California’s AB 1687, a law which forbade a popular film industry website from
publishing certain truthful age-related information about actors, finding it in
violation of the First Amendment.
In 2016, IMDb.com, Inc. sued the State of California to challenge the
constitutionality of the law. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists intervened as a defendant in the suit. The defendants maintained that the law was necessary to combat rampant age discrimination in the Hollywood film industry. In its order granting IMDb.com, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment, the court held that while curbing age discrimination is certainly a compelling interest, “regulation of speech must be a last resort.”
One of the defendants’ contentions was that the publication of facts about ages of
people in the entertainment industry can be banned because these facts
“facilitate” age discrimination. The court rejected this, noting that such an argument, if successful, “would enable states to forbid publication of virtually any fact.” Moreover, the United States Supreme Court has said on multiple occasions that the fact that a third party could misuse truthful information is almost never sufficient to justify suppression of that information.
The court also held that AB 1687 cannot survive strict scrutiny. While the State certainly has a compelling interest to combat age discrimination, the law was not narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. For one, the law was uncerinclusive because it bans only one kind of speaker from disseminating age-related information, leaving all other sources of that information untouched. The law was also overinclusive because it requires IMDb not to publish age-information of all those who request that their information not be published, including those who are not protected by age discrimination laws.
This case serves as a reminder that courts cannot and will not protect Americans
from the truth; truthful statements are constitutionally protected. Furthermore, the court’s ruling implies that the publication of truthful information on a platform that employers can access is not unlawful, even if an employer uses the information to discriminate.
Authored by Brandon Hamparzoomian