A California law requiring entertainment site IMDb.com to hide actors' ages at their request violates free speech principles, a federal appellate court ruled Friday.
The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a 2018 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.
“Unlawful age discrimination has no place in the entertainment industry, or any other industry,” Judge Bridget Shelton Bade wrote for the panel. “But not all statutory means of ending such discrimination are constitutional.”
The law (AB 1687) requires providers of “commercial online entertainment employment" services -- a description that appears to apply only to Amazon's IMDb.com -- to remove information about paying subscribers' ages upon their request. Supporters of the law -- including the union Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- say the measure helps combat illegal age discrimination in Hollywood.
IMDb.com, which sued to invalidate the law, said it infringed free speech by requiring the removal of information.
Chhabria sided with IMDb.com and blocked the state from enforcing the measure.
The California Attorney General and SAG-AFTRA then asked the 9th Circuit to reinstate the law, arguing it was “narrowly tailored” to fight age discrimination.
IMDb.com urged the court to reject that argument for several reasons, including that information about actors' ages remains available on other websites and databases.
The federal appellate judges agreed with IMDb.com on that point.
“AB 1687 is underinclusive because it fails to reach several potential sources of age information and protects only industry professionals who both subscribe to such service and who opt-in,” Justice Bridget Shelton Bade wrote for the panel. “This malady means that the statute is not narrowly tailored, and thus, is unconstitutional.”
Bade also wrote that California hadn't shown why the restriction on speech was necessary to fight age discrimination.
“The state cannot meet its burden because it fails to point to any evidence demonstrating that less restrictive measures would not be effective,” she wrote.