Facebook To Be Sued In A French Court Over A Nude Painting Case? Social Network Facing Legal Ire For Its Censorship Policies

Facebook is to be tried for removing an image of a famous nude painting. The social media giant may have been merely following its standard censorship protocols, but a French court says a legal case is valid.

Overthrowing Facebook's defenses and its argument over jurisdictional limitations of law, a French court ruled on Friday that a case against the social networking company over a painting of a nude woman can be tried in France. Facebook had suspended the account of a French professor, allegedly after he had uploaded a risqué but critically acclaimed picture of Gustave Courbet's 1866 canvas The Origin of the World. The photo depicts, in amazing or embarrassing detail, a highly close-up view of female genitalia and a partially exposed breast, reported the Daily Mail. In response, the man had sued Facebook.

The famous 19th-century nude painting is commonly accepted as art, but Facebook considers it violations of its policies pertaining to public nudity. Interestingly, it is not absolutely clear whether Facebook suspended Frederic Durand-Baissas' account for uploading a photo of the famous nude painting. However, it surely can't be a mere coincidence that the account was closed on the day he posted a photo of the famous Gustave Courbet's 1866 painting.

A father of three, Durand-Baissas posted a photo of the painting almost five years ago and immediately had his account suspended without prior notice. The 57-year-old Parisian teacher and art lover wasn't officially intimated about the closure and neither was he asked to take down the photo, he insists. He had appealed to a French court, asking them to decide why his account was unjustifiably shuttered just because he uploaded a photo of a masterpiece.

The teacher said, "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)."

It appears Facebook did not offer an explanation about the closure and now Durand-Baissas wants his account reactivated. Moreover, he is seeking 20,000 euros ($22,550) in damages. He categorically noted he was glad that he was given a chance to get some sort of explanation from the powerful social network, reported Yahoo News.

Incidentally, a standard page that deals with nudity, titled "Community Standards" on Facebook, reads, "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."

Interestingly, on the same page are the words that specifically exclude works of art and creative content that deals with nudity.

"We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures."

However, Durand-Baissas' lawyers noted that the social media giant had creatively altered the language on the sensitive subject in recent years. It seems the wording now allows Facebook to make an arbitrary decision about any visual content that deals with nudity.


On its behalf, Facebook began by attempting to get the case thrown out of a French court, noting that its operations are governed by California laws. Facebook's lawyers stated that such lawsuits can only be heard by a specific court in California, where it is headquartered. As an extension, French consumer rights law can't apply to its users in France because its worldwide service is free, noted Facebook's lawyers.

Facebook has about 30 million active users in France. After hearing the arguments, a Paris appeals court dismissed those arguments. In a step that is bound to have far-reaching ramifications, the court upheld a lower court's decision that ruled French courts can hear cases involving users in France, noting that the specific clause restricting legal disputes to California as "unfair and excessive." Moreover, any contract signed by a French user with Facebook does fall under consumer rights law in France.

[Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images]