Screen Actors Guild Tells Court There's Nothing Unconstitutional About Curbing IMDB's Publication Of Facts

from the beneficiaries-of-free-speech-protections-ask-for-less-free-speech dept

Because ageism is allegedly rampant in Hollywood, California legislators have decided to address the problem head on not at all. Instead of enforcing on-the-books laws against employment discrimination, the legislature — backed by the Screen Actors Guild — has decided some of the First Amendment has to go. It has crafted a new law to fight ageism in Hollywood studios… by targeting a popular movie database. In California, A + B = WTF.

The law — currently blocked by an injunction — forbids third-party sites with paid subscribers from publishing certain facts about actors and actresses. The only fact at issue is their age. And, despite lawmakers pretending the stupid, unconstitutional law targets a variety of websites, it’s really only having an effect on one: IMDb.

This failure of a law stems from a failure of a lawsuit brought by actress Junie Hoang, who blamed her lack of starring roles on IMDb publishing her real age. She wanted $1 million in damages, apparently expecting IMDb to subsidize her next 500 years of denied acting opportunities. (Discovery during the suit revealed Hoang made less than $2000/year from acting.)

The Fail Train rolls on with the Screen Actors Guild offering its full-throated approval of First Amendment limitations, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown reports.

In its own motion, SAG-AFTRA complained that IMDB “contends it has an absolute First Amendment right to disseminate the ages of everyone in Hollywood, consequences be damned, and no matter how much or little value such expression has in the marketplace of ideas.” But “so long as the communication of the age of persons in the entertainment industry writ large facilitates illegal age discrimination, such expression may be regulated consistent with the First Amendment even though specific communications might not be discriminatory.”

Note that the Actors Guild doesn’t claim that IMDb publishes age information that’s false, nor that it publishes true information obtained in an illegal manner. Rather SAG-AFTRA asserts that IMDb somehow has a legal responsibility to help actors obtain work by concealing their ages; that the state has the ability to judge what kinds of content have “value” in the “marketplace of ideas”; and that information of “little value” can be banned.

The motion is filled with terrible arguments. But considering its conceit, where else could it go? When you start with the premise the best fix for ageism at movie studios is targeting a third-party website, there’s really no room for logic or coherent arguments. Add to that the fact that actors are actively calling for free speech restrictions, and you’ve got an elliptical mess on your hands — one that makes the argument the state can be trusted to determine what speech has “value.”

SAG’s opening salvo names and shames the real parties responsible for ageism…

Plaintiff’s website publishes everyone’s age regardless of whether it is relevant to any public issue at all, and does so without any comment or context. This is not an invitation to public debate. Rather, it is an open invitation for casting directors to engage in illegally discriminatory conduct

…before moving on to spend the rest of the brief arguing that its IMDb’s fault casting directors engage in illegal discriminatory conduct.

As set forth in the Declaration of Marilyn Szatmary filed concurrently herewith, there is massive age discrimination in the entertainment industry and IMDb.com facilitates that discrimination as the go-to website for casting decisions.

Publishing ages doesn’t “facilitate discrimination.” Nothing forces studios to participate in discriminatory hiring practices… at least nothing outside the studios themselves. Other sites without paid subscribers are still free to publish actors’ ages. At least with IMDb, paid subscribers can ask to have this information removed. Other sites not targeted by this legislation (which, in reality, is every other site but IMDb) have no obligation to remove factual information from their sites.

The brief does nothing to convince anyone the law is Constitutional. All it does is make it clear SAG would rather bite the hand that feeds info to studios than the hand that feeds its members acting jobs. It’s bad legislation lawmakers allowed themselves to be talked into and it should be struck down permanently by the time this is all said and done. SAG’s support for the blocked bill is intellectually dishonest. The problem lies in the studios, not outside websites, no matter how much studios may rely on IMDb to do its hiring homework for them.

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Comments on “Screen Actors Guild Tells Court There's Nothing Unconstitutional About Curbing IMDB's Publication Of Facts”

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65 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

AAC, when the latest Spider Man was cast, they said they wanted a 16 year old. They cast someone who was much older.

That being said, what would you think if on a job application, it asked your race (outside of EEOE) or your age? How about your religion?

Would you be OK with Monster, LinkedIn or any other job board listing your age?

That being said, Hollywood per se doesn’t have a problem with older women, at least any more than any other guy out there. The age doesn’t matter, the hotness does. If a woman is 60 but still looks hot, she gets work. If she doesn’t, well then not so much.

