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Censorship or Law Against Hollywood Age Discrimination?

By: Yvonne Tindell

 

On September 24, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will require subscription-based entertainment websites to remove or omit a subscriber’s age or birthdate from their profile at the subscriber’s request. [1]  The law seeks to address age discrimination in the entertainment industry, not just toward actors, but also for all entertainment employees.[2]  The law will take effect January 1, 2017.[3]  The main websites affected by this law will be IMDb and IMDb Pro, where paid subscribers post their biographical information for prospective employers, including age, headshots, and work history.[4]  Other general news sources like social media or Wikipedia are not affected.  California Assembly Member Ian Calderon, who authored the legislation, said the bill especially seeks to help lesser-known actors auditioning for smaller roles.[5]

 

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists championed the bill and celebrated its signing.[6]  Their argument is ageism has damaged actors’ careers and the publication of birthdates enables age discrimination.[7] Removing a performer’s age will, in effect, weaken unconscious bias.[8] Supporters also argue the law promotes privacy.[9]

 

Critics suggest the bill suppresses free speech.[10]  The Internet Association expressed their concern that the bill will set a precedent suppressing factual information on the internet.[11]  Moreover, The Hollywood Reporter presented arguments from entertainment law experts who argued the bill may implicate commercial speech First Amendment issues.[12]

 

This California law is controversial because of the competing free speech and employment discrimination problems.  On one hand, demanding websites remove information sounds like censorship.  California lawmakers’ defense is there are no First Amendment violations because the law regulates commercial speech, which is speech used to sell or promote a product for profit and subjected to more lenient First Amendment protections, at subscribers’ requests.  On the other hand, its unclear whether this law will address or weaken the root causes of age discrimination in Hollywood.  Actors’ ages will still be searchable on other entertainment websites.  Although the law is well-intentioned, it seems that no matter what age information might be withheld, youth and beauty is always going to rule in the entertainment industry.

[1] Ryan Parker, California Enacts Law Requiring IMDb to Remove Actor Ages on Request, The Hollywood Reporter (Sept. 24, 2016, 4:02 PM) http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/california-enacts-law-requiring-imdb-932330.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Jacob Gershman, New California Law Allows Actors to Hide Their Age on IMDb, The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 26, 2016, 11:20 AM) http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2016/09/26/new-california-law-allows-actors-to-hide-their-age-on-imdb/.

[5] Parker, supra note 1.

[6] David McNary, California Passes Law Requiring Removal of Actor Ages by Database Sites on Request, Variety (Sept. 24, 2016, 5:15 PM) http://variety.com/2016/film/news/california-law-requiring-removal-actor-ages-database-sites-1201869799/.

[7] Gershman, supra note 4.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Jonathan Handel, New California IMDb Age Law Probably Unconstitutional, Experts Say, The Hollywood Reports (Sept. 27, 2016, 6:46 AM) http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/new-california-imdb-age-law-932808.

[12] Id.