France - United States

French court rules it can judge Facebook in vagina painting case

Facebook is to face a French court, despite the small print
Facebook is to face a French court, despite the small print REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Files

A French court on Thursday ruled that it can judge a case against US social-networking site Facebook over its blocking of the account of a teacher who posted a painting of a vagina by Gustave Courbet. Lawyers claim the ruling creates jurisprudence for other internet companies based outside France.


Facebook claimed that French courts cannot hear cases against it because customers sign terms and conditions that stipulate that only courts in its home-state of California, USA, can do so.

The French father of three, who has not been named in French media, posted a photo of Courbet’sl’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World) on Facebook in 2011.

Outraged that his account was blocked, he took Facebook to court, saying that it could not tell the difference between pornography and art.

The court accepted lawyer Stephane Cottineau’s argument that the clause was “abusive”, a ruling that he described as a "first victory won by David against Goliath".

"This decision will create jurisprudence for other social media and other internet giants who use their being headquartered abroad, mainly in the United States, to attempt to evade French law,” he declared.

The court will hear the case on 21 May.

Facebook said it had noted the judgement and was considering its response.

But it told the AFP news agency that the “standards of the community have evolved” and that it now accepts nude artworks, as long as they are not photographs.

The French government is considering obliging social media to have a French address for legal purposes as part of its plan to fight jihadist and paedophile content on the web.

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