Facebook in landmark censorship case after banning French user who posted naked artwork

The social network loses its appeal to hear case in a special California court 

Facebook can be sued in France for removing a user’s account after he posted an image of a 19th-century painting of a woman’s genitalia, a Paris court has ruled. 

Facebook’s argument that disputes must be heard exclusively in California, where the company is headquartered, was dismissed by the Paris Appeal Court as “unfair”.

Parisian teacher Frédéric Durand-Baïssas’ Facebook account was suspended without notice five years ago on the day he posted Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting "The Origin of the World", which depicts female genitalia. Facebook has never explained why it blocked his account. 

"This is a case of free speech and censorship on a social network," Mr Durand-Baïssas told AP.

"If (Facebook) can't see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France (can)." 

Mr Durand-Baïssas wants his account reinstated and €20,000 (£15,521) in damages.

Facebook appealed against a Paris High Court’s 2015 decision that the contract signed before creating a Facebook account falls under consumer rights law in France. 

The social network had claimed opening an account was "not a consumer contract because Facebook's service was free".

But the judge ruled in 2015 that "if the proposed service was free to the user, Facebook was generating significant profits from the business, including via paid applications, advertising and other resources”.

The latest ruling sends a message to all "web giants that they will have now to answer for their possible faults in French courts", Mr Durand-Baïssas' lawyer Stéphane Cottineau told AP

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"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", Mr Cottineau said.

Facebook’s Community Standards page says: “people sometimes share content containing nudity for reasons such as awareness campaigns or artistic projects. 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.”

There are 30 million Facebook users in France. The ruling may set a legal precedent that cases brought by French users against Facebook must be heard in France.

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