Web & Blogs

Actors Guild Fights to Make Outing Entertainers' Ages a Crime

SAG-AFTRA and the State of California claim websites like IMDb have a proactive duty to help actors hide their ages from casting directors.


Tony Clark / Splash News/Newscom

Can California ban people from publishing the ages of Hollywood stars? A federal court is currently considering whether the state can stop the practice without running afoul of the First Amendment.

At issue is a 2016 law (Assembly Bill 1687) ostensibly designed "to ensure that information obtained on an Internet Web site regarding an individual's age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination."

But rather than address age discrimination per se, the law simply bans certain types of websites from publishing accurate age information about certain classes of entertainment workers. As such, it "sets a dangerous and unconstitutional precendent," claim lawyers for the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), "and should be deeply troubling to all who care about free speech."

The law's supporters singled out IMDb as a primary target. In addition to its massively popular free website, IMDB also offers a professional subscription service to actors, casting directors, makeup artists, and other entertainment professionals.

The way the new law was written, random websites that publish the ages of entertainment professionals are still in the clear. But any "online entertainment employment service provider" that accepts payment for its services falls under the measure's purview. For such individuals or entities, paid-user requests to remove age information must be honored within five days or else the site risks civil and criminal penalties. These providers are also barred from sharing age info with or publishing it on other sites.

"Rather than passing laws designed to address the root problem of age discrimination, the State of California has chosen to chill free speech and undermine public access to factual information," IMDb states in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the measure. "AB 1687 does not prohibit the discriminatory use of information, but instead forces the removal of factual information from the public domain."

The state said in a recent motion that the law was simply a "contract based nondisclosure rule."

But "while the law may encompass some information exchanged within the subscriber relationship, it sweeps much more broadly, preventing IMDb or third parties from posting age and date of birth information, regardless of its source," IMDb stated in an August 10 motion.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has already blocked California from enforcing the law while the case is ongoing.

At best it would seem the law is unneccessary, at least in terms of getting IMDb to delist ages. In order to gain the right to request such a thing, someone would have to be a paid subscriber to IMDbPro. And paid IMDbPro subscribers can already have their ages removed from their profiles. Meanwhile, a non-subscriber who wants their age removed is (still) legally out of luck.

Considering this—plus the fact that any non-subscription site can publish ages with impunity—and the idea that this new law will somehow hinder age-discrimination in the entertainment industry becomes laughable.

Still, that's the story California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which has joined in the state's opposition to IMDb, are sticking with.

Becerra argued to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that "if [the bill] is to be considered a speech regulation, it is a valid commercial speech regulation," because the legislature found "the problem of age discrimination in the entertainment industry to be real, adopted the provision to aid in solving that problem, and matched the restriction to the problem to be addressed."

In its own motion, SAG-AFTRA complained that IMDB "contends it has an absolute First Amendment right to disseminate the ages of everyone in Hollywood, consequences be damned, and no matter how much or little value such expression has in the marketplace of ideas." But "so long as the communication of the age of persons in the entertainment industry writ large facilitates illegal age discrimination, such expression may be regulated consistent with the First Amendment even though specific communications might not be discriminatory."

Note that the Actors Guild doesn't claim that IMDb publishes age information that's false, nor that it publishes true information obtained in an illegal manner. Rather SAG-AFTRA asserts that IMDb somehow has a legal responsibility to help actors obtain work by concealing their ages; that the state has the ability to judge what kinds of content have "value" in the "marketplace of ideas"; and that information of "little value" can be banned.

The district court will have to decide whether the state's solution represents a narrowly tailored solution to a legitimate public policy problem or an unconstitutionally broad restriction on speech.

IMDb has provided a host of arguments for why it's the latter:

  • it "censors the publication of truthful information that is in the public interest";
  • it is "unconstitutionally overinclusive," since it "applies equally to producers, directors, casting agents, and various other entertainment professionals of all ages, many of whom face no realistic risk of age discrimination beyond that of the general public";
  • it is "unconstitutionally under-inclusive," since "it does nothing to restrict the ready availability of the same factual age information from other public sources";
  • and "the state cannot prove that it is 'actually necessary' to serve its goal of combating age discrimination."

