In a development that comes as no real surprise, the Internet Movie Database, better known as IMDb, sued the state of California (technically Kamala Harris in her role as State Attorney General) on Thursday night in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. This stems from the passage of AB 1867 in September, which targeted both IMDb (via their paid IMDbPro service) and, to a lesser extent subscription-only website Studio System, requiring paid subscription sites that store birthdates of California residents who subscribe to remove them when subscriber asks.
The California State Attorney General’s Office was not immediately available for comment.
Update 1:30 p.m. ET: In an email response, the California State Attorney General’s Office told LawNewz that “We are reviewing the complaint.”
When the law was passed , legendary First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams (who doubles as LawNewz founder Dan Abrams’ father) told us that “It’s difficult to understand how it’s proponents even thought it might pass constitutional muster,” citing “the clarity of the unconstitutionality of the law.” Obviously, that’s what IMDb is focusing on in their complaint.
In the complaint, IMDb stresses that their policy has always been to “correct verified inaccuracies” but “not to alter or delete any accurate factual information on the public website.” In their view, the latter “not only violates basic free speech principles, but undermines the accuracy and reliability of the IMDb.com database,” as well as being in the public interest based on California precedent about film credits. That said, the site has provided the ability for a subscriber to remove their age from the IMDbPro listing (the one that casting directors would most likely be looking at) since 2010 anyway. From the complaint (emphasis in the original):
The law was artfully and deliberately crafted to require IMDb to remove that information not only from IMDbPro (which IMDbPro subscribers have had the ability to do on their own), but also from the public IMDb.com site. In fact, as a result of the way the law is drafted, in order to take advantage of the law, an individual must first subscribe to the IMDbPro paid service.
IMDb goes on to a argue that AB 1867 is toothless because it “does nothing to regulate how information obtained on IMDb.com is used, whether in furtherance of age discrimination or otherwise.” The law does not ban age discrimination, which is already illegal in California. It “forces IMDb to suppress factual information from public view,” even though it’s easily available from other sources.
In addition to violating the First Amendment, IMDb argues that AB 1867 violates the Commerce Clause “because California is attempting to police the internet far beyond the state’s own borders.” IMDb is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, home of their parent company, Amazon.
The complaint also has an interesting argument about the vagueness of the law:
AB 1687 is unconstitutionally vague because it penalizes the publishing of “age information” without defining that term. The statute thus impermissibly chills speech because it is unclear whether “age information” would include, for example, describing an IMDb subscriber as being in his or her “40s” or describing a different subscriber as a “Millennial” because it suggests the subscriber was born in the 1980s or 1990s.
IMDb is requesting that the court “declare that AB 1687 is unconstitutional and that IMDb cannot be liable for failing to censor factual public information as this law requires.”