If someone were to ask you the age of actress Kate Beckinsale, you would likely pop over to the Internet Movie Database, better known as IMDb and read on her page that she was born on July 26, 1973.
Technically, the reason you would be able to do this is because IMDb is breaking a new California law that went into effect Jan. 1 and makes illegal the posting of an actor’s birth date to a “commercial online entertainment employment service provider.”
While most fans may not think of this repository of film information as an employment service provider, it sells directories to industry professionals, such as casting directors, and so it falls into this category.
According to the law’s text, its purpose is “to ensure that information obtained on an Internet Web site regarding an individual’s age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination.”
The law has caused controversy since it was signed into law in September, and on Thursday, the website filed a motion asking the court for a temporary injunction to prohibit enforcement of the new law, calling it “unconstitutional.”
“Without relief from this unconstitutional law, IMDb must choose between risking civil liability or engaging in self-censorship,” the motion stated.
In November, IMDb sued California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) in an attempt to overturn the new law, which had not yet gone into effect.
In the complaint, the company argued that being forced by law to delete birth dates “not only violates basic free speech principles, but undermines the accuracy and reliability of the IMDb.com database on which millions of users rely.”
The company also pointed out that users have “the power to remove their ages or birth dates from their paid profiles.”
Furthermore, the company argued that it is the only one affected by the new law.
“Prejudice and bias, not truthful information, are the root causes of discrimination,” the lawsuit stated. “This law unfairly targets IMDb.com (which appears to be the only public site impacted by the law) and forces IMDb to suppress factual information from public view. Moreover, the factual information being suppressed from IMDb is available from many other sources.”
When the bill first passed in the California State Assembly, Majority Leader Ian Calderon (D) defended it, claiming it would help fight age discrimination in Hollywood.
“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” Calderon said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it is common practice for casting directors and producers to use websites such as IMDb and IMDb Pro to access information about actors, which can contain age information that should not be part of the casting decision.”
Others, though, argued the law would be an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and freedom of the press.
“Creating liability for the truthful reporting of lawfully obtained information is deeply problematic under the First Amendment,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine School of Law and a constitutional scholar, told the Hollywood Reporter. “It is different to say ‘men only’ or ‘women only’ or ‘whites only’ in an ad. That is discrimination that is impermissible. A birthday or an age is a fact, and I don’t think there can be liability under the First Amendment for publishing true facts.”
Kelli Sager, a lawyer at the firm Davis Wright Tremaine, agreed, telling THR,“I think [the law] has serious constitutional problems. As a constitutional matter, the government could not forbid news organizations from publishing accurate information about the age of actors” or directors, or anyone else in the entertainment industry.
Others, while admitting the law’s problems, still supported it.
Calling the law a “victory” for the Screen Actors Guild, Ellen Killoran in Forbes, for example, wrote, the “law has been criticized as unconstitutional, but a more pressing question might be whether or not it can be effective in combating age bias in Hollywood.”
Gabrielle Carteris, an actress who portrayed a 16-year-old on “Beverly Hills, 90210″ when she was 29, wrote a column in the Hollywood Reporter supporting the law. In it, she wrote of her own experience:
My role . . . could not have happened for me today, plain and simple. I would never have been called to audition for the part of 16-year-old Andrea Zuckerman if they had known I was 29. Electronic casting sites did not exist in 1990; today, they are prevalent and influential. And they affect casting decisions even when casting personnel don’t recognize their unconscious bias.
As of early Friday, Harris’s office had not responded to the Hollywood Reporter’s request for comment.
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