The Screen Actors Guild is urging a federal judge to reject Amazon's challenge to a California law that requires IMDb.com to delete the ages of actors and other paid subscribers at their request.
IMDb.com argues that the law unconstitutionally infringes the company's free speech right to publish truthful information. But the actors' group counters that the measure is necessary to fight age discrimination in Hollywood.
"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 FirstAmendment even though specific communications might not be discriminatory," the Screen Actors Guild says in court papers filed late last week with U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco.
AB 1687, enacted last year, requires providers of “commercial online entertainment employment" services -- a description that appears to apply only to IMDb.com -- to remove information about paying subscribers' ages at their request.
Earlier this year, Chhabria granted IMDb.com's request to block the law while the case is pending. "It's difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment," he wrote in a three-page order issued in February. "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."
While that ruling stayed enforcement of the law, it didn't end the case. Earlier this month, IMDb.com submitted papers asking Chhabria to permanently strike down the measure as unconstitutional. The company argues that the law censors speech, and isn't needed to prevent age discrimination.
"California could achieve its goal of combatting age discrimination by, for example, enforcing existing anti-discrimination laws, or by imposing more significant penalties on those who discriminate," the company said.
IMDb.com adds that the measure is both too broad and too narrow to acheive its goal. It's too broad because it applies to a host of entertainment professionals, including casting agents and directors, who "face no realistic risk of age discrimination beyond that of the general public," according to IMDb.com. The measure is also too narrow, according to the website, because "it does nothing to restrict the ready availability of the same factual age information from other public sources."
But the actors' group says that IMDb.com's publication of ages "is an open invitation for casting directors to engage in illegally discriminatory conduct."
The SAG argues that some types of speech -- such as housing ads -- can be regulated when they facilitate illegal discrimination, and suggests that the same principle should also apply to IMDb.com's content.
"AB 1687 does nothing more than what numerous other statutes have done in the past -- i.e., restrict communication that facilitates discrimination," the SAG says. "Moreover, it does so in the context of an industry that has engaged in extensive age discrimination which has persisted despite enforcement efforts."
California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra also urged Chhabria to reject IMDb.com's arguments. "If the law regulates speech, at most it comes into play in the context where the remedy is needed, paid employment services specific to the entertainment industry," Becerra writes. Chhabria is expected to hold a hearing in the matter on October 26.