By Nicholas Iovino
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Movie industry website IMDb sued California on Thursday, claiming state lawmakers bowed to special interests to pass an unconstitutional law requiring it to remove the ages and birthdates of actors from its website.
AB 1687, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 24, is meant to deter age discrimination in the entertainment industry, but IMDb says it restricts free speech and fails to address the true causes of discrimination.
“Rather than passing laws designed to address the root problem of age discrimination, the state of California has chosen to chill free speech and undermine public access to factual information,” IMDb says in the federal lawsuit.
It claims state legislators passed the law in response to “aggressive lobbying” by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the nation’s largest entertainment union.
IMDb, a popular online database of films, TV shows and cast and crew members, was created in 1990 by then-23-year-old engineer Colin Needham, who remains the company’s CEO. After launching its website at IMDb.com in 1996, the database has grown to feature 3 million movies and TV programs along with 6 million cast and crew members.
It boasts 250 million unique monthly visitors, according to the complaint.
In 2002, the company launched a separate subscription service called IMDbPro that gives film and TV professionals access to nonpublic information, such as contact information for agents and employers, and the ability to upload resumes, photos, demo reels and other information.
In 2010, IMDb created a new feature allowing its IMDbPro subscribers to control certain information displayed on their profiles, including the ability to hide their age and birthdate.
Although AB 1687 requires any “commercial online entertainment employment service provider” to remove a cast or crew member’s age or birthdate upon request, IMDb says it appears to be the only public site affected by the new regulation.
IMDb says its paying customers already have the ability to remove their ages and birthdates from the site, and that the new law fails to address the root causes of age discrimination in any substantive way.
“The law fictionally presumes that a casting director who hypothetically plans to discriminate on the basis of age will no longer do so if IMDb.com does not post birthdates, despite the fact that this information is readily available through many other sources (including Wikipedia, Google, Bing, and Siri),” the complaint states.
The law also violates the Communications Decency Act because it holds IMDb liable for information that can be posted on its website by individual users, the company says.
“It purports to impose financial penalties on IMDb, a Delaware corporation with its offices in Seattle, if it refuses to censor itself when, for example, a California actor requests the removal of his age from IMDb.com after it is added by an IMDb.com user in Germany,” the complaint states.
IMDb also claims the law unfairly offers special protection to members of the Screen Actors Guild, while denying those protections to others.
“IMDb shares the worthy goal of preventing age discrimination,” the company says. “But AB 1687 is an unconstitutional law that does not advance, much less achieve that goal.”
It seeks declaratory judgment that the law violates the First Amendment, the Commerce Clause and Communications Decency Act, an injunction against its enforcement, and costs of litigation.
IMDb is represented by John Hueston with Hueston Hennigan in Los Angeles.
A spokeswoman for nominal defendant Attorney General Kamala Harris said her office was “reviewing the complaint” but declined further comment.