Judge Blocks California's IMDb-Targeting 'Ageism'' Law, Citing Free Speech Concerns

from the bill-may-be-cited-as-'Act-Most-Likely-To-Receive-A-Federal-Injunction' dept

California’s IMDb-targeting “ageism” law looks as though it won’t be able to survive the website’s Constitutional challenge — an outcome that should have been foreseen while the bill was still in its crafting phase. The law was passed to address apparent age discrimination by movie studios. For whatever reason, the California legislature decided the best way to handle this was to force a web site to stop publishing actors’ ages, rather than just, you know, enforcing the state’s existing anti-discrimination laws. Sure, other similar sites would also (theoretically) be affected, but IMDb is the only one that’s actually been sued by an aggrieved actress over its publication of facts.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports the presiding federal judge doesn’t see much to like in the new law and has granted a temporary restraining order to IMDb while everything gets sorted out it rolls to its inevitable victory.

A federal judge has barred the State of California from enforcing a new law limiting online publication of actors’ ages.

Acting in a case brought by online movie information website IMDb, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Wednesday that the California law likely violates the First Amendment and appears poorly tailored to proponents’ stated goal of preventing age discrimination in Hollywood.

The order [PDF] is only three pages long, but it’s more than enough space to detail the serious problems with California’s law.

With respect to the first part of the preliminary injunction test, it’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment. The statute prevents IMDb from publishing factual information (information about the ages of people in the entertainment industry) on its website for public consumption. This is a restriction of non-commercial speech on the basis of content.

Going beyond the First Amendment issue, Judge Chhabria goes on to attack the premise underlying the ridiculous legislation.

To be sure, the government has identified a compelling goal – preventing age discrimination in Hollywood. But the government has not shown how AB 1687 is “necessary” to advance that goal. In fact, it’s not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal antidiscrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end. For example, although the government asserts generically that age discrimination continues in Hollywood despite the long-time presence of anti-discrimination laws, the government fails to explain why more vigorous enforcement of those laws would not be at least as effective at combatting age discrimination as removing birthdates from a single website. Because the government has presented nothing to suggest that AB 1687 would actually combat age discrimination (much less that it’s necessary to combat age discrimination), there is an exceedingly strong likelihood that IMDb will prevail in this lawsuit.

The Screen Actors Guild, which supports the new law, expressed its disappointment in the judge’s ruling and stated it was “looking forward” to presenting evidence that targeting IMDb for publishing actors’ ages will somehow reduce discriminatory practices by movie and TV studios. I’m looking forward to that as well, although for very different reasons than SAG is. Defending indefensible laws isn’t much fun for those doing the defending, but it’s an incredibly entertaining spectator sport.

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Companies: amazon, imdb

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Comments on “Judge Blocks California's IMDb-Targeting 'Ageism'' Law, Citing Free Speech Concerns”

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DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Of Course It's IMDB's Fault

Hollywood’s obsession with youth is because:
1. Hollywood will do anything that makes money
2. Society has an obsession with youth

Now that sounds like a defense of hollywood, but consider item 1 on its own.

Prior to IMDB it may have been more difficult to discover an actor’s age. But that is the same complaint that is heard when anyone complains about the internet. The internet makes information available quickly and easily. All of the complainers like the way things were when information was not so easily available — except when they need information themselves. Then the internet is great.

The complainers:
* actors who want to hide their age
* people who want to hide stupid things they did in their youth
* people who want to hide past criminal convictions
* businesses who hate that customers can give bad reviews
* business models that rely on information scarcity.
* people who want you to believe they invented a particular thing

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Of Course It's IMDB's Fault

It’s a self-sustaining feedback loop, DannyB. People believe Hollywood = glamour. Hollywood believes people crave glamour, therefore Hollywood provides glamour.

As the years go by and the loop begins to tighten, the fashion and related industries (including cosmetic surgery) colludes with Hollywood to create a fantasy of bodily perfection that appeals to people’s insecurities and desires. Result: people want to be just like X.

