France - United States

Court to rule that Facebook can be judged in France in vagina painting case

The Origin of the World, 1866, by Gustave Courbet
The Origin of the World, 1866, by Gustave Courbet Wikimedia Commons

A Paris court was to rule on Thursday on whether US-based social-media site Facebook is answerable to French law. The case was brought by a user whose account was blocked because he posted an image of a 19th-century painting depicting a vagina.


The user, who has not been named by French media, was outraged when Facebook blocked his account after he posted a photo of Gustave Courbet's L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World).

Considering his freedom of expression to be violated and that administrators could not tell the difference between pornography and art, he filed a complaint against the American social network in a French court.

But Facebook's lawyer, Caroline Lyannaz, argues that the site does not fall under French jurisdiction, because users agree to terms and conditions that stipulate that only a California court is competent to handle cases concerning the company.

The plaintiff’s lawyer Stéphane Cottineau says due to this, the case is also about whether the site falls under French law.

"Since the start of this case Facebook has done everything it can to avoid being judged in France,” he told RFI. “We argue it is inconceivable that France's 28 million Facebook users cannot appeal a judge if they encounter difficulty. For us, Facebook has to be subject to trial like any other entity.”

In a separate case three years ago a court in the south-western city of Pau ruled against Facebook’s claim on the grounds that the stipulation was “hidden amoing numerous dispositions … in small print”.

But a decision of the Paris court would carry decisive weight, Cottineau argued on Wednesday.

“Whatever the court decides, it will create a legal precedent," he said.


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