When an art lover posted a photo of a nude painting on Facebook, he never thought that the fallout from that post would result in a lawsuit and a discussion of international law. But five years later, a French court ruled that the art lover can sue the social media giant in France for banning him over the “offensive” post.
As San Francisco Gate reports, the nude painting kerfuffle began in 2011 when French art teacher and enthusiast Frederic Durand-Baissas posted a photo of an 1866 painting, Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde (“The Origin Of The World”). The painting, which won’t be shown in this post (you can see it here), features a rather realistic depiction of female genitalia.
Shortly after he posted the nude painting, Facebook suspended – and ultimately banned – Frederic’s account for violating its image policies.
Facebook has long walked a thin line when it comes to enforcing its so-called “Community Standards,” and those standards have evolved over the years.
“We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple…”
The problem is that Facebook is a global operation, and the “community standards” of one culture may not be the same as those of another culture. By European standards, the U.S. is almost prudish when it comes to nudity. By the standards of some other cultures – for example, certain conservative Islamist cultures – the way Americans dress is something akin to soft-core pornography.
And of course, children use Facebook.
Facebook admits that policing nudity while respecting its users’ sensitivities is a bit of a tricky business, but the company errs on the side of caution.
“We restrict the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age.”
For art lover Frederic Durand-Baissas, however, none of those explanations hold any water. Art is art, he says, and Facebook crossed a line.
“This is a case of free speech and censorship on a social network. If (Facebook) can’t see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France (can).”
He sued, saying he wants his account reinstated, as well as 20,000 euros (about $22,500) for his trouble.
However, Facebook is based in Palo Alto, California, not France. That means that Facebook, through its attorneys, has argued that a French court has no jurisdiction over the social media giant. Specifically, the Facebook Terms of Service states that all legal proceedings against the company can only be heard at a California court. Further, the company argues that, since its service is free, French consumer-rights laws don’t apply.
A French court, however, rejected those arguments, and the case can proceed.
Durand-Baissas’ attorney, Stephane Cottineau, claimed victory, and took a shot at Facebook’s supposed tolerance for violence while shying away from nudity.
“On one hand, Facebook shows a total permissiveness regarding violence and ideas conveyed on the social network. And on the other hand, (it) shows an extreme prudishness regarding the body and nudity.”
Facebook spokesperson Christine Chen, however, is convinced that Facebook’s nudity standards – which have been updated since Durand-Baissas’ banning and now allow depictions of nudity in art – will hold up in court.
“This case dates back more than five years and Facebook has evolved considerably since then. While we are disappointed by today’s ruling on jurisdiction, we remain confident that the court will find the underlying case itself to be without merit.”
Do you believe photos of nude paintings should be allowed on Facebook? Share you thoughts in the comments below.