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L'Origine du Monde (1866)
L'Origine du Monde (1866)courtesy of Wiki Commons

Facebook finally settles censorship dispute over Courbet ‘vagina painting’

The altercation over Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘L’Origine du Monde’ started back in 2011

A dispute between Facebook and a French user has been settled after eight years, after the man sued the social media network for banning his account when he posted a famous 19th-century painting of a woman’s vagina. Facebook has agreed to donate an undisclosed amount to French street art association Le MUR, according to the lawyer of Frederic Durand.

Durand’s lawyer, Stephane Cottineau, said in a statement: “This donation ends the legal battle between Mr Durand and Facebook”. The school teacher had been due to appeal the court decision ,which stated he wasn’t entitled to damages as a result of Facebook’s actions. 

A legal battle ensued when Facebook shut Durand’s account in 2011, after he had posted French artist Gustave Courbet’s infamous “L’Origine du monde” (1866) – a realistic painting of, well, a vagina. The teacher’s post was deemed to be in violation of Facebook’s policy on posting nude images. Hailing from a country who holds freedom of expression (Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!) as a core cultural pillar, Durand accused Facebook of interfering with this right.

While Durand had initially fought for €20,000 in damages in a Paris civil court, Facebook contested that under user terms and conditions, a trial would have to take place in California where Facebook’s headquarters are based. In 2015, a French court ruled this to be unfair and the court case proceeded in France. While the 2018 ruling had declared that Facebook was wrong to shut down Durand’s account, the court also said that the man wasn’t entitled to damages as he was able to set up a new profile.

Facebook’s policy on nudity has long been contested. While its Community Standards state that it will “allow photographs of paintings sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures”, the social media giant has often been accused of taking down realistic artworks that depict nudity.

Its stance on female nudity has also seen backlash. In June of this year, Facebook agreed to a meeting with the National Coalition Against Censorship after activists protested while nude outside the company’s headquarters.

Read back on our report on the creatives and artists trying to make space for sexuality-centred work on Instagram, where censorship and filters reign supreme, here.