A federal judge is expected to rule next week whether California will have to temporarily pause a new law banning Internet Movie Database from listing the age of actors and other Hollywood workers on its website.
But before Judge Vince Chhabria hears oral arguments from both sides, attorneys representing IMDb told the court through filings late last week that despite what California officials and the industry’s largest acting union claims, telling IMDb to remove ages is a violation of its First Amendment rights.
At the same time, attorney John Hueston argued that if California truly wants to battle age discrimination in Hollywood, there are far better alternatives than “banning speech.” Even more, discussing someone’s age tends to be important information included in many discussions about someone’s work or accomplishments, especially when they are sitting on the opposite ends of the age spectrum.
“Film industry critics frequently consider an actor or director’s age as critical data points in interpreting their works. The fact Orson Welles was 26 years old when he made Citizen Kane contributes to our understanding of that work and his career, just as our understanding of the extended careers of directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, who directed his last film at 91, is informed by their ages and experiences.
“Even The Hollywood Reporter’s annual list of the 100 most powerful women in Hollywood openly states the ages of individuals ranging from actresses, studio executives, singers, agents and others.”
SAG-AFTRA, the actors union that led the charge to enact the age discrimination law and who is joining this particular lawsuit as a defendant, also takes age into account, Hueston said.
Not only has the union put on events and such celebrating the work of women older than 40, but even a profile the union made of its president, Gabrielle Carteris, included her age as part of her biography.
California’s claims that a contract between two parties – like what happens when someone signs up for IMDb’s subscription service – would circumvent the First Amendment could be an even more dangerous road to follow, Hueston argued.
“Under that theory, California could enact a law allowing a newspaper subscriber to prevent the paper from printing any information about the subscriber. Such a law would have the practical impact, for example, of allowing public figures to gag the press by taking out a subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle.”
IMDb sued the government last November ahead of Assembly Bill 1687 going into effect at the beginning of the new year. It filed for a temporary injunction stopping implementation of the law in January after attorneys representing California claimed, among other things, sovereign immunity as a defense.
Under that practice, California would have to consent to be sued – except when the lawsuit poses a constitutional challenge, as IMDb is trying to do with its First Amendment complaint.
Government officials, along with the union, later claimed the law – signed late last year by Gov. Jerry Brown – did not restrict free speech, but instead was looking to limit commercial speech as a way to combat a more pressing issue of age discrimination in Hollywood.
IMDb also states that of all the requests it’s received to remove ages from profiles through last week, nearly half of them come from people under 40.
California officials have claimed IMDb has not followed the law since it was implemented Jan. 1, although the website says it’s always had a practice of removing age from profiles listed in its subscription area whenever requested.
The first major hearing for the case is set for Feb. 16 in San Francisco.
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