French Court Rules Against Facebook in Gustave Courbet Lawsuit

Millions in France can now take their complaints with the web giant to court.

Gustave Courbet, Self-portrait (The Desperate Man) (1843–45)Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Gustave Courbet, Self-portrait (The Desperate Man) (1843–45)
Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Facebook’s history of censoring nudes has just landed the social media network in a difficult spot. In the latest development of a legal battle that began in 2011, Gustave Courbet enthusiast and teacher Frederic Durand-Baissas can now sue Facebook in his home country of France.

A new ruling by a Paris court on Friday entitles the state’s highest court of appeals to hear Durand-Baissas’s case, where he alleges that the social media network suspended his account over a post of Courbet’s 1866 painting L’Origine du Monde.  

According to the Associated Press, Facebook’s lawyers argued that “French consumer rights law can’t apply to its users in France because its worldwide service is free.” These arguments were dismissed, however, and the Paris appeals court decided to uphold last year’s ruling which found that the court enjoyed jurisdiction over Facebook users in France.

The plaintiff is demanding approximately $22,550 in damages as well as the re-activation of his Facebook account.

“On one hand, Facebook shows a total permissiveness regarding violence and ideas conveyed on the social network,” Durrand-Baissas’s lawyer told the Associated Press. “And on the other hand, (it) shows an extreme prudishness regarding the body and nudity.”

Lisa Levy, The Artist Is Humbly Present, censored.Photo: courtesy of Lisa Levy/Christopher Stout Gallery.

Lisa Levy, The Artist Is Humbly Present, censored.
Photo: courtesy of Lisa Levy/Christopher Stout Gallery.

Other global web giants have reason to pay heed. Facebook’s lawyers contended that the defendant was not obligated to answer to international courts (in this case, French courts) over consumer complaints because upon registration for the free service, users agree to take legal disputes to California courts, where the company is based.

With this new ruling, however, and what could result in a legal precedent, French courts may now take citizens’ grievances with the network and expand their jurisdiction to similar cases.

Last year, Canada’s foremost new media art festival had its account deactivated due to two promotional photographs after eliciting three complaints. Earlier this year, Facebook suspended Christopher Stout Gallery’s page over Lisa Levy’s nude performance photos, which depicted the artist sitting on a toilet.

Despite the social media battles, interested viewers are, of course, able to see L’Origine du Monde in real life. It is currently on view at the Musée d’Orsay, which states on its website: “The Origin of the World, now openly displayed, has taken its proper place in the history of modern painting. But it still raises the troubling question of voyeurism.”

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