Kind of like a bar, the older women who are not hot end up buying their own drinks.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What other job requires the image to be portrayed to be at least somewhat accurate. None of the jobs I have had, or looked at had a legitimate ‘image’ requirement. It may have been part of the decision making process, and I have been placed in ‘public’ positions often, even though I don’t consider myself to be any better looking than others. Maybe it was my demeanor, I don’t know and am past the point where it matters to me anymore. Though, one boss asked me to shave off my beard once, I did, but it is back now.

I don’t disagree with your hotness point, but there are parts for older people, that may or may not require hotness. Another problem comes up in a casting directors perception of a particular actors acting ability and that actors perception of their own acting ability, and this is wholly subjective. The actor thinks “I’m a great actor” and the casting director thinks “You suck as an actor”. What is provable?

When ones self image differs from others perception of that image, they cast about for other reasons for non-selection, in this case, actual age vs perceived age vs the proposed age the part is supposed to portray.

I haven’t seen the latest Spider Man, so I cannot comment on whether the choice of actor made any difference to the story line.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Acting is not like most other jobs where age is almost if not completely irrelevant to performance of job duties. In acting, many/most roles dictate the appearance of the person filling that role. If a role requires someone who could pass as a high school student then a 60 year old actor sure as hell won’t be well suited to the role. Of course the entertainment industry is ageist. It goes with the territory.

Acting and ageism are as inseparable as California and retarded government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem of banning ageism on grounds as thin as SAG-AFTRAs is the related issues: What about sex? Historically men had the role of women in theaters. What would cause laws on typecasting against that? What about race? Will it be illegal to typecast against specific skincolour? What about sexuality, looks, speach-impairment, other handicaps?

As soon as a non-issue like biological age gets to be an issue, the much more important characteristics mentioned above, would be even more relevant to legislate against, to the detriment of the admittedly ingrown industry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Driving miss Daisy remake.

In which the part of Miss Daisy (originally played by Jessica Tandy) now goes to a 12yr old mexican boy.

The driver is now a sassy african-american woman called Latoya-Latysha. Oh no they din’t!!!!!……

also to be fair, in the remake of Schindlers list, the jewish prisoners will be played by rhinestone-covered jumpsuited chinese elvis impersonators, the german guards will be played by semi-naked austrialian surfer dudes and Oskar Schindler himself will be player by Dwayne Johnson in a skirt.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

AAC, when the latest Spider Man was cast, they said they wanted a 16 year old. They cast someone who was much older.

Which isn’t surprising at all. Hollywood wouldn’t know a 16 year-old if they punched them in the face. The Dawson Effect is alive and well in Hollywood (and TV). That’s made it where the general public also has trouble telling the age of kids.

While Hollywood has a problem with ageism, it really only kicks in when they get REALLY old. It’s worse for women in general, but not nearly as bad as some actors would like you to think.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The point of anti-discrimination employment laws is to keep non-relevant factors out of hiring, promotion, and retention policies. If a factor, such as race or age, is applicable then it is not discrimination to exclude based on that factor. However, the only industry where this is often true is the movie industry where characters have defined age, race, etc. In other industries, race, age, etc. almost never are valid reasons to eliminate someone.

firebird2110 (profile) says:

Re: Teenagers

The problem with a 16 year old actor is they’re 16, with the incomplete brain development, hormonal upheaval, insecurity and general teenagerness that goes with it. Finding an actual 16 year old with the acting chops and mental stability required to carry a multi-million $ movie isn’t going to be easy. There might be a few around, child actors who have managed not to have a meltdown at puberty, but not that many. The are a lot more early 20s just out of college who can, at a push, pass for 16.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: FALSE

Yeah, and next you’re gonna tell me that there was more than one Highlander film; more than two Halloween films; more than two Terminator films; at least one sequel to Aliens and at least one prequel to Alien; at least one sequel to The Matrix; and an entire prequel trilogy to Star Wars: Episode IV.

What do I look like, a fool?

David says:

500 years of denied acting opportunities

Well, she might have the perfect skeleton underneath her $2000/year meat hull. And since we all know that according to the people rewriting copyright laws artists mainly do their work for the sake of their unfit-for-work offspring 20 generations down, it’s only natural that she is worrying.

And if movie makers find out, once she is outwardly eligible, that her remains are less than 2000 years old, she might be discounted from starring in "Mummy’s Curse XLVIII — The Boning".

Or maybe she was counting on getting bitten by Robert Pattinson and was planning on acting in Twilight sequels for a few centuries to come.

Or she was just hoping for a windfall by the U.S. legal lottery that makes and breaks livelihoods without a reason accessible to common sense.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Its IMDB who is the bad guy!!!!!!!!!
All the big studios rely only on the information on IMDB!!!!

If you want to fight agesism why attack a website & not the actual studios who get to make the decisions with or without the input of IMDB?

