Facebook nude-painting case can face trial in France (Update)

February 12, 2016 byPhilippe Sotto
Court: Facebook can be sued in France in nude painting case
A visitor takes a picture with a phone of Gustave Courbet's 1866 "The Origin of the World," painting which depicts female genitalia at Musee d'Orsay museum, in Paris, France, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. Facebook lost a crucial legal battle Friday as a Paris court ruled the social network can be sued in France over its decision to remove the account of a French user who posted a photo of Courbet's famous 19th-century nude painting. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

If you post a 19th-century nude painting on Facebook, is it art or impermissible nudity? That question is now cleared for trial in France, after an appeals court there ruled that an aggrieved user can sue the social network over the issue.

Five years ago, Facebook suspended the account of Frederic Durand-Baissas, a 57-year-old Parisian teacher and art lover, without prior notice. That was the day he posted a photo of Gustave Courbet's 1866 painting "The Origin of the World," which depicts female genitalia.

Durand-Baissas wants his account reactivated and is asking for 20,000 euros ($22,550) in damages. He said he's "glad" he has been given the chance to get some sort of explanation from the powerful social network.

"This is a case of free speech and censorship on a social network," Durand-Baissas told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "If (Facebook) can't see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France (can)."

The case is an illustration of the tricky line social media sites walk globally when trying to police explicit content.

"It's another hole in the fabric, at least in Europe, when it comes to users' rights running counter to the way these companies operate in the U.S.," said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Court: Facebook can be sued in France in nude painting case
In this Nov. 6, 2007 file photo, the Facebook logo is displayed at a Facebook announcement in New York. Facebook lost a crucial legal battle Friday Feb. 12, 2016 as a Paris court ruled the social network can be sued in France over its decision to remove the account of a French user who posted a photo of a famous 19th-century nude painting. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)

"Social networks are going to have to be much more careful about how they interact with users and how they summarily make decisions about those users' accounts," he said.

Facebook has never provided any specific explanation for the suspended account.

"This case dates back more than five years and Facebook has evolved considerably since then," spokeswoman Christine Chen said in an emailed response to a request for comment. "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."

The social network's current "Community Standards" page, which Facebook revised in March 2015 to provide "more detail and clarity," states: "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."

Court: Facebook can be sued in France in nude painting case
A visitor looks at Gustave Courbet's 1866 "The Origin of the World," painting which depicts female genitalia at Orsay museum, in Paris, France, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. Facebook lost a crucial legal battle Friday as a Paris court ruled the social network can be sued in France over its decision to remove the account of a French user who posted a photo of Courbet's famous 19th-century nude painting. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

But Facebook's current policy—revised well after Durand-Baissas' suspension—also now appears to allow postings such as a photo of the Courbet painting. Facebook's standards page now explicitly states: "We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures."

Facebook's nudity policy has not yet been aired in French court. So far, Facebook lawyers have argued that under its terms of service, lawsuits like the one filed by Durand-Baissas could only be heard by a specific court in California, where Facebook is headquartered. The social network also argued that French consumer-rights law doesn't apply to its users in that country because its worldwide service is free.

The Paris appeals court dismissed those arguments. The ruling could set a legal precedent in France, where Facebook has more than 30 million regular users. It can be appealed to France's highest court.

The appeals court said the small clause included in Facebook's terms and conditions requiring any worldwide lawsuits to be heard by the Santa Clara court is "unfair" and excessive. In addition, the judges said the terms and conditions contract signed before creating a Facebook account does fall under consumer rights law in France.

Court: Facebook can be sued in France in nude painting case
Visitors look at Gustave Courbet's 1866 "The Origin of the World," painting which depicts female genitalia at Orsay museum, in Paris, France, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. Facebook lost a crucial legal battle Friday as a Paris court ruled the social network can be sued in France over its decision to remove the account of a French user who posted a photo of Courbet's famous 19th-century nude painting. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

"This is a great satisfaction and a great victory after five years of legal action," lawyer Stephane Cottineau, who represents the teacher, told The Associated Press. He said it sends a message to all "web giants that they will have now to answer for their possible faults in French courts."

"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," he said.

The French government has lobbied Silicon Valley tech giants to take down violent extremist material, notably after deadly attacks in Paris last year.

Facebook has had a tough week in France.

France's independent privacy watchdog said Facebook is breaching user privacy by tracking and using their personal data, and set a three-month limit ahead of eventual fines. And the government's anti-fraud agency issued a formal notice giving the company two months to comply with French data protection laws or risk sanctions. It notably accused Facebook of removing content or information posted by users without consultation.

Explore further: French court says has jurisdiction in Facebook vagina case

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19 comments

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BSD
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 12, 2016
Yes, there is this weird characteristic of the American psyche where graphic violence, particularly when it's gun violence, is perfectly acceptable. Show nudity however and they are shocked and appalled.

