U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, Northern District of California

SAN FRANCISCO — California lawyers and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists again faced skeptical questions from the federal judge overseeing their quest to defend a state law which would limit IMDb.com’s ability to publish the ages of actors and others in Hollywood.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria previously sided with IMDb and its lawyers at Hueston Hennigan in February granting an injunction barring the implementation of AB 1687, finding that the law violated the First Amendment and would likely do little to achieve its goal of cutting down on age discrimination in the entertainment industry.

At Thursday’s hearing on the parties’ dueling motions for summary judgment, Chhabria at times sounded incredulous when asking SAG-AFTRA’s lawyer, Douglas Mirell of Harder Mirell & Abrams, to clarify his positions.

“So is your argument that IMDb is sort of on a mission to facilitate age discrimination—that IMDb’s goal is to allow Hollywood producers to participate in age discrimination?” asked Chhabria at one point. Chhabria said that Mirell’s arguments made it sound like SAG-AFTRA’s position was that IMDb thought it was a “good idea to promote age discriminating and that is why IMDb is putting people’s ages on its website.” 

Mirell responded that the union hadn’t been able to delve into IMDb’s motivations for publishing age information on its database of actors, directors, producers and entertainment professions, because the judge blocked discovery in the case.

Indeed, Chhabria previously excoriated the California Attorney General’s Office for making harassing discovery requests in the lawsuit. In June, the judge wrote it was “an outright abuse of power” for the attorney general to request information about IMDb.com’s lobbying efforts and its communications with amici who backed its First Amendment challenge to the law.

At Thursday’s hearing, Anthony Hakl, the deputy attorney general charged with defending the law on behalf of the state, opted to submit the state’s position on the papers before Mirell’s argument rather than engage with the judge.

The state has maintained that the law only mandates that IMDb grant age takedown requests from people who pay services such as IMDb Pro, which allow actors, writers and other entertainment professionals to post head shots, resumes and biographical information for a set rate. “Applying only in these narrow circumstances, the provision is a contract-based nondisclosure rule and the Court should uphold it as valid regulation of voluntary commercial contracts,” the state’s lawyer wrote. “Any incidental effect on speech does not implicate a First Amendment right.”

But IMDb’s lead lawyer, John Hueston of Hueston Hennigan, said the U.S. Supreme Court has never allowed a prohibition on the publication of truthful information to survive a First Amendment challenge. He also contested the limited reading of the law put forward by SAG-AFTRA and the state. Said Hueston, ”It applies to any age or birthday information regardless of source.”

At the end of Thursday’s hearing, Chhabria held off ruling, but said he’d issue an order ”relatively shortly.”