Facebook, a French Teacher, and “the Origin of the World”

One man vs Facebook? An eight-year-long legal battle over Facebook censoring his photo of 1800s painting is finally over. 

In 2011 Frédéric Durand-Baïssas posted a photo of Gustave Courbet’s 1866 L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World). The painting, based in Musée d’Orsay, has always been surrounded by controversy. And it wasn’t in Facebook’s taste for art. They took down Durand-Baïssas’ photo and his Facebook account. So he sued them

Already in 2011, Facebook argued that according to their terms and conditions that Durand-Baïssas agreed to while creating his Facebook account, any legal cases  “can only be tried in California, where the company is headquartered,” as noted in The Art Newspaper.

However, in 2016, a French court of appeals decided that Facebook’s condition was “unfair,” and that the case would fall under the French law.

There are reasons to celebrate. Facebook, surprisingly, listened. As of August 6, 2019,  Facebook terms and conditions say

Reese Witherspoon Comedy Gif by Coolidge Corner Theatre


If you are a consumer and habitually reside in a Member State of the European Union, the laws of that Member State will apply to any claim, cause of action or dispute that you have against us.



Two years later, in March 2018, a Paris civil court stated that

Facebook failed to fulfill its contractual obligations towards the user since it deactivated the account “without giving Frédéric Durand a reasonable period of notice and without specifying the reasons for this deactivation.”

found on GIPHY.

It took eight years and one French schoolteacher to put Facebook on a trial – and win (well, almost). 

Durand-Baïssas had planned to appeal, as he wanted €20,000 ($22,550) reparation and reactivation of his account.

Instead, a few days ago he and Facebook “agreed to a joint resolution.” They are both going to donate an undisclosed amount to a Paris-based group Le M.U.R. (The WALL) which promotes street art. Nice. 

 As quoted in the Local, Stephane Cottineau, Durand’s lawyer, said

This donation ends the legal battle between Mr. Durand and Facebook.

“THE FUTURE OF ART” by STEOVILLE is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

So now what?

My very first post was about Facebook Censoring Nude Art (“The Nipple Gestapo“). For years, Facebook has been censoring posts, ads, and photos of museums, artists, and users like Durand-Baïssas. Unless the censorship gets world-wide media attention (as with Durand’s case or nude protest in front of Facebook NYC HQs), Facebook will censor any art that their algorithms label inappropriate. Unless we do something. 


Mark Zuckerberg Smile GIF. Found on GIPHY.

Besides, Facebook prefers to pay money than continue the legal battle. Only this July, the Federal Trade Commission of the US, fined Facebook $5 billion as a consequence of data security flaws over the years. And it seems most users it’s okay with it.

Sarah Frier, a technology reporter for Bloomberg, said that  

“Facebook announced earnings this week (July 26, 2019), beating estimates on revenue, still growing its user base”

The censorship issue goes on. What is crucial is that the freedom to share, talking, and seeing art is an extension of what freedom of speech is all about. Art has always been agreeable and controversial, beautiful and ugly, political and pointless, depending on who you ask. But art has always been a way to understand certain times and societies, namely – us. 

…and now, let’s simply enjoy Marina Abramović, an internationally-renown artist, talking about The Origin of the World (no censorship involved).


the featured image was created by Natalia Stanusch using a digital copy of Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (“The Origin of the World”) retrieved from Wikipedia

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