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19th century vagina sparks French lawsuit against Facebook

19th century vagina sparks French lawsuit against Facebook


Paris court says it has jurisdiction to rule in a complaint over the social network's censorship policies

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A 149-year-old vagina is at the center of a legal dispute involving France, Facebook, and online censorship. As AFP reports, a Paris high court this week ruled that it has jurisdiction to decide a case brought by a French teacher whose Facebook account was suspended after he posted a photo of l'Origine du Monde — a famous 19th century painting of a woman's vagina. 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. The painting in question, by Gustave Courbet, is on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

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."

"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.

Nudity and other explicit content are banned from Facebook, per the site's community standards, though the company's combination of algorithms and outsourced moderators have had trouble distinguishing art from smut in the past. "We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance," the policy states, "whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo's David or family photos of a child breastfeeding." The company tells AFP that it has noted the ruling and is considering a response.

The ruling also comes at a time when French authorities are looking to exercise greater control over social networking websites, following January's Charlie Hebdo jihadist attacks. After the attacks, French President François Hollande called for US companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to be held accountable for hosting hate speech and other extremist content. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has also advocated for stronger surveillance of online social networks, as part of an effort to mitigate extremist propaganda.