As was expected, IMDb is suing the state of California over its new “ageism” law. The law has its genesis in actress Junie Hoang’s lawsuit against the website, in which she claimed that the site’s publication of her actual age caused her to be passed over by producers looking for younger women.
The law, which becomes effective January 1, applies to database sites that allow paid subscribers to post resumes, headshots or other information for prospective employers. Only a paying subscriber can make a removal or non-publication request. Although the legislation may be most critical for actors, it applies to all entertainment job categories.
Although the law will (theoretically) apply to other database sites, it’s really just a continuation of actress Junie Hoang’s failed legal battle against IMDb. The narrowly-written law only applies to sites with paying subscribers, but it does allow those subscribers to alter facts or remove them completely.
As such, it’s still a potential First Amendment issue. This is why IMDb is seeking to have the law ruled unconstitutional.
“IMDb shares the worthy goal of preventing age discrimination,” writes attorney John C. Hueston in the complaint. “But AB 1687 is an unconstitutional law that does not advance, much less achieve, that goal. To the contrary, 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.”
Even though the law supposedly affects other sites, it’s pretty obvious the real target of the legislation is the website now suing the state. From the complaint [PDF]:
IMDb strongly opposes discrimination in all forms, including age discrimination in casting. But prejudice and bias, not truthful information, are the root causes of discrimination. This law unfairly targets IMDb.com (which appears to be the only public site impacted by the law) and forces IMDb to suppress factual information from public view. Moreover, the factual information being suppressed from IMDb is available from many other sources, not least including Wikipedia, Google, Microsoft (Bing), and Apple (Siri). As such, AB 1687 sets a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent for other general purpose websites and news sources, and should be deeply troubling to all who care about free speech.
It’s California’s “right to be forgotten as being as old as you actually are” statute. And it doesn’t even address the actual problem. Making it illegal to post factual information is a terrible idea and one that will ultimately affect the ways facts are handled by data aggregators subject to this law.
But like Hoang’s lawsuit, the law makes no attempt to target those actually engaging in the alleged ageism: movie and television studios. Instead, it targets those who gather information about actors and actresses, as if vanishing away simple facts will change the discriminatory hiring practices engaged in by some of California’s largest companies.
Adding further problems is the law’s attempt to regulate a website that isn’t even located in the state.
Notably, AB 1687 contains no territorial limitations at all. It purports to impose financial penalties on IMDb, a Delaware corporation with its offices in Seattle, if it refuses to censor itself when, for example, a California actor requests the removal of his age from IMDb.com after it is added by an IMDb.com user in Germany.
Making things even more stupid is the Screen Actors Guild’s heavy lobbying for the IMDb-targeting law. A union with the combined power of thousands of actors should be able to take on the studios directly, rather than cozying up to lawmakers to carve out First Amendment protections for their dates of birth. That suggests one of two things: the SAG finds legislators easier to push around, or the SAG doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds it roles. Either way, targeting IMDb does nothing to further the Guild’s supposed battle against ageism.