Judge Pauses Enforcement of IMDb Age Censorship Law

IMDB - Getty - H - 2016
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Hollywood stars wanting to remove their ages from IMDb will have to wait until the website resolves its legal battle with the state of California after a federal judge on Wednesday granted an injunction staying enforcement of a new law that would force the site to take down that information upon request.

The law is meant to prevent age discrimination in a youth-obsessed industry, but it has been widely criticized as a restraint on free speech. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria unequivocally shared that concern in an opinion filed Wednesday.

"[I]t's difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment," writes Chhabria. "The statute prevents IMDb from publishing factual information (information about the ages of people in the entertainment industry) on its website for public consumption. This is a restriction of non-commercial speech on the basis of content."

That puts the burden on the government to show the restriction is "actually necessary" — and the judge doesn't seem convinced it will be able to do so.

"To be sure, the government has identified a compelling goal — preventing age discrimination in Hollywood," writes Chhabria. "But the government has not shown how AB 1687 is 'necessary' to advance that goal. In fact, it's not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal antidiscrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end."   

The judge held that — because the law restricts IMDb's speech rights — the site is suffering irreparable harm and enjoined the government from enforcing the law pending the resolution of this lawsuit.

SAG-AFTRA, which has been an adamant supporter of the law, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in response to the decision.

"We are disappointed that the court has chosen to temporarily halt the State of California’s legal efforts to fully protect its citizens from employment discrimination," says COO and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland in the statement. "We look forward to the upcoming opportunity to present evidence to the Court of how this law will reduce or eliminate the age discrimination facilitated by IMDb.com. This is an early skirmish in what will be a long-term battle to ensure that entertainment industry workers are granted the same minimum employment protections as all other workers. SAG-AFTRA will continue to fight until we achieve for actors and other entertainment industry professionals, the same rights to freedom from age discrimination in hiring enjoyed by other workers in other industries.”

A case management conference is now set for March 21. 

Feb. 22, 4:10 p.m.: Updated with a statement from SAG-AFTRA.