SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a California law that restricts the publication of actors’ ages on the movie industry website IMDb.com, finding it violates the First Amendment.
“Regulation of speech must be a last resort,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria wrote in a 6-page order permanently enjoining the state law.
IMDb sued the state in November 2016, claiming lawmakers bowed to Hollywood special interests when they passed Assembly Bill 1687. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists backed the bill, which was signed into law on Sept. 24, 2016.
Chhabria temporarily blocked the law from being enforced in February 2017. He subsequently denied the state and Screen Actors’ Guild’s requests for discovery, calling their demands to “go fishing for a justification” of the law “disturbing.”
The state and actors’ union argued the law was enacted to serve a compelling government interest: curbing age discrimination in Hollywood.
But Chhabria found the state cannot restrict the publication of factual information about public figures simply because that information could be used by casting directors to discriminate against older actors.
“That a third party could misuse truthful information is almost never sufficient to justify suppression of that information,” Chhabria wrote.
The state and actors’ union also argued the law only regulates contractual relationships between IMDb and its IMDbPro subscribers, requiring that IMDb take down the ages and birthdates of IMDbPro subscribers upon request. Film and TV professionals who subscribe to IMDbPro can upload resumes, photos, demo reels and other data, and gain access to nonpublic information, like employer and agent contact information.
Chhabria rejected arguments that the law regulates contractual relationships, rather than speech.
“The law expressly contemplates that it will impact not just information obtained pursuant to a contractual relationship, but also information provided by members of the public,” Chhabria wrote.
He concluded his ruling with a few scathing words for state lawmakers, criticizing them for failing to understand the problem they sought to address when they passed AB 1687.
Chhabria said the real problem in Hollywood is not merely age discrimination, but gender discrimination, because female actresses and TV personalities are the ones who get passed over for younger women.
“The defendants barely acknowledge this, much less explain how a law preventing one company from posting age-related information on one website could discourage the entertainment industry from continuing to objectify and devalue women,” Chhabria wrote. “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.”
In a statement, SAG-AFTRA’s chief operating officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the union is “extremely disappointed” with Chhabria’s ruling and vowed to appeal.
“The court unfortunately fails to understand or recognize the massive impact gender and age discrimination has on all working performers. That discrimination is facilitated by IMDb’s insistence on publishing performers’ age information without their consent. The ruling also refuses to recognize the reality of the commercial nature of IMDb’s database publishing operation,” Crabtree-Ireland said.
“Despite sworn testimony submitted by SAG-AFTRA, the court incorrectly concluded there were no material disputed factual issues, while precluding the parties from acquiring additional evidence or permitting the case to go to trial. SAG-AFTRA will continue to defend this much-needed law by appealing this ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The California Attorney General’s Office and IMDb did not immediately return emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday morning.