Actors Union Pushes Way Into IMDb Lawsuit

By January 10, 2017

The Internet Movie Database’s constitutional challenge of a new age discrimination law in California has taken an interesting twist: Hollywood’s biggest actors union – and advocate for the new law – wants to become a defendant in the case.

Attorney Douglas Mirell has filed paperwork with a federal court in San Francisco asking that SAG-AFTRA be inserted into IMDb’s lawsuit as a defendant. The union, which was created in 2012 after the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, represents 160,000 actors and other performers that work on both screen and on the radio waves.

The organization’s president, former Beverly Hills 90210 actress Gabrielle Carteris, was a major supporter of the law known as Assembly Bill 1687 that would require IMDb to remove the age of anyone on the site who didn’t want that information listed. IMDb sued California, calling the law unconstitutional since age is factual information, and simply removing it from one site (and not other sites like Wikipedia) violated the Amazon company’s rights.

SAG-AFTRA is in a unique position to defend the constitutionality of this law, because of its expertise concerning the phenomenon of rampant age discrimination in the entertainment industry that gave rise to its involvement as the sponsor of AB 1687, and to the passage of this legislation.

The union also filed a 10-page response to the lawsuit, demanding the court declare AB1687 constitutional, and that IMDb pay the union’s court costs.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the laws that govern federal courts like where this lawsuit is, allows for outside parties to insert themselves as a defendant, so long as they meet certain criteria. Usually, it’s because a party has been given an “unconditional right” to intervene thanks to federal statute, or that the outcome of a case could directly affect their interests.

SAG-AFTRA was a prominent public supporter of AB 1687, and the union was mentioned in IMDb’s initial complaint, Mirell added.

If the law is declared unconstitutional, the union says it could affect its members who suffer from age discrimination in Hollywood.

IMDb has acknowledged there is indeed a discrimination issue in Hollywood, but maintains that simply removing ages from one site won’t have any effect in correcting those issues, and is instead targeting IMDb to “self-censor.”

SAG-AFTRA has requested a hearing on its intention to intervene Feb. 16 in San Francisco, where Judge Vince Chhabria could decide whether the union can be added to the case.

In the meantime, IMDb has asked Chhabria to issue a temporary injunction against the law, with a hearing on that motion scheduled for the same day SAG-AFTRA wants to be heard.

California government officials already have responded to the suit, claiming sovereign immunity, invoking what they say is constitutional protection that requires IMDb to get California’s consent before the government can be sued.

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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.