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California can’t force IMDb to stop publishing actors’ ages, judge rules

Vince Bucci/Invision/AP | BDN
Vince Bucci/Invision/AP | BDN
In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris speaks at the 24th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. SAG and the state of California have contested whether the Amazon-owned website IMDb can publish the ages of actors.
By David Ng, The Los Angeles Times

A federal judge has handed IMDb a victory in its ongoing feud with the state of California and SAG-AFTRA over whether the Amazon-owned website can publish the ages of actors.

Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California ruled in his decision Tuesday that California cannot enforce a law that would compel IMDb to remove the age of an actor upon request, saying that the law is “clearly unconstitutional.”

The 2016 state law, known as AB 1687, was supported by those who felt that revealing the ages of actors would facilitate discrimination in an industry that prizes youth.

But Chhabria wrote Tuesday that such an argument based on the possibility of discrimination “would enable states to forbid publication of virtually any fact.” He also noted that the law violates the 1st Amendment.

The lawsuit pitted IMDb against state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and SAG-AFTRA, the screen actors union that represents more than 160,000 performers. Chhabria granted a preliminary injunction against the law in early 2017, writing at the time that “it’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment” because it would prevent IMDb from publishing factual information on its site.

The law would have allowed users of IMDbPro, which is a subscription site geared toward Hollywood professionals, to demand that IMDb remove age-related information from its free public site, IMDb.com, regardless of the source of the information.

On Tuesday, the judge further criticized the state law, saying that it fails to address the true matter at the heart of the debate — that actresses face more age discrimination than their male counterparts in Hollywood.

“If the government is going to attempt to restrict speech, it should at least develop a clearer understanding of the problem it’s trying to solve,” Chhabria wrote.

SAG-AFTRA said Tuesday that it was disappointed by the ruling and intended to appeal the case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The court unfortunately fails to understand or recognize the massive impact gender and age discrimination has on all working performers,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the guild’s chief operating officer and general counsel, said in a statement.

“That discrimination is facilitated by IMDb’s insistence on publishing performers’ age information without their consent.”

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