Facebook has told a French court that it did not delete a user’s account because he posted a picture of a 19th-century painting depicting a woman’s crotch area by influential artist Gustave Courbet.
Teacher Frederic Durand claims that the social media giant shut down his account after he uploaded a photo of Courbet’s‘L’Origine du Monde’ (The Origin of the World), which is on display in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
In the long-running saga Durand accuses Facebook of deactivating his account “without warning or justification” in February 2011, AFP reports.
He sued the company in the name of freedom of expression but because of a row over jurisdiction the case only came before the court on Thursday.
The teacher has repeatedly tried to have his account reinstated but Facebook says this is impossible because it only stores data from deleted accounts for 90 days. He is also seeking €20,000 in damages from the Silicon Valley behemoth.
The offending post was a link to an article exploring the history of the classic work of art from 1866. The article had a picture of the painting as a thumbnail.
Durand’s lawyer Stephane Cottineau argued that the painting is “part of France’s cultural heritage” and shouldn’t have fallen foul of Facebook’s rules.
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The detailed depiction of the woman’s genitals has been “glorified, made sublime, through the talent of the artist,”Cottineau said.
The Musee d’Orsay says on its website that the Courbet’s piece “escapes pornographic status” thanks to the artists “great virtuosity and the refinement of his amber colour scheme.” However, it adds that the work raises “the troubling question of voyeurism.”
In court on Thursday Facebook’s lawyers denied any censorship. The plaintiff “has not offered any proof of a link between the deactivation of the account and the publication of the work by Gustave Courbet,” Caroline Lyannaz said.
The legal team did not explain why Durand’s account was taken down, referring to it as only “a simple contractual dispute.”She called the lawsuit unjustified and asked for Durand to be fined €1 as a symbolic penalty.
But the teacher’s lawyer claimed that argument held no water. “The deactivation of the account two and half years after it was opened, and just after ‘L’Origine du Monde’ was posted, cannot be a coincidence,” Cottineau said.
The court is set to issue its ruling in March.