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Facebook vagina pic triggers landmark case

AFP/The Local · 5 Mar 2015, 10:53

Published: 05 Mar 2015 10:53 GMT+01:00

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Everything kicked off when a French father-of-three posted a picture of L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), an 1866 painting by Gustave Courbet that hangs in the Musée D'Orsay in Paris, to his Facebook account. 
The painting, which shows a close-up of the female genitalia, was flagged as "too offensive" for Facebook and was removed, with the user subsequently blocked. 
Believing his freedom of expression had been violated, the man took the case to a Parisian court. His lawyer has argued that France's 28 million Facebook users have a right to be able to take their Facebook issues to court when they feel they have been wronged. 
On Thursday, the case will be taken up in the Paris High Court as part of a landmark trial that will determine whether the US company is subjected to French law.
The lawyer Stéphane Cottineau is seeking a reactivation of the account and damages to the tune of €22,000, reported French newspaper Le Figaro
"It's inconceivable that Facebook, which has 28 million users in this country, can just be in France to make money, but not face up to its responsibilities," Cottineau told The Local.
"This decision is hugely important because it would mean that French people can make Facebook answer to their complaints through the courts," he said.
The social media giant closed its legal arm "Facebook France" in May 2012, meaning complaints have to be filed in the US.

(Another photo of the controversial artwork. Do not share this on Facebook. Photo: AFP)
Facebook's lawyer, Caroline Lyannaz, argued that the service shouldn't fall under French jurisdiction as users agree to terms and conditions stating that issues can only be brought up in Californian courts. She added that the service is free and that users only open accounts on their own initiative. 
Story continues below…
The judgement, which is expected on Thursday afternoon, comes at a time when the French government is looking at ways to crackdown on online hate-speech especially through social media channels.
French comedian Dieudonné was arrested in January for being an "apologist for terrorism" after he left a post on Facebook apparently sympathizing with one of the gunmen from the Paris attacks.
Elsewhere, France has employed "social media police" to crack down on people joining Facebook jihadist groups, and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve met Facebook heads last month to discuss ways to thwart terrorists from using the platforms as stages for propaganda.
And the famous "Origine du monde" oil painting is no stranger to news headlines in France. In June, a woman entered the Musée d'Orsay and stripped off in front of the piece as bystanders applauded. She was escorted from the premises by security guards.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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