The next hearing on the case is scheduled for October 26. Per the judge's preliminary injunction on the law's enforcement, IMDB is expected to prevail.

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  1. Good going, F.A.G.

    1. This is gonna throw a monkey wrench into the celebrity death pool business.

  2. It’s “right to be forgotten” applied to birthdays. For Hollywood. The special people who have more rights than you do because you’re just a nobody and probably don’t even donate to the DNC.

    1. Shouldn’t the websites like IMDb also be prohibited from disclosing the artist’s gender? Doesn’t that artificially limit the roles they can play? And doesn’t it follow that the SAG shouldn’t give separate awards for male and female actors? Aren’t they equal?

  3. Also, I have no idea who any of the people in that pic are but I’m assuming one of them is Lena Dunham and one’s Bruce Jenner so I’ll supply the alt-text – “Hollywood’s idea of GMILF’s”.

    1. One is Selena Gomez and one is Kristen Stewart but that’s all I know, so let’s say sure on the other two

      1. Kristen Stewart is an immortal bloodsucker who was born in 1714.

        1. Well somebody hasn’t seen Twilight.

      2. Let’s just say you’re both wrong and leave it at that.

    2. Hey, pump the brakes there, Bruce Jenner was one of the finest cereal box thespians of his generation.

      1. As we now all stop to wonder what Wheaties has done to our estrogen levels…

  4. Just another reason to hate actors.

  5. Since I’m not operating a pay site in California, I can mention:

    -Julia Roberts will turn 50 this year. She talked to CBS about it.

      1. or soon will be.

        Remember how she stole…everyone’s heart?

          1. Shia LaBeouf is 31, if anyone’s interested.

      2. Winona Ryder is 46.

        Life sucks losers dry.

    1. Harry Dean Stanton is 91.

      Still working, and still unbelievably cool.

  6. So, outing “Nazis” is OK…but providing Jennifer Lopez real age should be illegal.

  7. Would they settle for being 29 for the rest of their lives?

  8. The Olsen twins are 31.

    Yeah, you’re old.

    1. Both of them? Wow…

  9. Soleil Moon Frye is 41.

    Yeah, you’re old.

    1. And a dirty-old-man if you still picture her as Punky Brewster in your mind instead of the hot MILF she’s today.

      1. Lisa Bonet will be 50 later this year.

        1. Thanks for making me feel old, asshole.

  10. Jonathan Taylor Thomas is 35.

    He was also an excellent beer pong player, and a good sport. And like three feet tall.

  11. A simple fact of life is that whether or not their ages are published, some actresses are not going to get roles because the viewing public wants to see strong female characters played by young, taut bodies. AS IS ITS RIGHT.

    IMDb went downhill after they removed their message boards, anyway. How am I supposed to speculate which popular male actors are gay in a public setting? Social media? Pffft, I’m not setting up an anonymous account just for that.

    1. I applaud your willingness to publish your Big Bang Theory slashfic under your own name.

    2. Yeah, I’d like to know how much their traffic dropped after the message boards were axed. I used to visit after every show or movie I watched. Now I check in once every few weeks or months.

  12. This whole argument is strange.

    Show business is practically the only industry where it’s ok to discriminate on the basis of looks, age, weight, race, etc.

    You are auditioning for the part of Atticus Finch. He is white, in his mid to late forties, is neither rail-thin nor particularly overweight, etc.

    You are auditioning for the part of “Stripper Number 4” in 21 Jump Street 3. You had better have a rockin’ body and be young. We’re flexible on race.

    Hollywood does not get in trouble with the EEOC for anything like this.

    1. Hey, racist, James Bond can be black, or even a China-man.

      1. “Hey, Blofeld, I hear you ordered Chinese, and I’m here to deliver” – bang bang bang.

        1. Wait, let me try that again…”did someone order the Chinese takeout?” bang bang bang

          1. Brits call it takeaway, not takeout.

            1. “Grammar Nazis…I hate those guys.”

