The popular website Internet Movie Data base ("IMDb"), has come under some scrutiny lately for posting information about actors’ ages. This comes at a time when California has yielded to allegations of ageism in Hollywood and adopted legislation prohibiting online entertainment databases that host information relevant to hiring (resumes, headshots, etc.) from publishing the age or birthday of anyone in the entertainment industry if they request withholding publication of that information. Many believe the law was directed at the top movie and television rating website IMDb; and IMDb is not taking it lying down. It has brought suit alleging that the restriction on the display of ages violates free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Ageism, to the extreme, is reportedly a plight of actors in an industry that clearly values youth and not experience. The female lead in Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana, told the Telegraph in 2014 that “[b]y the time you’re 28 you’re expired, you’re playing mommy roles.”
IMDb alleges that the legislation was unfairly tailored to affect only their company. They claim to share in the goal of preventing age discrimination but posit that the law doesn’t actually attain that goal. It may be worth mentioning that IMDb is owned by Amazon.com, which may play a role in how far they are willing to go to push their interests.
IMDb has a history of controversy over publishing ages of entertainers. A 2013 case in Seattle by an actor who sued to have her age removed from the website, ended in a jury verdict for IMDb. It will be interesting to see how a California court views these issues because of their robust entertainment market and interest in protecting that market.
The lawsuit highlights the impact of technology in various industries. Employers and business leaders are generally sensitive to avoiding issues of age in assembling representatives and staff, but in an industry where youth is so important, one can see how publishing age of professionals can really create a disadvantage. One problem, in terms of the law, is that generally no protection exists for individuals under 40 years of age. And, it may be difficult to identify a connection between the postings of a company on the decisions of another unrelated company.
Only in California…