File photo

Paris –

Frédéric Durand-Baïssas believes that Gustave Courbet's oil painting of a woman's genitalia deserves to be shared. But Facebook disagrees and has removed his profile for breaching the social network's ban on nudity.

And so the battle over Durand-Baïssas's right to post an image of the painting on Facebook has continued for almost four years. Other Facebook users have posted Courbet's L'Origine du monde (“The Origin of the World”) – only to be told to take down the painting. Now Durand-Baïssas is demanding €20,000 (R263,000) in damages and the right to have his Facebook profile reinstated.

Key to the battle is where the case is heard. Durand-Baïssas, an art enthusiast, wants the hearing to take place in Paris, where the Musée d'Orsay houses the original picture, painted in 1886. Yesterday, Facebook demanded that the case was heard in California, appealing against an earlier ruling which said the hearing should be beld in France. Facebook disabled Durand-Baïssas's profile after receiving a complaint in 2011. The artwork was part of link he shared, redirecting viewers to a documentary about the history of The Origin.

The teacher told Europe 1 radio that he was “fighting to defend Courbet, condemned by the Americans”. Speaking to The Independent yesterday, his lawyer, Stéphane Cottineau, said his client felt he was a victim of prejudice and had been treated “like a pornographer”. Securing a French hearing, Cottineau added, was the “first of David's victories against Goliath”.

But Facebook insists that all litigation should take place in California, where it is based - a policy that would make it difficult for individuals to take it to task. Some 82 percent of its daily active users are based outside the US and Canada.

The company first ruffled French feathers in 2013 when it forced the Jeu de Paume photography museum in Paris to remove a post showing a portrait of a woman with her breasts exposed, taken by Laure Albin Guillot in 1940. Facebook's guidelines, updated in March, state that nipples on a female breast are not allowed to be uploaded unless they are “actively engaged in breastfeeding”.

But the company adds that, while nudity is banned, “photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures” are allowed. A spokesman for Facebook was quoted yesterday as saying that posts of Courbet's masterpiece “wouldn't pose a problem today”.

At the time Courbet was working on the painting, his favourite model is known to have been Joanna Hiffernan, a young woman whose then lover was the American painter James Whistler, a friend of Courbet.

The picture is believed to have been commissioned by Khalil Bey, an Ottoman diplomat who had just moved to Paris, to add to his personal collection of erotic art. – Independent