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Facebook loses nudity appeal in French court

Fri 12 Feb 2016

A court of appeals in Paris has ruled against an appeal filed by Facebook, after a 2015 ruling regarding suspension of an account for posting an erotic image.

In 2011, Facebook suspended the account of a French teacher, Frederic Durand-Baissas, who posted a link on Facebook with a picture of a famous Gustave Courbet painting featuring a nude woman. The original painting, Courbet’s 1866 painting ‘The Origin of the World’ resides in the Musee d’Orsay. Mr. Durand-Baissas accused Facebook of censorship, and sued to have his account reinstated and to receive $22,000 in damages. When a lower court agreed last year that the suit would be heard in France, Facebook filed an appeal citing their user policy, which states that lawsuits can only be heard in California, where Facebook’s headquarters are located. They also said that French consumer rights law could not be applied to Facebook users in France because it is a free service.

While this suit has sparked a debate on international standards of content moderation and censorship, the court’s ruling is important in that it struck down Facebook’s insistence that worldwide lawsuits be heard only in the Santa Clara court, calling those requirements unfair and excessive. Additionally this ruling addressed the fact that agreement to the lengthy terms and conditions required to set up a Facebook account (and the fact that Facebook is free to users) does not exempt the company from local consumer rights laws.

The ruling today did not encompass an end to Frederic Durand-Baissas’ suit against the company, it merely allowed that the French courts would hear the suit in the future. But it may set a precedent that Facebook, and other social media, be responsible for adherence to varied consumer laws in the countries where they are used, rather than just the country where the platforms have originated.

This news immediately follows a formal notice given by France’s anti-fraud agency, in which Facebook was instructed to comply with French data protection laws; a notice which specifically referenced the company’s removal of content without consulting the poster. French authorities are also cracking down on Facebook’s breaches of user privacy, again holding Facebook to standards set by French lawmakers rather than their preferred US laws.


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