The heart of tech is coming to the heart of the Mediterranean. Join TNW in València this March 🇪🇸

This article was published on October 28, 2011

Could IMDb be banned from publishing actors’ ages?

Could IMDb be banned from publishing actors’ ages?
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

Earlier this month you may have seen that an actress was planning to sue the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), on the grounds that the Amazon-owned company had procured some of her information through unlawful means, arguing that the exposure had damaged her career. To cut a long story short, IMDb published her (real) age and an actress is seeking $1m in damages – you can see the full suit here.

Such spurious lawsuits may be ten-a-penny, but two of the US’s major acting unions have jumped to the defence of the actor in question,  publically condemning IMDb for a policy it says risks destroying acting careers.

The Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) issued a joint statement yesterday saying that IMDB a “moral and legal obligation not to facilitate age discrimination in employment”. It continued:

“IMDb publishes the actual dates of birth of thousands of actors without their consent, most of them not celebrities but rank-and-file actors whose names are unknown to the general public. When their actual ages then become known to casting personnel, the 10+ year age range that many of them can portray suddenly shrinks, and so do their opportunities to work. We are disappointed that IMDb has rejected the efforts of Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and other entertainment industry unions, and workers to work together to reach a solution to this problem. It is time for IMDb to step up and take responsibility for the harm it has caused, and to take appropriate measures to protect entertainment industry workers, including actors, from losing jobs for the enhancement of IMDb’s financial statements.”

It seems the root of the issue here is that actors are publishing false birth-dates in order to secure acting jobs, and IMDb has been ruthlessly researching the genuine ages for the “Pro” version of its website, which is aimed at agents working for Hollywood. But in this particular instance, the Texas-based actor apparently omitted her birth-date altogether so that it wouldn’t be held against her, but then it was added in by IMDb at a later point, and has since refused to remove it.

Whilst it’s difficult to argue against the actor’s right not to have their age published if that’s what they wish, it seems the issue of ageism in Hollywood is the real problem here. But it’s easier for actors to take action against IMDb than it is to prove that they’re missing out on work because of their age.  The SAG/AFTRA statement said: “IMDb has the power to remove the temptation for employers to engage in age discrimination by accessing this information.” Given that the actors are seeking to work in a profession that is all about their public profile, it’s difficult to see how the plaintiff in this case will succeed.

IMDb is an online database of information covering  movies, TV shows, actors, and related tidbits. It has over 100 million unique users each month. It was launched in 1990, and was acquired in 1998 by Amazon.