October 04, 2012 10:18am PT by Eriq Gardner
Actress Demands Probe of IMDb's 'Misuse' of Personal Info
Last year, actress Huong Hoang set off a firestorm by anonymously suing the Internet Movie Database for revealing her age. She got much sympathy from many in Hollywood, but her case was largely limited to her own personal experience of being identified as an actress in her 40s in an industry that values youth. Hoang's lawsuit didn't go much further in exploring how others have been impacted by iMDb's practice of identifying ages. Until maybe now.
In August, John Dozier, the attorney representing Hoang, suddenly died. Since then, Hoang's new representatives have become more aggressive in the battle against iMDb and its parent company, Amazon.com.
Now, if Hoang's new lawyers get their way, the lawsuit could begin an investigation into how iMDb has allegedly "misused" the personal information of other actors. Further, several Hollywood veterans could be called to testify how iMDb influences casting decisions on movies and TV shows.
In court papers filed in the past couple of weeks, Hoang's newest lawyers, led by Keith Scully at Newman Du Wors, make clear just how poor a job they believe Dozier did.
As reported at the time of Dozier's death, the late attorney fell asleep during one deposition. He also stipulated to exclude Screen Actors Guild deputy national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland's testimony about the impact of iMDb's age disclosures. And against his client's direction, Dozier didn't investigate how other acting professionals had been impacted by iMDb's alleged misuse of personal information to append website bios with ages. Dozier told Hoang this would be a "distraction."
Now, Hoang's newest lawyers want to reopen discovery with a much fuller investigation. They want Crabtree-Ireland's testimony. They also plan to add witnesses to bolster Hoang's claims. One individual they say is already willing to come forward is Gil Junger, the director of 10 Things I Hate About You and many TV shows. Other potential witnesses are experts outside of the industry such as Nicole Liska, an economist who will offer a statistical assessment of how to value future earnings in the entertainment industry.
Scully also believes that Dozier could have gone further in his examinations of iMDb executives.
For example, one iMDb employee was asked how many times he used subscriber information to correct or add to iMDb's database.
"I don't recall a number and, actually, I don't recall even doing it in the last year," the iMDb employee testified.
The iMDb employee also admitted that the company uses the website PrivateEye.com for the purposes of adding or correcting to its database.
Scully says this iMDb employee was unprepared by the defendants and "admitted it may have misused other customers' private information in the same manner it misused Hoang's," but he faults Dozier for not following up on it. He wants the judge to allow more discovery.
In reaction, iMDb objects because there was no "excusable neglect" that would warrant further delay. The company also refutes how Hoang's attorneys are characterizing the above deposition, saying the employee's words were "twisted" and that the questions were answered clearly.
"Plaintiff cannot now blame her former counsel for lack of discovery and claim that he acted contrary to her 'express direction' to obtain a fresh start," says Breena Roos, the attorney at Perkins Coie representing iMDb.
Scully responds by telling the judge, "Put bluntly, IMDb asks this Court to find that it is simply tough luck for Hoang that her attorney was terminally ill and unable to make viable decisions. Fortunately for fundamental fairness in our judicial system, that is not the law."
A decision on whether discovery is reopened — and perhaps whether others in Hollywood might be called to testify — should be coming soon.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner