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Facebook in French court for ‘censoring’ vagina painting

How should Facebook decide what's art and what's pornography? The question comes to a head in a French court case Thursday with the social network accused of censoring a 19th-century painting of a woman's genitals.

Facebook in French court for 'censoring' vagina painting
Photo: AFP (edited by The Local)
“L'Origine du Monde” (The Origin of the World), an 1866 oil painting by the realist painter Gustave Courbet, may hang on the walls of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
   
But its status as a cherished work of art did not stop Facebook shutting down the account of a French teacher who shared a picture of it, because of the social network's ban on nude images.
   
The teacher, Frederic Durand, accuses Facebook of deactivating his account “without warning or justification” in February 2011.
   
He promptly sued the company in the name of freedom of expression, but the case is coming to court only on Thursday after a years-long legal wrangle over jurisdiction.
   
Durand made repeated attempts to have his account restored but Facebook is not thought to have done so — despite rule changes in 2015 clarifying that depictions of nudity in artwork were acceptable.
 
Nudity 'made sublime'
 
Durand had posted a link to an article exploring the history of the painting which used the famous image as a thumbnail.
 
His lawyer Stephane Cottineau acknowledged that Facebook banned nude content at the time, but he argued that the painting is “a major work” which is “part of France's cultural heritage”.
 
Photo: AFP
   
The close-up of the woman's crotch and abdomen is a depiction of nudity that has been “glorified, made sublime, through the talent of the artist,” Cottineau said.
   
The Musee d'Orsay, which has held the painting since 1995, says on its website that the work “escapes pornographic status” thanks to “Courbet's great virtuosity and the refinement of his amber colour scheme”.
   
Facebook fought for five years to avoid being taken to court in France over the case.
   
It argued that the teacher, like all Facebook users, had signed off on terms and conditions that say any legal disputes must be settled in California, where the company is based.
   
But a Paris appeals court ruled in February 2016 that the case should be heard in France.
   
Facebook had in the meantime updated its policy in 2015 to clarify that photographs of paintings or sculptures depicting nudity were acceptable.
   
A Facebook search today returns numerous uncensored posts featuring images of “L'Origine du Monde”.
   
The painting, one of several female nudes completed by Courbet, shocked the stiff bourgeois society of his time.
 
It is believed to have been commissioned by a Turkish diplomat in Paris who was forced to sell it after racking up huge debts because of his gambling addiction.

MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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