it won’t be able to survive the website’s Constitutional challenge — an outcome that should have been foreseen while the bill was still in its crafting phase. The law was passed to address apparent age discrimination by movie studios. For whatever reason, the California legislature decided the best way to handle this was to force a web site to stop publishing actors’ ages, rather than just, you know, enforcing the state’s existing anti-discrimination laws. Sure, other similar sites would also (theoretically) be affected, but IMDb is the only one that’s actually been sued by an aggrieved actress over its publication of facts.
Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports the presiding federal judge doesn’t see much to like in the new law and has granted a temporary restraining order to IMDb while
everything gets sorted out it rolls to its inevitable victory.
A federal judge has barred the State of California from enforcing a new law limiting online publication of actors’ ages.
Acting in a case brought by online movie information website IMDb, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Wednesday that the California law likely violates the First Amendment and appears poorly tailored to proponents’ stated goal of preventing age discrimination in Hollywood.
The order [PDF] is only three pages long, but it’s more than enough space to detail the serious problems with California’s law.
With respect to the first part of the preliminary injunction test, it’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment. The statute prevents IMDb from publishing factual information (information about the ages of people in the entertainment industry) on its website for public consumption. This is a restriction of non-commercial speech on the basis of content.
Going beyond the First Amendment issue, Judge Chhabria goes on to attack the premise underlying the ridiculous legislation.
To be sure, the government has identified a compelling goal – preventing age discrimination in Hollywood. But the government has not shown how AB 1687 is “necessary” to advance that goal. In fact, it’s not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal antidiscrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end. For example, although the government asserts generically that age discrimination continues in Hollywood despite the long-time presence of anti-discrimination laws, the government fails to explain why more vigorous enforcement of those laws would not be at least as effective at combatting age discrimination as removing birthdates from a single website. Because the government has presented nothing to suggest that AB 1687 would actually combat age discrimination (much less that it’s necessary to combat age discrimination), there is an exceedingly strong likelihood that IMDb will prevail in this lawsuit.
The Screen Actors Guild, which supports the new law, expressed its disappointment in the judge’s ruling and stated it was “looking forward” to presenting evidence that targeting IMDb for publishing actors’ ages will somehow reduce discriminatory practices by movie and TV studios. I’m looking forward to that as well, although for very different reasons than SAG is. Defending indefensible laws isn’t much fun for those doing the defending, but it’s an incredibly entertaining spectator sport.