          2. Later, in bed, there is some 69 action. And Bond starts choking, from all the msg.

      2. Sure, the studio has the ability to re-cast, no matter whether that decision is smart or stupid.

        And when they recast, they can say “We’re looking for a black man to play James Bond – no whites need apply” if they want to. And the Daniel Craigs of the world have no legal recourse.

        1. If Hamilton can be black, can MLK Jr. be a white man?

          1. By law, one supposes. I doubt audiences would fawn over that, though.

            One thing I am trying to say here is that storytelling would pretty much fall apart if it was truly color-blind, no age discrimination, etc.

            Jonathan Winters playing Robin Williams’ child only works if they’re aliens, after all.

            And if Archie and Edith bunker have a non-adopted daughter, she kind of needs to be white.

            1. Maybe there’s a reason for Archie’s racism…

              1. I think I saw that episode of Maury.

            2. Uh, the latest Fantastic Four movie had Johnny Storm as a black man and his sister Sue Storm was white, and audiences loved it.

              1. Was he black *before* he started setting himself on fire all the time?

                1. Who knows, no one went to go see any of the Fantastic Four movies…

              2. I see what you did there!

            3. In the later seasons Archie and Edith acquired a jewish foster child.

          2. They sure didn’t like Johnny Depp playing Tonto. Great movie though.

          3. My daughter got chastised for singing a song from “The King And I” at a music theater workshop. She was told in a massive word salad “That song is for Zips only.”


        I have been waiting all week to quote the movie!!

        1. You’re like a child that wanders into the middle of a comment thread.

    2. Hollywood does not get in trouble with the EEOC for anything like this.

      They get in trouble with the SJW Twitters, which is far worse than your silly, little EEOC.

    1. Zombie Reagan is 106.

  13. Just last week I was taking my niece’s boy to school and he was listening to some crap on his phone and when I asked him what he was listening to he said it was something I have no idea what. When I said something dismissive of new music he laughed and said it wasn’t new music, it’s some old stuff that came out like two years ago. When I told him as far as I’m concerned Pearl Jam is new music, he asked me who Pearl Jam is. I told him to get the hell off my lawn.

    1. No one needs to know who Pearl Jam is, so no biggie.

      1. Careful. Their fans are rabid. I have no idea why, but they are.

      2. It’s marmalade for the rich.

      3. “Rock” Music between 1992 and 2000 exists only as examples of what NOT to do. Many of the great metal bands of today formed during that time specifically as a reaction to the fucking whiny crap that was popular then. Hell, even Iron Maiden sucked during that time (although, that was primarily because Bruce was gone most of that time).

        Fucking Pearl Jam?? Seriously?

        1. Many of the great metal bands of today

          So two of the three?

      4. Eddie Vedder IS basically the last living singer of the Seattle era at this point.

    2. There’s plenty of good new music being made. You just won’t hear it on the radio.

      1. Yeah, I haven’t listened to the radio for a couple decades. Or since Howard Stern went off the air which was not much more recent.

      2. Get Sirius/XM. Octane plays new stuff you don’t hear on the radio as much, and Liquid Metal plays, well, metal that you NEVER hear on the radio.

        1. Pandora is ‘free’ although it ain’t perfect. It’s far better when you pay the modest yearly fee.

        2. SiriusXM IS the radio.

      3. I just go on YouTube and play music videos.

  14. Actor’s age (broadly understood) can be a bona fide occupational requirement. (And not just for playing Lolita or Santa.) “Numerical age” is a valid clue, and serves as a decent corrective to “glamorous”/manipulated pictures (on IMDB, or wherever).

  15. Narrowly tailored dresses betray age. Prohibit them broadly.

  16. Still about these actors’ vanity than them potentially not landing roles due to their ages. If they really think age is meaningless, then why are so many getting age-defying treatments and modeling their looks?

    1. I suppose the argument is that the age defying treatments would allow them to play roles significantly younger than their true age, hence why their true age needs to be secret.

  17. So casting directors would be too stupid to swing over to Wikipedia?

  18. Still, that’s the story California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the Screen Actors Guild?American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which has joined in the state’s opposition to IMDb, are sticking with.

