California is still trying to gag websites from sharing true, publicly available, newsworthy information about actors. While this effort is aimed at the admirable goal of fighting age discrimination in Hollywood, the law unconstitutionally punishes publishers of truthful, newsworthy information and denies the public important information it needs to fully understand the very problem the state is trying to address. So we have once again filed a friend of the court brief opposing that effort.
The case, IMDB v. Becerra, challenges the constitutionality of California Civil Code section 1798.83.5, which requires “commercial online entertainment employment services providers” to remove an actor’s date of birth or other age information from their websites upon request. The purported purpose of the law is to prevent age discrimination by the entertainment industry. The law covers any “provider” that “owns, licenses, or otherwise possesses computerized information, including, but not limited to, age and date of birth information, about individuals employed in the entertainment industry, including television, films, and video games, and that makes the information available to the public or potential employers.” Under the law, IMDb.com, which meets this definition because of its IMDb Pro service, would be required to delete age information from all of its websites, not just its subscription service.
We filed a brief in the trial court in January 2017, and that court granted IMDb’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the law was indeed unconstitutional. The state and the Screen Actors Guild, which intervened in the case to defend the law, appealed the district court’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We have now filed an amicus brief with that court. We were once again joined by First Amendment Coalition, Media Law Resource Center, Wikimedia Foundation, and Center for Democracy and Technology.
As we wrote in our brief, and as we and others urged the California legislature when it was considering the law, the law is clearly unconstitutional. The First Amendment provides very strong protection to publish truthful information about a matter of public interest. And the rule has extra force when the truthful information is contained in official governmental records, such as a local government’s vital records, which contain dates of birth.
This rule, sometimes called the Daily Mail rule after the Supreme Court opinion from which it originates, is an extremely important free speech protection. It gives publishers the confidence to publish important information even when they know that others want it suppressed. The rule also supports the First Amendment rights of the public to receive newsworthy information.
Our brief emphasizes that although IMDb may have a financial interest in challenging the law, the public too has a strong interest in this information remaining available. Indeed, if age discrimination in Hollywood is really such a compelling issue, and EFF does not doubt that it is, hiding age information from the public makes it difficult for people to participate in the debate about alleged age discrimination in Hollywood, form their own opinions, and scrutinize their government’s response to it.