Commentary

California Bill Would Let Actors Censor Amazon-Owned Site

In 2011, actress Junie Hoang sued Amazon for revealing her true age on the Internet Movie Database, its entertainment site.

Hoang, who had a professional profile on IMDb, alleged that Amazon violated her privacy by accessing credit card data to discover that she was 40 years old, and appended that information to her profile.

The actress said in her original complaint that she looked younger than 40, but could no longer get as much work as she used to because casting agents and producers -- who want to hire younger people -- now know her true age.

Hoang only sued after she unsuccessfully tried to convince IMDb to take down all information about her age. A jury ruled against Hoang, and last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate her lawsuit.

But Amazon's IMDb may no longer have a choice about whether to comply with actors' requests to take down their ages, if a proposed bill in California is enacted.

The measure, AB 1687, would require any "commercial online entertainment employment service provider" to take down information about paying subscribers' ages within 5 days of their requests to do so. The only site that readily appears to fit that description is IMDbPro.com, which lets actors upload profiles, view casting notices and auditions, and apply for roles.

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Lawmakers in the California Senate approved the bill this week. It will now go back to the Assembly. If the measure passes there by the end of the month, it will go to the governor for possible signature into law.

The Screen Actors Guild -- which sided with Hoang in her appeal against Amazon -- is backing the measure.

But tech companies, along with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, oppose the bill. The opponents raise numerous arguments why the measure is misguided, including that it requires one particular Web site -- IMDBPro -- to remove truthful information about people's ages, even though the information is available elsewhere.

"Age is a matter of public record, starting with public announcement and registration of births," the Internet Association, EFF and other groups write. "Limits on such public information are not consistent with principles of fair and open discourse at the root of freedom of speech."

What's more, the groups say, the bill will be "completely ineffective" at preventing discrimination, given that information about people's ages is available from other sources.

"It doesn't pass muster for freedom of speech online," Robert Callahan, the Internet Association's California Executive Director, tells MediaPost.

"There's a real slippery slope concern," he adds. "While it's age information today, it could be other types of information tomorrow."

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