When Hollywood starts to fetishise normal people, this will change but we’re a long way from that now. There’s also the fact that people fantasise about perfection. If Hollywood and the fashion (and related) industries stop pushing false ideas of perfection, you can be sure that someone else will. Whether or not they’ll have the same impact remains to be seen.

This is why ageism is a problem: old people are presented, and therefore perceived, to be ugly and stupid. Heroics, and indeed a love life, are for the beautiful people. When being old is cool, ageism will stop being a problem.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Of Course It's IMDB's Fault

Bring back “Murder: She Wrote”!

I don’t know if she’d still be physically up for it, but I read a few years back that Angela Lansbury would love to return to the role of Jessica Fletcher, despite being in her late 80s (she’d be 91 now, per Wikipedia). If anything can show old-person as outstanding-protagonist, that would do it.

Eldakka (profile) says:

government fails to explain why more vigorous enforcement of those laws would not be at least as effective at combatting age discrimination as removing birthdates from a single website

Because the former would require significantly more resources – manpower, money – and harm the political donations and kickbacks from a major industry – Hollywood – and embarrass more wealthy and powerful people – again Hollywood – than the latter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Measuring Attribute of Age

You can’t prevent discrimination, or monitor compliance with age discrimination regulations unless you collect and measure information on people’s ages in the first place. The same is true with any other personal Attribute that is being measured. You can’t monitor compliance regarding Attributes unless you:

collect data on those Attributes,
have a unit of measure for those Attributes,
develop a formula regarding those Attributes,
make calculations regarding those Attributes,
compare the measurements to the calculations relating to those Attributes,
and evaluate the results,
in order to determine compliance with regulations regarding those Attributes.
Consider the following:

Article: “Women denied credit, sues Fannie Mae for discrimination” Sept. 27, 2002
A Fannie Mae spokeswoman said the company was confident its automated underwriting system complies with fair lending laws. “It does not consider factors such as race or gender. It accurately predicts default risk for all borrowers.


Fannie Mae Demographic Information Addendum
The Purpose of collecting this information is to help insure that all applicants are treated fairly…
Federal law requires that we ask applicants for their demographic information (ethnicity, sex and race) in order to monitor our compliance…
If you choose not to provide the information… federal regulations require us to note your ethnicity, sex and race on the basis of visual observation or surname…

v. SHAUN DONOVAN, in his official capacity as ) Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

“One commenter also noted the difficulties that shifting the burden of proof to insurers would impose because insurers do not collect data on the race and ethnicity of insureds and, thus, could not assess whether facially neutral underwriting and rating factors would have a
disparate impact on protected classes.”

“several of PCI’s member companies submitted declarations
averring that, as a practical matter, the Disparate Impact Rule will require the company to begin collecting and reviewing information regarding applicants’ race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and disability status to monitor their compliance with the Rule. The declarants
represented that doing so will cause their companies to incur costs related to determining what additional data they need and how to obtain it, collecting the data in accord with federal and state laws, and monitoring the data to ensure compliance with the Rule.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Should Have Done The Reverse

Truth is an absolute defense against libel, so this was always doomed.

But the people behind the law could have achieved the results they wanted if they had come at it from a different angle. All they had to do was set mandatory minimum damages for getting someone’s age wrong. IMDB’s data sources are notoriously unreliable. So a minimum penalty of, say, $10K for publishing an incorrect age would have made it too risky to publish any ages at all. The actors would have got what they wanted without having to deal with the argument that truth was being restricted.

Mononymous Tim (profile) says:

..but it’s an incredibly entertaining spectator sport.

No matter what Hollywood does, it’s entertaining, even when they’re pissing everyone off.

They have no clue of the irony involved in all their whining and foot shooting all while bragging about how much money they made on the most recent release. Well, put that money to better use and stop wasting all of it on such stupid stuff, you ignorant morons.

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