The Internet Movie Database has revised its policy regarding the listing of birth names. Some professionals in the entertainment industry may now apply to have them removed — but not erased entirely.
The company — a key directory in the entertainment industry listing actors, writers, directors, producers, editors, makeup artists, costume designers, cinematographers, and the productions they worked on — has done so following protests from LGBTQ groups about "deadnaming," the practice of publishing the name that a transgender person used prior to transition, without their consent. Laverne Cox has called deadnaming "the ultimate insult."
A spokesperson announced the new policy to Variety: “IMDb now permits the removal of birth names if the birth name is not broadly publicly known and the person no longer voluntarily uses their birth name.”
“To remove a birth name either the person concerned or their professional industry representative simply needs to contact IMDb’s customer support staff to request a birth name removal," the spokesperson continued. "Once the IMDb team determines that an individual’s birth name should be removed — subject to this updated process — we will review and remove every occurrence of their birth name within their biographical page on IMDb.”
However, the policy stops short of scrubbing birth names from the database entirely. These names will still be included in parentheses on the IMDb page of a person and production if the professional was credited by their birth name in a given production. The spokesperson alleged the inclusion of birth names in this instance was necessary for "preserving the factual historical record by accurately reflecting what is listed on-screen."
Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of Transgender Media, said the new policy is "a step in the right direction" but stipulated that IMDb "still has a long way to go in maintaining the privacy of all the entertainment industry professionals listed on the site."
"Revealing a transgender person’s birth name without permission is an invasion of privacy that can put them at risk for discrimination,” said Adams, who added, "Trans people with credits under their old name for work in front of or behind the camera will still be affected by IMDb's determination to publish outdated information."
GLAAD was among the LGBTQ groups that joined SAG-AFTRA — a major labor union of actors and media professionals — in lobbying IMDb to change its name policy. Others included the National LGBTQ Task Force, Transgender Law Center, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Transcend Legal Inc., and Equality Federation.
Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA, also said IMDb's new policy fell short and that the company — an Amazon subsidiary — has a lot more work to do in protecting transgender people in the entertainment industry.
“While this half-measure is a step forward in protecting the personal safety of and reducing employment discrimination for transgender people, in revising its birth name policy, IMDb admits to invading the privacy of performers and putting them at risk for discrimination. IMDb can make no principled distinction to justify its arbitrary choices about when to invade the privacy of performers,” said Carteris.
Additionally, SAG-AFTRA is appealing a 2018 ruling from a federal judge that invalidated a California anti-age discrimination law, known as AB 1687, which required subscription entertainment databases like IMDb Pro to remove an actor's age if requested. The judge sided with IMDb. An oral argument in the appeal is scheduled September 9.