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EFF to Court: Don't Let California Gag IMDb

DEEPLINKS BLOG
January 13, 2017

California is trying to gag websites from sharing true, publicly available information about actors in the name of age discrimination. But one online service, IMDb, is fighting back. EFF and four other public interest organizations have filed in a friend of the court brief in the case, urging the court not to allow celebrities to wipe truthful information about them from the Internet.

IMDb.com v. Harris challenges the constitutionality of California Civil Code section 1798.83.5, which took effect January 1, 2017. That law requires “commercial online entertainment employment service providers” to remove an actor’s date of birth or age information from their websites upon request. The purported purpose of the law is to prevent age discrimination by the entertainment industry. The “providers” covered are those which “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.

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 near absolute 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 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, then hiding age information from the public makes it difficult for people to participate in the debate on the issue, form their own opinions, and scrutinize their government’s response to it.

Joining EFF on the brief are the First Amendment Coalition, Media Law Resource Center, Wikimedia Foundation, and Center for Democracy and Technology.

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