IMDb Sues California Over Discrimination Law

By November 11, 2016
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The Internet Movie Database is striking back at a new California law that requires it to remove the age of casts and crews from the site, if those cast and crew members specifically request it.

imdblogo111116The Amazon-owned company filed the suit Thursday in a Los Angeles federal court, according to Variety, naming the new U.S. Senator-elect (and former state attorney general) Kamala Harris as the defendant.

IMDb claims the law, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 24, is unconstitutional as it denies the site its freedom of speech. The company also says that California has overreached its jurisdiction, creating laws that affect the Internet worldwide, and not just within the state’s boundaries.

“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 faction 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, (the law) 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.”

carteris111116The effort to create the IMDb age law was led by actress Gabrielle Carteris, the current president of Hollywood’s biggest acting unions, SAG-AFTRA. She’s best known for her work in the 1990s Fox drama Beverly Hills 90210, a series notorious for having much older actors play the roles of high school students.

Carteris was one of those actors, playing the high school valedictorian. When the show started in 1990, she was almost 30 years old. If that information had become public, she wrote last September, it could have cost her work on that series, and also in future jobs.

“Age discrimination is a major problem in our industry, and it must be addressed. SAG-AFTRA has been working hard for years to stop the career damage caused by the publication of performers’ dates of birth on online subscriptions websites used for casting like IMDb.”

Yet, IMDb maintains in its lawsuit that its paid subscription service, which casting agents primarily use, already has features that allow actors to remove their birthdays.

In 2010, in response to feedback from IMDbPro subscribers, IMDb launched a feature providing IMDbPro subscribers enhanced control over how their information – including ages and birthdates – are displayed. Thus, for many years, IMDbPro subscribers have had the power unilaterally to remove their ages or birthdates from their paid profiles.

IMDb’s casting service is available exclusively to IMDbPro subscribers. Casting directors use IMDbPro, rather than IMDb’s public website, to access IMDb’s casting tools. In other words, IMDb has already taken steps to address the concerns that (the law) purports to address, by empowering actors to remove age information if they are concerned that such information might affect casting decisions. 

harris-mug111116Harris, who was elected Tuesday to replace retiring senator Barbara Boxer in Washington, has not had a chance to respond to the lawsuit. Civil complaints are solely written by one side of a dispute, and may not include all or even correct pertinent details and facts. They also only represent the opinion of that single side.

Internet Movie Database was founded in October 1990, coincidentally enough the same year Beverly Hills 90210 first took to the air. It boasts nearly 4 million titles and more than 9 million people, serving a registered user base of 67 million.

To read the full complaint, click here.

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael began what has become nearly 19 years of entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based out of New York City where he is the editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in the Bronx.