Monday, March 27, 2017
Internet censorship, Hollywood style
You would think the First Amendment is a bulletproof defense against censorship of the Internet. But then you are not reckoning with the awesome political power of the Screen Actors Guild.
The union representing Hollywood stars and role players somehow persuaded California lawmakers to enact a law that would bar the popular IMDb website from revealing the ages of actors. It’s a law that sounds crazy even by California standards, yet Governor Jerry Brown signed it last fall.
You’ve probably heard of the entertainment-focused IMDb. Owned by Amazon.com, it was founded by a British computer programmer and movie buff in 1990, when the Internet was in diapers. Today, it’s among the world’s most popular websites, with over 250 million visitors every month.
The basic IMDb service is free. Its content, like that of Wikipedia, is crowdsourced. Members love to post information about their favorite movies, directors, stars, and — this is the important fact — the actors’ ages.
Many stars aren’t happy about that. It’s not just vanity, they say; Hollywood is rife with ageism, and older actors don’t want directors to think they’ve passed their sell-by dates.
But you can’t ban the whole Internet from publishing someone’s age. Or can you? California legislators figured out a way around that by framing their law as a defense against age discrimination. They wrote a publishing restriction that applies only to “a commercial online entertainment employment service provider,” allowing paying members to demand that his or her age be deleted from that site.
IMDb filed suit against the law in federal court, and in February, US District Court Judge Vince Chhabria issued an injunction against it until the case can be heard.