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.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 23 Feb 2017 @ 12:32pm

    Of Course It's IMDB's Fault

    Everyone knows that this problem did not exist until IMDB was started in 1996. As reported by the LA Times in 1991, the world used to be a very different place: "Hollywood's obsession with youth has always been the bane of aging actors."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 23 Feb 2017 @ 1:49pm

      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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 24 Feb 2017 @ 6:20am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 24 Feb 2017 @ 8:12am

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

          And yet somehow RED got made and became a huge hit...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2017 @ 8:10pm

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

            But of course Bruce Willis' character's girlfriend is portrayed by Mary-Louise Parker, who is about 10 years younger than him.

            Of course, the cool thing is that Helen Mirren, ten years older than Willis, is the total sex-goddess in that movie.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          The Wanderer (profile), 24 Feb 2017 @ 8:48am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 23 Feb 2017 @ 1:31pm

    good job

    I am 100% onboard with this judge. Seems pretty open and shut.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 23 Feb 2017 @ 1:46pm

    I read somewhere that Peter Jackson faces the opposite problem with his planned Dam Busters remake. In real life the Guy commanding the attack - Guy Gibson - was 25. He was commanding 20 year old pilots, often with younger crew members.

    Use actors that age today, and no-one would believe it. Even the 1955 movie used actors a decade older.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2017 @ 3:40pm

    Meanwhile, IMDb removed their message boards because Hollywood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2017 @ 3:52pm

    The real reason.

    Movie producers can find out how old actors are without IMDb. The real reason is actors don't want the public to know their real age.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2017 @ 4:49pm

    An actor's/actress's age is a fact. How can you make a law that bans facts?

    Easily. You say the age is fake news or alternative facts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 23 Feb 2017 @ 6:07pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Feb 2017 @ 7:52pm

      Re:

      Exactly. This was never about solving the problem of age discrimination, as that would force them go go after the wealthy studios who are throwing lots of money at politicians, it was about going after an 'easy' target and pretending that doing so is solving the problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2017 @ 6:44pm

    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.

    https://www.fanniemae.com/content/guide_form/urla-demographic-addendum.pdf

    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...

    PROPERTY CASUALTY INSURERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA,
    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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2017 @ 7:33pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 24 Feb 2017 @ 1:54am

      Re: Should Have Done The Reverse

      Truth is an absolute defense against libel,

      Which in irrelevant in legal actions based on privacy law rather than libel. Those based on "public disclosure of private facts" for example.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 24 Feb 2017 @ 8:13am

    "Acting in a case brought by online movie information website IMDb..."

    Hah hah hah! I see what he did there!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2017 @ 9:57am

    The real problem

    Maybe they should stop putting dates on birth certificates!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 24 Feb 2017 @ 10:24am

    ..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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.