In Brief

Facebook Settles 8-Year Case With Teacher Who Posted Courbet’s “Origin of the World”

After an eight-year legal battle, the company has finally reached an agreement with Frédéric Durand-Baïssas. The social media giant will make an unspecified donation to a French street art association, Durand’s lawyer said.

Illustration by Hyperallergic

After an eight-year legal battle full of twists and turns, Facebook agreed to settle a case with Frédéric Durand-Baïssas, a French kindergarten teacher who sued the company for suspending his account after he posted Gustave Courbet’s nude painting “L’Origine du monde” (“The Origin of the World,” 1866). The social media giant will make an unspecified donation to a French street art association, Durand’s lawyer said.

Durand’s protracted legal dispute with Facebook dates back to 2011, when the teacher first sued the company on claims of censorship. In 2015, he sought €20,000 (~$22,400) in damages in a French court and won the case. Following the case, Facebook clarified its nudity guidelines announcing a more nuanced policy that allows depictions of nudity in art. But to Durand’s dismay, a higher court in France overturned the ruling on March 2018, though it reprimanded the company for never fully explaining why it closed the account.

Gustave Courbet, “The Origin of the World” (1886) (via Wikimedia Commons)

“Censoring this painting, which is also a hymn to the freedom to create, is an attack against democracy, against the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,’” Durand’s lawyer Stéphane Cottineau said in an interview to Le Monde at the time. “If Facebook has a different vision of that which is contained in the laws about freedom of expression, it has no right to impose it.”

But as Durand was preparing an appeal the 2018 ruling, a deal was finally reached between the two sides, Cottineau said in a statement to AFP. Facebook will be making its donation to the French urban art association Le MUR (The WALL). “This donation ends the legal battle between Mr. Durand and Facebook,” Cottineau said, without giving any further details. Durand’s connection with Le MUR remains unclear. Facebook has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s inquiry about the details of the settlement.

Durand’s account was not the first, nor last, to fall victim to Facebook’s overzealous algorithms. In November 2018, the company permanently disabled the account of curator and art historian Ruben Cordova after he posted a picture of John De Andrea’s hyperrealistic “Self-Portrait with Sculpture” (1980). In August that year, it rejected an ad by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts because it featured nude Picasso paintings.

An internal Facebook document leaked in 2017 made the distinction between “handmade art” (painting, sculpture, and drawing) and “digitally created” art. Depictions of nudity and sexual activity are allowed in “handmade art,” according to the document. In “digitally created” art, the company updated its policy to allow images of nudity but maintained its ban on digital art images of sexual activity.

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