The topic of age discrimination has been brought to light in the past few years in Hollywood. Big names in the industry like Meryl Streep have lamented that once women have passed childbearing age they “could only be seen as grotesque on some level.” In response to these concerns, the State of California passed Assembly Bill 1687 in September of this year. The intention of the Bill is to prohibit commercial online service providers in the entertainment industry from displaying information regarding an individual paid subscriber’s age in an online profile of that subscriber upon request. All in all this seems like a weak attempt to send a message that age discrimination in the entertainment industry is not OK, in effect completely failing to address the root of the issue. And IMDb are not happy about it.
IMDb.com have sensationally hit back at the Bill, stating it is unconstitutional in its restriction on the website’s right to exercise its First Amendment right to free speech. They are suing Attorney General Kamala Harris by filing a complaint on Thursday in the California federal court. As IMDb’s attorney John Heuston stated, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this Bill is that it completely sidesteps addressing the root of age discrimination in Hollywood. Pointing the finger at a website that simply collates factual information for its users goes no further to address the issue. All this Bill does in practice is violate free speech principles, and undermine public access to factual information. Further, IMDb argue this legislative control placed on their website is unnecessary when their IMDbPro Membership gives subscribers enhanced control over their profiles, allowing them to remove their ages or birthdays. In doing this, IMDb had already empowered their users to remove this information if they feel it will affect casting decisions.
Additionally Heuston warns, “the statute violates the Commerce Clause because California are attempting to police the internet far beyond the state’s borders”. Should the statute be upheld, this would not only violate citizens’ rights to free speech, but set in motion a dangerous precedent on state government’s controlling what information can legally be displayed on websites in and beyond a state.
IMDb largely relies on its users to build its database, which is accessed by millions of people around the world. Heuston says the site readily welcomes any corrections to factual information required, but asking it to actively remove correct, factual information is going too far.
IMDb is asking the court to declare the Bill unconstitutional and unenforceable and enter a permanent injunction banning the state and its agencies from enforcing it.