Federal Judge Strikes Down California Law That Let Actors Censor Their Age on IMDb

On Tuesday, a federal judge struck down a California law that let actors censor their age on the popular Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website, saying that the law was unconstitutional.

Vince Chhabria, who is a U.S. district court judge, said that Assembly Bill 1687 — which came into effect last year after Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law — directly restricted free speech and hence violated the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In his decision, the judge wrote that the government was trying to restrict free speech, in an attempt to prevent illegal age discrimination. But he said that the problem was more of a gender issue than an age one. He also said that the law was both over-inclusive and under-inclusive. It was over-inclusive in the sense that it protects actors under the age of 40 who have not previously had such protection under the law, without providing sufficient reason as to why they need protection. At the same time, the judge noted that the law was also under-inclusive, in that it does not protect those who do not have a paid IMDb Pro account and those who have not specifically requested that IMDb conceal their ages.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) expressed disappointment at the decision and indicated that they will appeal it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who is the general counsel for the guild and its chief operating officer, said that the judge did not recognize or understand the impact age and gender discrimination has on actors. He further said that the discrimination was directly tied to IMDb insisting that actors list their ages on the site against their will.

In 2011, an actor sued IMDb, stating that she was not able to get work because the site listed her age. While the suit was ultimately unsuccessful, it led to the passing of last year’s law. In response to the law, IMDb — which is owned by Amazon — sued both the state of California and SAG.