On Jan. 1, a new law went into effect in California that would require the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) remove information about actors’ ages and birthdays. We’re now more than a week into the new year, and the site hasn’t taken this information down — and it has no intention of doing so in the immediate future.
Amazon-owned IMDb is currently suing the state over AB 1687, a new law that makes it easy for an actor (or anyone with an IMDb listing) to have their age-related information taken off the site.
The law, which does not mention IMDb by name, but which seems specifically tailored to address only IMDb listings, would prohibit the site from publishing age-related data on anyone who is also a member of the IMDb Pro premium employment service.
IMDb Pro, which costs $20/month (or $150/year), 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 Pro profiles. The information that appears on their publicly available IMDb pages is crowdsourced, like the majority of content on IMDb. The new law would remove this information, regardless of its accuracy.
While an actor who gets recognized while walking down the street might not have a need for Pro, the service’s subscription fee might be worthwhile if it means being able to scrub their age from one of the most-visited sites on the internet.
In fact, without naming names, IMDb says that it has received more than 2,300 requests to remove factual age information since AB 1687 was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last September. According to a supporting document [PDF] filed by an IMDb executive, these requests have come from several “A-list” actors, including 10 Oscar winners and 81 actors who have been nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, or Emmy Awards.
However, in a recent court filing [PDF], the website asked the court for a preliminary injunction barring the state from enforcing the new law, and making it clear that IMDb has no intention of removing age info while this lawsuit is pending.
“Rather than properly passing laws designed to address the root problem of age discrimination, the State of California has chosen instead to chill free speech and to undermine access to factual information of public interest,” reads the filing. “As such, AB 1687 plainly violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and cannot be enforced.”
Content-based restrictions on speech must be so narrowly tailored as to achieve the restriction’s purpose — in this case, preventing age discrimination — while minimizing the chances that the law will trample on speech that is unrelated to that purpose.
IMDb contends that AB 1687 is both overly broad — in that it forces the site to remove age-related information of all Pro users, even though many of these people are in non-acting fields where age discrimination is not really a concern — and too narrow — in that the law only seems to apply to IMDb, and not any of the other myriad similar sources of crowdsourced age information for actors.
In addition to the free speech issues, IMDb argues that the law violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by attempting to regulate commerce outside of the state’s boundaries.
“It is technologically unfeasible for IMDb to prevent California residents from viewing age and birthdate information… while simultaneously allowing this information to be accessible outside of California,” explains the IMDb exec. “Consequently, for IMDb to comply with AB 1687 and avoid liability in California, IMDb would be forced to censor factual age and birthdate information from IMDb.com entirely.”
The site also claims that the law places too hefty a burden on its staff to vet all of the crowdsourced information it receives from users. According to the executive, third-party users submit an average of around 100,000 items each week to IMDb.
“It is highly burdensome for IMDb to police the accuracy and content of each and every one of these contributions,” writes the exec. “If the law is allowed to be enforced, IMDb will have to choose between facing substantial civil penalties and shuttering sources of third party participation.”
In a statement to the WSJ Law Blog, the SAG-AFTRA union says it remains “confident the law will survive IMDb’s legal challenge,” and maintains that “IMDb’s refusal to comply should be seen for what it is — a clear violation of the law.”