Oh because then it would be an attack on artist expression?

This is bullshit feel good crap wasting public time & money to make actors feel special. If your industry is rife with ageism, sexism, etcism, blame a website… do not look at the industry. Demand a 3rd unrelated party fix it.

SAG – attacking a website because they fear being blacklisted by the studios who are actually responsible.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

Russle Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Mark Wahlburg, Jason Stratham, George Clooney. Robert Downey Jr, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Jackie Chan

Helen Mirren, Camaron Diaz, Cat Blancett, Cathrine Zeta Jones, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Marisa Tomei, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Tina Fey, Ulma Thurman

I don’t see what the problem really is, there are a LOT of talented (defined by taste), actors and actresses over the age of 40.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Really it's only a matter of time

…before Humphrey Bogart, perfectly rendered via off-the-shelf CGI packages in perfectly rendered fictitious locations, and all the screen actors are out of work, replaced by digital puppets who are cheaper, and can be aged or regressed at will.

Then the ageist casting staff won’t have to be ageist at all.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"It's not my fault for treating them bad for being X, it's their fault for telling me!"

Other sites without paid subscribers are still free to publish actors’ ages.

Other sites not targeted by this legislation (which, in reality, is every other site but IMDb) have no obligation to remove factual information from their sites.

Currently this is true, but if they can force IMDb to remove factual, true information, then I have no doubt at all that they’ll use that to pressure/force those other sites to do the same, to better bury the problem of age discrimination.

That they are going after the site that they claim ‘enables’ the problem rather than the source of the problem indicates that they have no interest in addressing the problem, they’re only interested in hiding it, brushing it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. Can’t upset the bosses after all by trying to punish them for their actions.

ConstitutionDoesntApplyHere says:

It's Free Market at Work

IMDB is run by a company, that company isn’t the government or the library of congress, it’s not the public square.

The lawsuit is just free market doing it’s thing.

It’s not about the constitution, it’s not about free speech.

It’s liability on the part of the company putting up information about people whom cannot edit their own information and don’t want that information out there in detail they feel harms them.

Good luck to lady going up against a huge corporation that owns IMDB.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: It's Free Market at Work

By involving the judiciary, a civil lawsuit involves the government by default; a plaintiff trying to silence the protected right of publishing truthful information must first prove why the law should prevent someone from publishing it. In this case, they have not convinced the courts why governmental authority should prevent any website—and IMDB in particular—from publishing that actor’s age.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's Free Market at Work

That logic sounds suspiciously similar to an argument used by corrupt authoritarians in countries with overly permissive libel laws to silence criticism. They aren’t silencing free speech, they are holding journalists accountable in the free market.

Of course the logic in both cases is wrong both factually and morally.

Stephen says:

Pointless Lawsuit

Most people put their date of birth on their resumé/CV; and even when they don’t, it can generally be estimated from such information as school and other details.

Leaving those off would be rather a give-away that the CV was not kosher.

Unless, of course, the CV owner supplied FALSE information.

In that context, I note that in other professions applying for a job generally means supplying a certified copy of birth certificate to your employer. Does this not apply in Hollywood? Or do actors get to supply fake birth certificates?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Pointless Lawsuit

My experience of show biz, even off Broadway or Hollywood is that actors created a character square one: everything, from the resume to the gait used when dropping it off was a performance, a character that might hopefully be relatable to whoever did casting.

So everything on your resume could be bullshit, and it’s expected. They’re not hiring an actor, they’re hiring a character, and everyone presumes this is the case.

I’ve heard that the casting couches are used less since the nineties, though I suspect they’ve just been moved to later rooms and interviews. Actors these days want to make sure they’re fucking the money before they unhook their bras.

Chuck says:

Ask Abby

Character in a TV show who’s supposed to be in her late 20’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abby_Sciuto

Actual actress in her late 40’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauley_Perrette

I recognize that exceptions are just that, but given the median age of the 9th graders from the latest Power Rangers reboot is around 26, I’d dare to say that Ms. Perrette is no exception. Hollywood CONSTANTLY casts older people in younger roles.

Ageism in Hollywood, unlike everywhere else on earth, is a myth. It’s literally the one place where this is NOT a problem. That we could sacrifice even a single ounce of free speech to solve this non-problem is insanity.

Cowardly Lion says:

Something doesn't seem right...

"Discovery during the suit revealed Hoang made less than $2000/year from acting"

And yet on her IMDB page… http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0387470/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 …she’s doing a ton of work. Although she had a break in 2000, she has nearly 140 credits to her name. If the above statement is correct, then damn; she’s getting paid less than an extra.

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