French Court Says French Freedom Of Speech May Trump Facebook’s Censorship

Posted on Mar 12, 2015 by Rick Falkvinge
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A French court has ruled that a challenge to Facebook’s terms of service under French law may go ahead in a French court. A man had had his account suspended for publishing French nude art on Facebook, and sued Facebook for violations of Freedom of Speech. A French court will now rule whether the man’s fundamental rights were unlawfully limited by Facebook.

Frédéric Durand-Baissas, a teacher in France, posted a famous 19th-century painting by Gustave Courbet named “The Origins of the World” on his Facebook account. The painting portrays a female reproductive organ, celebrating birth and origin – in addition to being a piece of great importance to the community of art historians. Facebook, in accordance with its noncompromising stance on any and all nudity, promptly blocked monseiur Durand-Baissas’ Facebook account.

The Frenchman decided to challenge this in court and argued that his freedom of speech had been unlawfully limited, and that French law should apply. Arguably, when he does post in France with a company that does business in France, that’s not an unreasonable position.

However, this obviously cuts both ways. If local law can take precedence before the terms of service of a global company, under the provision that they conduct business in the jurisdiction where the law seeks to be applied, then that doesn’t just apply to France, but also to China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. However, we’ve already seen the blade cut in that particular direction. Several of the global services have adapted to various dictatorships’ restrictions in freedom of speech in order to do business there at all.

Therefore, it’s beyond refreshing to see the blade cut the other way, too – an opening for the possibility that Facebook’s ban on natural and artistic nudity must give way to actual freedom of speech, as required by fundamental rights. It doesn’t just go in the direction of allowing less freedom of speech – this is the first time there’s been an opening to allow more freedom of speech than desired by the corporation in question.

At the end of the day, this is about the fact that the public square, where freedom of speech used to be enforced, has moved in under the terms-and-services umbrella of a private corporation, where they enforce their own arbitrary limits of what may be expressed and not. That means our fundamental rights have effectively moved into the hands of private interests. I welcome a challenge to this doctrine and an enforcement of freedom of speech, once a public discussion forum – like Facebook – has grown large enough to be a de-facto public location, if not the de-facto public location.

And if you can’t voice your opinion about any subject you like, or express nonsexual nudity and art in a public location, then there’s a much larger problem than being promised Mars bases and getting Facebook instead.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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  1. Jan_B_Andersen

    Sorry Falkvinge, but this idea of forcing a company to provide space and resources for another person’s benefit is wrong. No matter how dominating that company might be. It is socialism, pure and simple.

    4 years ago
    1. Falkvinge

      Hi Jan,

      You’re applying the wrong principle. When a French business (the Facebook subsidiary) is forced to adhere to French laws when doing business with a French citizen on French territory, that’s primarily an application of the Westphalian concept of the sovereign nation-state, which was agreed to in 1648.

      It’s also known as the territorial principle and is a key component of international law.

      Whether the internal French law is currently left-wing or right-wing is completely secondary to the principle of the sovereign nation-state of 1648.


      4 years ago
  2. Antimon555

    I recently wrote a blog post on this, inspired by Rick Falkvinge’s video. Unfortunately in Swedish as usual, however my opinion is that this principle should apply to privacy too. When a service like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. becomes so big it’s next to mandatory to use it to be heard, not only freedom of speech should be guaranteed, but also much more privacy than they do. Granted, that is on the decline in the rest of society too, but for the first it shouldn’t be, and for the second it is much worse on Facebook and the like.

    Would you, Rick or the PIA company, find it rude if I wrote blog posts in English, as I sometimes do, and linked to them from these comment fields? Maybe a stupid question, but it feels a bit like taking your credit or something.

    4 years ago