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French court rules man can sue Facebook over century-old painting

His account was suspended years ago, but now he can fight back.


Selena Larson


When determining what qualifies as art or pornographic content, Facebook tends to be rather prude. That’s what 57-year-old Frederic Durand-Baissas, an art enthusiast and painter in Paris, discovered five years ago when Facebook suspended his account after he posted Gustave Courbet’s provocative 1886 painting The Origin of the World.

It’s a controversial painting that depicts a naked, anonymous woman lying on a bed, with her labia exposed. It’s a frequent point of reference for the art-versus-porn debate, and the painting is currently hanging in the Musée d’Orsay

That debate will soon come to a courtroom in France, because an appeals court ruled Durand-Baissas can sue Facebook over his account suspension. He wants his account re-activated and is seeking $22,550 in damages, the Associated Press reports

“This is a case of free speech and censorship on a social network,” Durand-Baissas told the Associated Press. “If [Facebook] can’t see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France [can].” 

Musée d’Orsay

The case could help further delineate the line between art and explicit content on Facebook, one the company has struggled to define in the past.

Facebook’s missteps with “suggestive” content have been well-documented, including its censorship of breastfeeding and mastectomy scarring, which it finally began to allow after outraged users pushed back against the company’s rules. 

Despite the Community Standards that were updated in March 2015 that say the company allows “photographs of paintings, sculptures, and art that depicts nude figures,” Facebook still has a hard time discerning art from porn.

Last week, the company removed Evelyne Axell’s 1965 piece Ice Cream from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Facebook Page for “containing excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content,” even though its sexual theme isn’t all that explicit. 

This post has been updated for clarity.  

H/T Motherboard | Illustration via Fernando Alfonso III

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