A few months ago, IMDb.com (the Internet Movie Database) filed a lawsuit against the state of California, seeking to overturn a law that allows actors and other Hollywood people to have their ages removed from the website. In an amicus brief filed earlier this month, nine First Amendment lawyers, including UCLA's Eugene Volokh and UC Irvine's Erwin Chemerinsky, claimed the new law “violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment by prohibiting IMDb’s public site from reporting truthful information about the age of entertainment professionals.”
The bill, authored by Ian Calderon, the 31-year-old scion of the Calderon family of lawmakers, does not specifically name IMDb but has been interpreted to apply only to the site. Supposedly, the law is aimed at fighting age discrimination.
“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” Calderon said in a press release after the bill was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Who is practicing this age discrimination? Why, casting directors, of course, according to the press release:
The essence of an actor’s craft is to convincingly play the role of someone they are not; however, age discrimination, and by extension websites that facilitate it, denies them that opportunity before they’ve even auditioned. It is common practice for casting directors and producers to use subscription-based websites to access information about actors, which often includes age information that should not be part of the casting decision.
In short, actors need to be able to cover up their ages in order to go after any role they can. IMDb makes this impossible. Ergo, IMDb must be stopped.
“This law limits the publication of truthful speech,” Chemerinsky tells L.A. Weekly. “In many cases, the Supreme Court has said you can’t limit the right to publish truthful speech. … We should prohibit the age discrimination, not the speech.”
Chemerinsky said that even if IMDb were in the habit of posting home addresses of famous celebrities (it isn't), that too likely would be protected by the First Amendment.
“There’s such a strong presumption that you’ll always have the right to publish truthful information,” he says.
The suit alleges that Calderon wrote the law “in response to aggressive lobbying by the Screen Actors Guild,” aka SAG-AFTRA. The union is seeking to add itself as a defendant in the suit.
Days before California's new Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, took office, acting Attorney General Kathleen Kenealy filed a motion opposing an injunction requested by IMDb, indicating that the government will defend the law in court. Kenealy's motion argues that IMDb isn't speech, per se, like Wikipedia or The New York Times, but a service provider. Because the site has a paid subscription service, IMDbPro, its commercial activity can be regulated, according to the motion. However, the law applies not just to IMDbPro but to the free portion of the site as well.