Actors Union Struggles in Fight for Age-Secrecy Law

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Age isn’t just a number, a Screen Actors Guild attorney told a federal judge Thursday in a last-ditch effort to save an enjoined state law that would make Hollywood informational website IMDb take down actors’ ages upon request.

“It’s well established that private information such as that are restrictable, the same as bank accounts and internet passwords,” attorney Douglas Mirell of Harder Mirell & Abrams in Beverly Hills said during a summary judgment hearing. “The government has a legitimate interest to restrict those”

Mirell pulled out all the stops to get U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to rethink his previous finding that California’s law, intended to curb age discrimination in Hollywood, unconstitutionally restricts the publication of facts.

“Social security numbers are facts the government has prohibited from publication,” Mirell argued.

Chhabria issued a preliminary injunction to block the state law, AB 1678, in February, and he denied the state and Screen Actors Guild’s request for discovery in June.

Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2016, AB 1678 requires “commercial online entertainment employment service providers,” of which IMDb is the only known such entity, to take down actors’ ages and birth dates upon request. IMDb, which hosts a popular online database of films, TV shows and cast and crew members, sued the state in November 2016.

Defending the law, the state and Screen Actors Guild say the statute shouldn’t be subject to strict First Amendment scrutiny because it only regulates economic relationships between IMDb and its IMDbPro subscribers.

Some actors pay for IMDbPro subscriptions, allowing them to upload resumes, photos and demo reels and gain access to nonpublic information, such as contact information for agents and employers. Those are the contractual relationships the state says are subject to regulation.

The law “only applies if IMDb voluntarily contracts with a paying subscriber for employment services and that subscriber requests that the relevant information not be published,” the state argued in its brief.

But IMDB says the state is using the “mere existence of a subscriber agreement” to circumvent First Amendment protections and ban it from posting factual age information, regardless of whether that information came from the subscriber or another source.

Chhabria appeared unmoved by the state and Screen Actors Guild’s arguments in favor of upholding the law.

The judge suggested health privacy laws would undoubtedly survive strict First Amendment scrutiny because the government has a compelling interest to protect such information from disclosure.

But when it comes to the ages and birth dates of public figures, Chhabria previously found that barring one website from publishing that information would do little to combat age discrimination in Hollywood. The judge gave no signal on Thursday that he changed his mind.

A ruling in favor of IMDb would likely result in a permanent injunction of the state law.

IMDb was created in 1990 by the company’s CEO Collin Needham, and its website was launched in 1996. The online database of on-screen entertainment has grown to feature 3 million movies and TV programs along with 6 million cast and crew members. It boasts 250 million unique visitors each month, according to IMDb’s lawsuit.

Chhabria took the arguments under submission and said he would issue a ruling soon.

 

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