Trial in a lawsuit alleging that entertainment website IMDb.com Inc. illegally publicized an actress’s real age, causing her to lose prospective casting roles, has been postponed because the plaintiff’s lead counsel, John Dozier, an expert on Internet law, died on Aug. 6.
Huong Hoang, a Texas actress who goes by the stage name Junie Hoang, had retained Dozier of Dozier Internet Law in Richmond, Va., to sue IMDb.com and its parent company, Amazon.com Inc., for publicizing her age online after gleaning the information through a credit card number she provided while signing up for the website’s professional network.
The suit, filed on Oct. 13 in federal court in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, alleges breach of contract and violations of Washington state’s consumer protection law. Trial had been scheduled for Jan. 7.
On Aug. 10, Derek Newman of Seattle’s Newman DuWors, Hoang’s local counsel, notified the court that Dozier had died and that his own firm would take over the case. He asked for three months to come up to speed, according to an Aug. 13 court filing. Amazon and IMDb.com did not oppose the request, but argued against reopening discovery.
Charles Sipos, a partner at Seattle’s Perkins Coie who represents Amazon and IMDb.com, did not return a call for comment.
Dozier, author of Google Bomb, a leading book about online defamation, began practicing law in 1981 and worked as a lobbyist and legislative chairman for the National Bar Association in Washington, according to his firm’s website. The founder of several e-commerce companies, including Legal Network Technologies Corp. and Debtcollect.com, he has testified before the U.S. Senate and hosted a regular Internet conference called the Cyberlaw Leadership Summit. The most recent conference was held in May in Las Vegas.
“He’s a champion for Internet law,” said Newman, who works at his firm’s Santa Monica office. “He was a really interesting guy. He’s going to be missed.”
According to an online obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dozier was 56. Funeral services were held on Aug. 10 in Richmond.
According to Newman, Dozier had suffered from serious illness during the past few years. “It was crazy. He came down with every awful issue you could think of,” he said. “He had a brain issue and had brain surgery. He had a heart attack and open-heart surgery. Both kidneys failed and he was on dialysis. He broke bones and had other illnesses.”
Still, he said he was surprised by Dozier’s passing.
Hoang’s was one of Dozier’s best-known pending cases. Originally filing under the name Jane Doe, Hoang was forced to identify herself after U.S. District Chief Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington ruled on Dec. 23 that she had to use her real name.
Hoang claims that she first set up her online profile on IMDb.com in 2003 as a way to network and seek acting roles. In 2008, she signed up for IMDbPro, an expanded subscriber service that allows users to create online resumes and more detailed profiles. To do that, she had to provide her credit card information, legal name, address and ZIP code. Hoang claims that IMDb.com used that information without her knowledge to obtain public records of her date of birth and publish it on its public online profile site. IMDb.com then refused to delete the information despite Hoang’s requests.
IMDb.com’s actions have cost Hoang jobs, the suit says.
“In the entertainment industry, youth is king. If one is perceived to be ‘over the hill,’ i.e., approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work as she is thought to have less of an ‘upside,’ therefore, casting directors, producers, directors, agents/managers, etc., do not give her the same opportunities, regardless of her appearance or talent,” the complaint says.
Publishing her true age also effected a “double whammy” by preventing her from getting roles for 40-year-olds, according to the suit.
“She’s 42 years old, but if you met her she doesn’t look 42,” Newman said. “She probably looks somewhere between 25 and 35, depending on how she’s made up. If she goes to audition for a 42-year-old’s role, she’ll be rejected because she’s too young.”
Consequently, she isn’t obtaining any acting roles right now, he said.
Amanda Bronstad is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.