Facebook could be sued by France for censoring content

09/03/2015

A Facebook user that was banned from the social network for posting an image of an explicit 19th century painting has been able to get his legal complaint handled in France- despite Facebook being a US company.

The ruling was made after Frédéric Durand-Baissas, a teacher and father-of-three, posted a picture of L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), an 1866 painting by Gustave Courbet depicting a woman’s vagina that hangs in the Musée D'Orsay in Paris, on his Facebook account.

The man, whose name has not been disclosed, filed a complaint against Facebook in a French court, arguing that his rights to free speech had been compromised because the social network could not distinguish pornography from art.

In a January hearing, Facebook's lawyer argued that French courts have no jurisdiction in the case, because the man had agreed to the site's terms, which specifies that legal complaints against the company can only be heard in California courts.

But Paris' high court disagreed, saying that the clause is "abusive" Thursday in a ruling that could set an important precedent for Facebook and other US tech companies. Immediately following the ruling, the plaintiff's lawyer described it 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," Stephane Cottineau, the teacher's lawyer, said following the decision. The teacher is seeking€20,000 ($21,900) in damages, according to French daily Le Figaro.

The court's decision comes as the French government is seeking ways of clamping down on hate speech on the internet via agreements with social networks and service providers.

One proposal is to oblige social networks to be domiciled in France for users of that country to facilitate legal action.

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