SEATTLE — An anonymous actress claims in a million-dollar federal lawsuit that her offers for roles dropped sharply after the popular Internet Movie Database published damaging personal information: her age.
The actress, identified as a Texas resident of Asian descent, claims she looks a lot younger than she is, and so she had always been careful about keeping her given name and birthdate confidential. As an unknown, she used an Americanized stage name in 2003 when she first listed herself on imdb.com, a listing which she said brought her several jobs.
But in 2008, she tried to advance her career by signing up for a subscription service with the website called IMDb Pro. The service is designed for entertainment industry professionals. It provides contact information and other details for the actors, actresses, directors and others listed.
She provided credit card information – and her real name – when she bought the service, according to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court against Seattle-based IMDb and its parent company, Amazon.com. IMDb used that information to uncover her date of birth, which also isn't disclosed, and added it to her profile on the website, "revealing to the public that Plaintiff is many years older than she looks," the lawsuit says.
"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,'" the claim said.
She claims she never consented to having the personal information she provided used for anything but the commercial transaction. IMDb refused to remove the reference to the woman's age from her profile when asked, the lawsuit said.
Through spokeswoman Mary Osako, Amazon declined to comment, saying it never discusses litigation. An email seeking comment from IMDb wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.
The profiles of many actors and actresses on the website list their dates of birth.
The lawsuit claimed the woman wants to remain anonymous "based on fear of retaliation from defendants that would result in further damage and economic injury." John W. Dozier Jr., a Glen Allen, Va., attorney who represents the actress, said Friday that Amazon and IMDb know who she is based on prior communications from her. He declined to provide further identifying details.
IMDb claimed to have obtained the birthdate from the actress's agent, Dozier said, but "we're comfortable they didn't get it from the source they say they got it from."
A key issue in the case will be whether IMDb is immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act, Dozier said. The act ensures that providers of interactive computer services – think Google – will not be liable for defamatory information published by another content provider.
If IMDb is publishing research it itself has done on the personal details of actors and actresses, it should not be immune from lawsuits, he said.
"The implications of this are that it may put at risk the very existence of the database," he said. "The number of claims that could be asserted against them would overwhelm them."
While the actress is losing opportunities because of her age, she's also missing work because of her youthful appearance, the lawsuit says.
"Plaintiff has experienced rejection in the industry for each `40-year-old' role for which she has interviewed because she does not and cannot physically portray the role of a 40-year-old woman," the lawsuit says.
The actress is seeking $1 million or more in punitive damages as well as $75,000 or more in compensatory damages. She accuses Amazon and IMDb of breach of contract, fraud, and violation of privacy and consumer protection laws.
Associated Press writer Doug Esser contributed to this report.