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A Judge Says A Law Allowing Actors To Censor Their Age On IMDb Is Unconstitutional

The Screen Actors Guild says they're extremely disappointed in the ruling and will appeal.

Posted on February 20, 2018, at 6:27 p.m. ET

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

The Screen Actors Guild said they are "extremely disappointed" by a federal judge's decision Tuesday to strike down as unconstitutional a California law that allowed actors to censor their age on the website IMDb, also known as the Internet Movie Database.

Assembly Bill 1687, which went into effect in 2017 after being signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, was a "direct restriction on speech," according to US District Judge Vince Chhabria.

"The law prohibits certain speakers from publishing certain truthful information — information that, in many instances, is supplied by members of the public — because of concerns that a third party might use that information to engage in illegal conduct," he wrote in his decision.

Judge Chhabria characterized the problem the law was seeking to address as a gender issue, and not an age one, noting the defendants' main arguments for AB 1687 was how young women are often cast opposite older males.

"[This is] a manifestation of the industry's insistence on objectifying women, overvaluing their looks while devaluing everything else," the judge wrote. "If the government is going to attempt to restrict speech, it should at least develop a clearer understanding of the problem it's trying to solve."

The judge also found the law to be both simultaneously under-inclusive and over-inclusive. He said it was under-inclusive because it doesn't protect actors who don't have an IMDbPro account, which costs money, or who haven't asked to take their age down. The judge also found it to be over-inclusive in how it covers even those that do not already have protection against age discrimination under California law (i.e., actors under 40), without giving enough reason as to why they'd need it.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief operating officer and general counsel for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), told BuzzFeed News in a statement they would appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The Court unfortunately fails to understand or recognize the massive impact gender and age discrimination has on all working performers," he said. "That discrimination is facilitated by IMDb’s insistence on publishing performers’ age information without their consent."

The IMDb age discrimination argument was first made in 2011 when an actor sued the Amazon-owned website, which is an online database that collects all information related to films, television programs, and video games, including details on the cast and production crew. The woman alleged she was not getting work after the filmmakers saw her age listed on the service.

The actor's lawsuit was unsuccessful, but with the backing of the Screen Actors Guild, state lawmakers passed a law allowing actors to censor their age on IMDb, which then sued both SAG and the state.

The full statement from the Screen Actors Guild COO and Legal Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is below:

"SAG-AFTRA is extremely disappointed with today’s ruling in IMDb v. Becerra and SAG-AFTRA. The Court unfortunately fails to understand or recognize the massive impact gender and age discrimination has on all working performers. That discrimination is facilitated by IMDb’s insistence on publishing performers’ age information without their consent. The ruling also refuses to recognize the reality of the commercial nature of IMDb’s database publishing operation. Despite sworn testimony submitted by SAG-AFTRA, the Court incorrectly concluded there were no material disputed factual issues, while precluding the parties from acquiring additional evidence or permitting the case to go to trial. SAG-AFTRA will continue to defend this much-needed law by appealing this ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.