Is it something to do with your puritanical, christian prudishness or is it some sort of national psycho-sexual hangup Americans have with guns as your phallic symbols?

Your guns are penis substitutes and killing people is your sexual tension release mechanism. I can only guess there must have been some gun loving rednecks almost creaming themselves with delight.

Either way you really need to sort that out.

MR166
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
That is just a minor aspect of the real question. Exactly how much right does a private company have to limit free speech on their website? Should a companies social and political views be allowed to influence content on the public internet? OK, there are easy answers like no pro child porn or rape posts but how about the not so clear posts relating to religious or political beliefs and the expression thereof even though these expressions might be offensive to some?

For instance, exactly what rights does a search engine like Google have to limit your search results????
MR166
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
I might add to that, exactly what right does a government have to limit or censor the content available to you over the internet? This is very similar to the example of freedom of speech that does not allow you to falsify yell fire in a crowded theater.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2016
You see the reason that I do not respect the viewpoint of the Left is that they are more than willing to censor and limit the opinions of any group that disagrees with them. A group that professes to uphold the freedom of speech should not use government powers to limit it!
eagleslightlybetter
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2016
So Facebook censors art... and so does Phys.org.
dbsi
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
As a sience site they can be pardoned being unsure, whats a pornographic image and whats an art painting.
baudrunner
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2016
The painting is not even pornographic.
dbsi
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2016
wikipedia:
Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts – artworks, expressing the author's imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

and
[ q] Pornography (often abbreviated as "porn" or "porno" in informal usage) is the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal
Do we know for what purpose the artist Gustave Courbet painted it in 1866?
dbsi
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
.... Edit function still not working on mobile platform :-(
24volts
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 13, 2016
It's their website. They you don't charge money for you to use it and it's up to them to decide what is OK or not. If people had to pay to use the site it might be different but nobody HAS to use facebook. I pay for and decide what goes on my website. No one else has the right to decide that for me especially not some court in some other country.
MR166
not rated yet Feb 13, 2016
24V your point is valid as far as it goes especially the part about foreign courts. But how about the case where a US company selectively blocks viewpoints they do not approve of. In theory, note I am not claiming that they are doing this exact thing, should a search engine like Google be have the right to limit the search results of say a political candidate or only to pro or only con AGW websites?
BSD
not rated yet Feb 13, 2016
It's their website. They you don't charge money for you to use it and it's up to them to decide what is OK or not. If people had to pay to use the site it might be different but nobody HAS to use facebook. I pay for and decide what goes on my website. No one else has the right to decide that for me especially not some court in some other country.


Facebook doesn't HAVE to operate in France either.
BSD
5 / 5 (2) Feb 13, 2016
So Facebook censors art... and so does Phys.org.


And both are American.

What a coincidence.
BSD
5 / 5 (2) Feb 13, 2016
You see the reason that I do not respect the viewpoint of the Left is that they are more than willing to censor and limit the opinions of any group that disagrees with them. A group that professes to uphold the freedom of speech should not use government powers to limit it!


"The Left"

A lazy, blunt term without definition used by "The Right" to characterise those they don't agree with.

Speaking of censorship though, the Religious Right in the US uses censorship to insulate it's mindless masses from facts.
MR166
not rated yet Feb 13, 2016
Yea and the "Left" is busy creating safe zones in schools where people with opposing viewpoints are treated very harshly . The very same liberals are claiming to be "Inclusive".
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2016
So Facebook censors art... and so does Phys.org.


And both are American.

What a coincidence.


Phys.org is English.
MR166
2 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2016
Censorship of sex and sexual images is not too unlike the control of illicit drugs. Both sides have valid arguments and concerns. The problem is that anything taken to extremes creates more harm than good. Puritanical sexual repression can be very physiologically harmful but exposing children to adult sexual situations can be just as bad. Every freedom has it's limits. Personally I feel that today's recreational sex has diluted it's personal meaning to the point that many have lost something special in their lives.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2016
When you have a discussion about artr, it is customary to show the art object, or not at all for others to know or google it.

That Phys.org participates in censorship is an unnecessary political statement. It is also ironic...
24volts
not rated yet Feb 22, 2016
24V your point is valid as far as it goes especially the part about foreign courts. But how about the case where a US company selectively blocks viewpoints they do not approve of. In theory, note I am not claiming that they are doing this exact thing, should a search engine like Google be have the right to limit the search results of say a political candidate or only to pro or only con AGW websites?


A search engine isn't the same type of website as facebook. As far as that goes, there is no reason why facebook couldn't just require an age minimum on stuff they think is to risque for the general public. Amazon and Ebay also restrict things from their sites that happen to be perfectly legal to sell. They do this because it's their website and they can. They don't have to have any other reason really.

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