The Internet Movie Database has long been the public’s go-to site for generally accurate information about movies, TV shows, and the people who make them. Many celebrity profiles have their ages and dates of birth listed on IMDb, but that may soon come to an end if a new California law is allowed to stand.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on AB 1687, a law that doesn’t outright IMDb from posting all actors’ ages on the site, but gives the thespians a way to proactively bar the site from publishing that data.
Given the entertainment industry’s obsession with youth and beauty, some actors have worried that having their age publicly available on IMDb — where most of the data is crowdsourced from users — could result in discrimination.
To that end, AB 1687 aims “to ensure that information obtained on an Internet Web site regarding an individual’s age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination.” More accurately, it forbids any website that provides “employment services” from sharing age information about its users.
Most people are blissfully unaware of this, but IMDb does indeed have a rather large employment service tier, IMDbPro, that allows casting agents and other professionals to make more direct contact with actors, and also gives those actors more control over the information that appears on their profile. That control includes correcting or removing age information from their Pro profiles.
AB 1687 takes things further by prohibiting age-related data of all Pro users from being published publicly on IMDb. So even if an actor is fine with their age or date of birth being known, if they are a Pro user, that information would be blocked. Acting is a nasty business, and paying $20/month (or $150/year) to keep your age from being on the public side of IMDb might seem a worthwhile investment.
Amazon-owned IMDb believes this law goes too far, to the point of violating the First Amendment. Last week, the website sued the state of California in federal court, seeking to stop AB 1687 from being enforced.
In the complaint [PDF], IMDb argues that — rather than go after actual discriminatory behavior — the law is targeting information that is widely available outside of IMDb.
According to IMDb, AB 1687 “does not prohibit the discriminatory use of information, but instead forces the removal of factual information from the public domain. That ‘enforced silence’ is unquestionably censorship in plain violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
IMDb, which acknowledges the good intentions of the law, contends that it is being unfairly targeted by AB 1687, especially since the information IMDb will be prohibited from publishing could be easily found on Wikipedia, Google, or by simply asking your smartphone.
If the government is allowed to bar publication of factual biographical data to a public forum, IMDb says it will set 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.”
The lawsuit also argues that the California law is violating the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by involving itself in business relationships between Washington state-based IMDb with users from all across the nation.
If IMDb is unsuccessful in blocking AB 1687 from being enforced, it will take effect in January.
(In case you’re wondering about the photo at the top: No, we didn’t pick Gene Hackman’s profile for any particular reason; we were looking him up anyway.)