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Facebook can be sued for censoring nude painting

Parisian art historian Jean-Jacques Fernier is pursuing Facebook for infringing on his freedom of expression. (Photograph by Reuters)

Parisian art historian Jean-Jacques Fernier is pursuing Facebook for infringing on his freedom of expression. (Photograph by Reuters)

The Court of Appeal of Paris on Friday ruled that a case opened against Facebook for censoring a 19th-Century nude painting can be tried in France.

The court rejected Facebook's argument that it is governed exclusively by Californian law, upholding a March 2015 lower court ruling that a clause in Facebook's terms of agreement is "abusive" in reserving exclusive rights to be tried in a California court.

While Facebook in 2015 argued that French consumer rights could protect its users in France because its service is free, a High Court judge disputed in 2015 that Facebook was nonetheless generating significant profit from its free service.

Facebook can now be sued for nixing the account of Parisian professor and art historian Jean-Jacques Fernier after he shared a picture on the social network of Gustave Courbet's 1866 nude painting L'Origine due Monde ("The Origin of the World").

The Courbet expert's account was suspended without notice when he shared the image in 2011, as part of a link to a television programme about the painting's history. Fernier is pursuing Facebook for infringing on his freedom of expression. In addition to demanding his account be reactivated, he is seeking €20 000 (over R350 000) in damages.

The professor's lawyer believes Friday's ruling, which could set a legal precedent, could send a message to Internet giants that they will now be held more strictly accountable for their actions in France.

"On the one hand, Facebook shows a total permissiveness regarding violence and ideas conveyed on the social network. And on the other hand, [it] shows an extreme prudishness regarding the body and nudity," the lawyer said, critiquing Facebook's "community standards", which have been widely criticised for being inconsistently enforced.

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