    My rule still stands… find some really creepy, ugly legislation that reeks of corruption, and there’s a union thug lurking somewhere in the background.

  19. IMDb is doing casting directors and actors a favor by publishing their ages. It’s distracting to viewers to watch a movie or TV show where the actor’s real age is too far off from the character’s supposed age.

    Pierce Brosnan is 64, yet he was playing someone supposedly in his 80’s in The Son, and another character supposedly in his 50’s in I.T.

    And in Last Vegas, Robert DeNiro (74), Michael Douglas (72), Morgan Freeman (80) and Kevin Kline (69) are all supposed to be childhood friends of the same age.

  20. What is incredibly stupid about this, is that no one really cares what a person’s actual age is. Producers and directors care about what ages the actors LOOK like. I don’t think anybody gives a shit that a girl playing a high school student is 26, as long as she looks 17. Equally, I don’t think anyone gives a shit if an actress is 70, but looks 55. As long as she can pull it off, no one cares about the number.

    I mean FFS William Shatner is 80 fucking years old!!!! (Hat tip to someone, I dont’ care enough to go back and look).

    1. I don’t think anyone gives a shit if an actress is 70, but looks 55…. or if she’s Sigourney Weaver, Diana Rigg, or Jamie Lee Curtis…

    2. The people on Glee were all in their 20’s playing high schoolers. Guess they have no problem with age discrimination as long as it’s not ageism.

    3. This is quite true for the big names. The director, producer, and casting agent don’t have to ask what Sigourney Weaver looks like or how old she really is – they already know, and they know what roles she has played recently. If they’re casting her in the lead as a 30-something, they might want an audition to prove she can still pull it off, but they don’t need to look her up.

      However, most actors and actresses are getting by on bit roles and filming advertisements, while dreaming about being tapped for a bigger role. In filling those bit roles or picking the right actress to sell low-calorie brownies, they often have a pretty specific idea of age, color, weight, and general appearance, and hundreds of strangers to choose from. So there’s an initial winnowing based on vital statistics and a picture, and then an audition for a few that seem a good fit. And here’s where people will start to worry about their real age being easily accessible. Sure you’re baby-faced and can play a high-school kid better than a 16 year old (look at the ages of the cast in _Grease_), but maybe they won’t even look at your pictures because you’re over an arbitrary age cut-off.

      But what they’re missing is that making it slightly harder to access that age information is not going to help. If the director and producer have a definite age range in mind, actors in that range will be considered – and if it’s too hard to find a bit player’s age, they’ll not even be considered.

  21. They need the “Clean Slate” device from Dark Knight Rises.

  22. California goes about pollution control the same way. Rather than specify how much is allowed, no matter how it’s produced, the State dictates the method(s) and allows no variance in it from how the car, power plant etc was when it was built. Not even if the changes would *reduce pollution output*.

    Despite a Federal law stating that vehicles over 25 years old aren’t required to maintain emissions controls in original condition, California mandates they *all* must, no matter how old. That’s why you don’t see anything newer than the late 1960’s on TV shows like Overhaulin where they replace or modify the engine. Pimp My Ride did newer vehicles, but didn’t do engine modifications because all they’d be allowed to do in CA would be to restore them to original condition.

  23. Since every major actor and actress has a Wikipedia page, and each such page has the actor’s date of birth, it seems that if I want to find out anyone’s age it is even simpler that going to IMDb page. So how in the heck does this law do squat other than try to penalize one website. The SAG and State briefs are the definition of disingenuous.

  24. One thing is missing from our constitutional jurisprudence, and that’s a penalty for the lawmakers that write and vote for such egregiously unconstitutional laws. After an appeals court rules on something like this, the case should be remanded to a lower court to find the costs and damages incurred by the plaintiffs, and garnish the legislators’ salaries to make the plaintiffs whole. Injunctions requiring the authors to take and pass a course in Constitutional Law might also be considered for the first offense, and barring them from serving in any governmental position after ignoring the Constitution repeatedly.

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