The Internet Movie Database has asked a San Francisco federal judge to halt a new law that went into effect last week in California that requires the film and television catalog site to remove the ages of actors from its pages.
The preliminary injunction is part of an overall lawsuit IMDb has filed against the California government claiming the law – known as Assembly Bill 1687 – is unconstitutional. IMDb lawyers want Judge Vince Chhabria to put the law on hold while the Amazon-owned company has its day in court.
IMDb filed the suit in November after the bill pushed by SAG-AFTRA union president Gabrielle Carteris was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The law would require IMDb to remove information that reveals the age of people listed on the site when requested.
The idea, at least from Carteris’ point of view, is to prevent rampant age discrimination in Hollywood – something she said affected her during her time as one of the stars of Fox’s Beverly Hilly 90210 in the 1990s. Carteris was nearly 30 when she began her role as a high school student in 1990, and claims that if her age had been more publicly available, it could have cost her the part.
“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 subscription websites used for casting like IMDb.”
IMDb, however, said it already excludes age information in areas of the site frequented by casting directors, and that simply removing factual information from the Internet is not going to stop age discrimination. Even more, the lawyers claim the bill targets only IMDb, and not other sites that provide such information, like Wikipedia.
In their motion to temporarily pause the law, IMDb’s lawyers the government is restricting the company’s right to free speech under the First Amendment, among other things. Even more, IMDb says the law violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by regulating Internet conduct that occurs outside the borders of the state.
The Internet is vast, so by forcing IMDb to remove information to conform with California law, it’s forcing it to take action that no other state or government has required of it anywhere else it’s available.
“If this type of law were allowed to stand, any state could reach beyond its borders and restrict what content can be made available to citizens of that state or other states.”
IMDb added that even temporary suspension of its First Amendment rights would force the company to suffer “irreparable harm,” and noted that more than 2,300 people already have demanded the website remove their age information since the law went into effect Jan. 1. Without an injunction, IMDb says it will either have to risk being used by one or many of those 2,300 people for not complying with the law, or to submit to “self-censorship.”
“IMDb shares the worthy goal of preventing age discrimination. But AB 1687 does not, as the state and the bill’s proponents claim, prohibit or curtail discrimination. Instead, the law singles out IMDb and forces the removal of just one source of factual public information. That ‘enforced silence’ is unquestionably censorship in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and it cannot stand.”
The defendants in the case, the acting California attorney general Kathleen Alice Kenealy, will have a chance to respond to the injunction request before a hearing that’s scheduled for Feb. 16 in San Francisco.
Attorneys representing the California government filed a response in December claiming IMDb couldn’t sue them because of “sovereign immunity.” Kamala Harris, the attorney general when the law passed and now a U.S. Senator representing California, said the lawsuit violated the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which requires the government to consent to be sued before they could be sued.
However, that argument might not stand well, as a court case in the 1990s established that sovereign immunity does not apply when a plaintiff complains about violations of either state or the federal constitution. Such court cases should, and do, go on.
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