The governor of California signed a bill into law today that will make it illegal for entertainment websites like IMDB to post the ages of actors if that actor requests the information to be taken down. Needless to say, free speech advocates are outraged.
The goal of the bill, AB-1687, is to discourage age discrimination in hiring practices and was endorsed by SAG-AFTRA, the largest actor’s union in the country. As the Hollywood Reporter notes, the bill will not apply to news outlets, but is aimed at subscription entertainment sites where hiring decisions are made. Websites like Studio System, IMDB, and its IMDB Pro subscription service are staples within the entertainment industry for learning about actors.
“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” California Majority Leader Ian Calderon, a Democrat, said when the bill first passed the California Assembly last month.
“Unfortunately, it is common practice for casting directors and producers to use web sites such as IMDb and IMDb Pro to access information about actors, which can contain age information that should not be part of the casting decision,” Calderon continued.
And while age discrimination in Hollywood is a very real concern, this bill doesn’t seem like it would fix much in any practical way. Especially since the California law seems to contradict free speech laws about reporting factual information.
Once an actor requests that their age is removed from a site like IMDB, the site has five days to comply with the request. It’s not immediately clear what the penalty for noncompliance might be, though the bill will almost certainly be challenged in court.
“Opponents of AB 1687 say it could have a chilling effect on free speech. This is highly doubtful as the bill seeks a narrowly tailored fix that applies only to subscription-based entertainment websites,” wrote SAG-AFTRA’s Gabrielle Carteris last month in an op-ed favoring the law.
Opponents of the bill note that even though the law is narrowly tailored to restrict the speech of just a few websites, it’s precisely this narrow language that makes the law useless to begin with. If you censor IMDB, why not censor the Los Angeles Times?
“Supporters of the bill may argue the measure is limited to target a specific case of age discrimination in Hollywood, but they cannot have their cake and eat it too,” the Internet Association’s Michael Beckerman wrote in an editorial blasting the new law.
“Either censorship is limited to a few websites, making it ineffective, or it must be so comprehensive that it eliminates this information from the public domain entirely, posing unacceptable limits to free speech,” Beckerman continued.