French court rules against Facebook in censorship dispute

The Parisian school teacher whose Facebook account was suspended after he posted a picture of Gustave Courbet’s “L’Origine du Monde” (“The Origin of the World”) has won the right to have his case heard in France.

On Friday (12 February), the Paris court of appeal upheld a high court judgment in favour of the teacher, Frederic Durand-Baissas, who is claiming €20,000 (£15,521) in damages from Facebook as well as the reinstatement of his account.

Durand-Baissas filed suit against the US social media company in 2011 after it deactivated his account in accordance with its community standards. The school teacher and Courbet enthusiast had posted a picture of the 1866 painting of a close up of female genitalia on his Facebook page. Durand-Baissas claims he had the right to upload an image of the painting and accuses Facebook of censorship.

Last year, the Paris high court rejected Facebook’s argument that the case could only be heard in California where the company has its global base. Section 15 of the company’s Terms of Service state users must resolve any claims “exclusively in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California or a state court located in San Mateo County.”

Lawyers for Facebook also argued that French consumer laws do not apply to the company as its worldwide service is free of charge and voluntary. In March 2015, the high court held this was an “abusive” argument and a violation of French consumer law.

Upholding this ruling last week, the appeal court deemed Facebook’s terms of service regarding dispute resolution “unfair”. The judgment is expected to pave the way for further claims against the social media giant in France where it has over 22 millions users.

The original work by Courbet hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It made headlines in 2014 when performance artist, Deborah de Robertis, walked into the gallery, sat down in front of the work and recreated the image in the flesh. She was arrested by Parisian police for indecent exposure.


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