PARIS — If you post a 19th-century nude painting on Facebook, is it art or impermissible nudity? That question is now cleared for trial in France, after an appeals court there ruled that an aggrieved user can sue the social network over the issue.

Five years ago, Facebook suspended the account of Frederic Durand-Baissas, a 57-year-old Parisian teacher and art lover, without prior notice. That was the day he posted a photo of Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting “The Origin of the World,” which depicts female genitalia.

Durand-Baissas wants his account reactivated and is asking for 20,000 euros ($22,550) in damages. He said he’s “glad” he has been given the chance to get some sort of explanation from the powerful social network.

“This is a case of free speech and censorship on a social network,” Durand-Baissas told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “If (Facebook) can’t see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France (can).”

The case is an illustration of the tricky line social media sites walk globally when trying to police explicit content.

“Social networks are going to have to be much more careful about how they interact with users and how they summarily make decisions about those users’ accounts,” said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“This case dates back more than five years and Facebook has evolved considerably since then,” spokeswoman Christine Chen said in an emailed response to a request for comment. “While we are disappointed by today’s ruling on jurisdiction, we remain confident that the court will find the underlying case itself to be without merit.”

Facebook’s policy – revised after Durand-Baissas’ suspension – now states: “We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.”


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