The Frame

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Judge halts enforcement of state law that curbed publication of actors' ages

by John Horn with Jonathan Shifflett and Monica Bushman | The Frame

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A sample page from the IMDb website, which posts the credits and backgrounds of people who work in the entertainment industry. Jon Fingas/Flickr Creative Commons

What does an actor’s age have to do with the First Amendment? According to a federal judge, possibly a whole lot.

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 1687. It required websites like the Internet Movie Database (or IMDb) to remove birth dates from the profile pages of entertainment industry professionals, if those individuals asked IMDb to delete the information.

The law was hailed by actors and the SAG-AFTRA union as a way to fight age discrimination. But IMDb’s parent company, Amazon, filed a lawsuit arguing that the law was a violation of the First Amendment.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria seemed to agree with IMDb. He issued an order granting an injunction that puts enforcement of the law on hold.

Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA, told The Frame's John Horn that the union will continue to fight for the implementation of AB 1687.

"This is just a skirmish in a battle," Carteris says. "We're here to win the war. We know we might lose battles within the war, but in the end, we're here to win."

Debbie Haeusler, an agent who represents so-called “below-the-line” workers, also hopes the law survives. She says age discrimination doesn't just affect actors, but also a wide range of people who labor behind-the-scenes.

And posting someone's age on IMDb, Haeusler says, isn't the same as it popping up on any other website.

"What I see on the IMDb site is, Please post your personal résumé here so that you can get jobs. Then in another situation, it says, Please place your casting calls here," Haeusler says. "So they are basically a de facto employment agency. They are putting together employers and employees. And in that world, you are not allowed to give someone's age. You are not allowed to ask for it and you're not allowed to get it."

But IMDb's argument that the law is a violation of the First Amendment may not be easily countered, according to Aaron H. Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School. 

"The First Amendment gives very strong protection to people's ability to say truthful things about the world. There are some protections if someone is defaming you — saying false things about you," Caplan says. "But the idea that someone could be breaking the law by saying something that is true is very unusual."

A case management conference in the case is scheduled for March 21.

IMDb declined our invitation to comment on the judge's decision.

 

 

 

 

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