Editorial

This law won't make a dent in age discrimination against actors; it only dents the 1st Amendment

Under a new California law, actors will be able to force some entertainment-oriented websites to remove their ages and birth dates from public view. Assembly Bill 1687, authored by Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) and recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, may be a well-intentioned attempt to thwart rampant age discrimination in Hollywood. But it runs afoul of the 1st Amendment and sets a bad precedent for special interests using the power of government to edit the Internet.

The law won’t affect general news outlets, Wikipedia or social media. Instead, it covers only entertainment-industry focused sites that have an online employment service that publishes information about subscribers hoping to attract job offers — most notably, IMDb (the Internet Movie Database). And the actor requesting the removal of age information would have to be one of those subscribers. 

That would be fine if it were purely a matter of subscribers controlling what they’re paying a service to reveal. The problem with the new law is that an actor can compel a site to delete his or her age not just from the subscription service, but from any “companion” sites under its control as well. The most popular of those sites attract viewers far beyond casting agents and producers.

For example, IMDb has a free site for any and all consumers of movie, TV, and celebrity information. It also has a paid subscriber site, IMDbPro, which it aims at entertainment-industry professionals, although anyone can sign up. An actor demanding that his age information come off of IMDbPro could make it disappear from IMDb too.

Proponents argued that the law would offer the greatest protection to the most vulnerable of actors — the lesser known ones who lack the fame and clout that might override age in a casting decision. Actress Gabrielle Carteris, the president of the actors union (SAG-AFTRA) that supported the measure, noted in a column in the Hollywood Reporter that she would have never gotten a chance to audition for her best-known role as 16-year old Andrea Zuckerman on “Beverly Hills 90210” if casting directors had known she was actually 29. “Electronic casting sites did not exist in 1990; today, they are prevalent and influential,” she wrote.

That is a real problem, but this law probably won’t solve it. Information about a person’s age is instantly available through Google or one of the countless entertainment-focused sites. And it is publicly available on voter registration rolls. On the other hand, forcing public sites to remove information about someone at the person’s behest sets a troubling precedent for deleting all kinds of information that’s in the public record, but that someone might not want the public to know.

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