IMDb Fights Back on Age Censorship Law
January 11, 2017 by Katherine Imp
As of January 1, 2017, entertainment employment service providers like IMDB are required to remove age and birthday information upon request of their subscribers. Assembly Bill No. 1687 (“AB 1687”) was enacted to “ensure that information obtained on the Internet Web site regarding an individual’s age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination.”
On January 5, 2017, IMDb filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the attorney general of California seeking to enjoin the enforcement of AB 1687, arguing that the law violates the First Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional. The hearing will take place on February 16, 2017 in the United States District Court in the Northern District of California.
A government regulation of speech or expression that is based on the substance of the message being communicated, rather than just the manner or method in which the message is being expressed, is known as a “content-based restriction”.
A “content-based restriction” requires the “strict scrutiny” test—the toughest test to overcome. The strict scrutiny test says that the law must be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest. In other words, there must be no less restrictive option available to the government to achieve its purpose. Here, the purpose of the law is to prevent age discrimination in an industry in which ageism is unquestionably prevalent.
IMDb acknowledges that ageism is an issue for actors in the entertainment industry but argues that the law is too broad because it requires the site to censor the age-related information for everyone, not just actors. IMDb argues that other entertainment professionals (e.g., producers, directors, writers, etc.) do not face any risk of age discrimination from the publication of their ages on the site, making the age censorship law over-inclusive and therefore unconstitutional.
IMDb also argues that the law is under-inclusive because it “does nothing to restrict the ready availability of the same factual age information from other public sources.” Thus, AB 1687 targets IMDB in a way that restricts speech without actually advancing its purpose.
Is IMDb going to win?
I think so.
I agree with AB 1687’s premise: if a subscriber to IMDb wants IMDb to remove his or her age or birthday from public view, IMDb should remove that information. Not because IMDb is legally obligated to remove that information, but because it is in IMDb’s best interest to do so. IMDb is a service provider. Service providers need customers to make money. If actors stop subscribing to IMDb because of a requirement to make their birthdays publicly available, IMDb will lose money. Plain and simple: removing age and birthday information should be a business decision, not a legal one.
Disclaimer: The information in this column is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.