California Age-Censorship Law Violates First Amendment, Reporters Committee Says

A California law requiring entertainment industry site to hide actors' ages could pave the way for a wide range of other measures that censor truthful information, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press warns in a new court filing.

“If it is constitutional for the government to suppress IMDb’s public site from reporting age information, there will be virtually no limit to the government’s ability to suppress the reporting of many other truthful facts by many other sources -- from websites to magazines to newspapers to individual bloggers,” the group argues in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The California law (AB 1687) requires providers of “commercial online entertainment employment" services -- a description that appears to apply only to Amazon's -- to remove information about paying subscribers' ages upon their request.

Supporters -- including the union Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- say the measure helps combat illegal age discrimination in Hollywood., which sued to invalidate the law, argues that it violates the First Amendment by requiring the removal of information.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California sided with IMDb and blocked the state from enforcing the measure, ruling that it violates the First Amendment by restricting truthful speech.

The California Attorney General and actors union SAG-AFTRA recently asked the 9th Circuit to reverse Chhabria's ruling and reinstate the law, while IMDb opposed that request.

Siding with IMDb, the Reporters Committee, along with a group of law professors, say the law is unconstitutional.

“Media reports of truthful information should be encouraged, not suppressed,” the Reporters Committee and law professors write. “Unless AB 1687 is struck down, there will be virtually no limit to the government’s ability to suppress the reporting of truthful facts by other sources, including the print media.”

They argue it's unconstitutional to censor truthful speech, even if the goal of the censorship is to prevent illegal age discrimination.

“IMDb’s public site should not be prohibited from providing facially innocuous and valuable information from the world, just because the information has the potential to be used wrongly by a few casting directors,” they write. “Truthful facts, like many things, may be wrongly used by some. This does not mean the truth should be withheld from all.”

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