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Appeals court rejects California law that prevented IMDB listing actors’ ages, cites free speech

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A California state law requiring and other entertainment sites to remove the age of actors has been deemed unlawful by a federal appeals court. The purpose of the law was supposedly to fight age discrimination in Hollywood.

We’ve been following this free speech case for some time and have a copy of the decision for you here.

The legislation was passed in 2017 and lobbied for by the Screen Actors Guild. During the passing of the law, the legislature referenced a case of alleged age discrimination affecting actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. In an interview, Gyllenhaal explained how she was rejected for a role because a producer thought, at 37, she was too old to play a part of a romantic-interest to a 55-year old male character.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) challenged the law. IMDB is an entertainment site that provides information about TV shows and films, and also contains biographies of actors. The site also has a subscription service called IMDB Pro, which is more like Hollywood’s version of LinkedIn. Acting professionals, including actors, make-up artists, writers, and set designers upload their work history and biographies. Producers and casting directors can use the information on IMDB Pro when hiring.

The law, therefore, would require the removal of age information at the request of a subscriber of the premium service, and the unavailability of such information from the free site. IMDB first challenged the law in the US District Court in California’s Northern District, claiming it was a violation of free speech.

The Attorney General of California appealed the decision by the US District Court at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which today upheld the prior ruling that the law was unconstitutional. According to the three-panel judge at the appeals court, the law was not narrowly tailored; neither was it the least restrictive measure.

“We agree with the district court that reducing incidents of age discrimination is a compelling government interest,” the panel wrote in their ruling. “An unconstitutional statute that could achieve positive societal results is nonetheless unconstitutional.”

The court also agreed with IMDB’s argument that the information they were being asked to remove was still publicly available on other websites.
“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.”

IMDB’s lawyer, John Hueston, expressed his excitement with the court’s decision. He said, “The 9th Circuit’s opinion in this important 1st Amendment case establishes that the state cannot censor speech, despite how the state labels that speech and reinforces the centrality of an open marketplace of ideas.”

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