December 12, 2012 12:53pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Big Decision Looms in Actress' Lawsuit Against IMDB Over Age Revelation
The dispute over the Internet Movie Database's practice of revealing actors' ages continues in a Washington federal court. This month, attorneys for IMDb and actress Huong Hoang each filed motions for victory on summary judgment.
Hoang (known in the industry as "Junie Hoang") is suing, alleging that IMDb has "misused" personal credit information she submitted when signing up for a Pro account. She says that IMDb also uses the website PrivateEye.com for the purposes of adding or correcting to its database, and that these allegedly deceptive and unfair acts have caused her to lose jobs in Hollywood.
IMDb and parent Amazon.com are defending themselves by saying, among other things, that Hoang was owed no contractual duties, that Hoang hasn't established they were involved in any unfair practices and that the court has already implicitly recognized there's no privacy interest in hiding one's age.
In September, upon the death of Hoang's first attorney, Hoang looked to open up the case to investigate how IMDb has treated other actors. In October, a judge denied the request, ruling that it had come too late and no further delay was warranted.
Nevertheless, Hoang is still attempting to make the case bigger than herself. Among the documents filed in the past few days is a petition of over 5,000 people who have asked IMDb to remove birthdates and ages from its database. In a summary judgment motion filed on Monday, her lawyers also emphasized the point that "Hoang is not IMDb's only victim," saying that IMDb has been involved in 10 to 15 other legal disputes involving ages, that the company has conducted at least 24 different PrivateEye searches for actors in recent history, and that the lawsuit hasn't caused IMDb to make any changes to its policy.
But the judge might not focus on anyone other than Hoang.
In support of a legal win, Hoang tells the judge that in 2007, when she moved from Texas to Los Angeles, her acting earnings increased by 195 percent. She says her youthful appearance was a benefit until she realized what she considers the "acting industry Catch-22."
"When a casting director knows my real age, I am either not called for an audition for a youthful role, or I don't get the part after I audition," she tells the judge. "When I audition for roles that are near my age, casting directors reject me for looking too young."
Her attorneys have attempted to buttress these statements concerning her alleged injury with claims that IMDb has abused its trust. Specifically, IMDb is charged with having a "Privacy Notice" that purportedly agrees to limit the information that is shared when customers sign up, but that the service goes beyond its promises by doing things like using her publicly-unknown legal name to conduct searches on PrivateEye.com to gain her age.
Amazon.com wishes to escape any liability, saying in its own motion that "there is no evidence that Amazon was involved, in any manner, in any of the conduct or acts alleged."
IMDb has also filed a motion for summary judgment, which at the moment, is sealed. The reason why is almost a story onto itself.
The case began when Hoang sued anonymously, leading to a controversy over whether she needed to reveal herself. (The judge ruled she needed to go public.) The case is now in the midst of another side dispute over information that IMDb has included in its court filings. This includes Hoang's tax returns, income statements, documents revealing her methods for obtaining roles and more.
Hoang has objected to disclosures, saying that the company is once again invading her privacy and that she's at risk for those who might use the information to perpetuate identity theft.
IMDb responds that it doesn't oppose sealing truthful personal identification documents like tax returns, but has a problem keeping other stuff secret like a "fake state identification card and a fake United States passport" as well as supposed "trade secrets" involving her methods of obtaining acting roles.
A judge is set to hear oral arguments and consider a summary judgment in January. Depending on the outcome, a trial could commence in February.
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