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Facebook: French courts are competent to rule over a user’s complaint despite exclusive US jurisdiction in Facebook terms


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A French school teacher filed a lawsuit against Facebook in Paris after the social network had blocked his account in 2011. The reason to inactivate the account was a post of a picture of Gustave Courbet’s famous painting „L’Origine du Monde“ – a depiction of nude female intimacy from the 19th century. In its recent decision, the Parisian appellate court held that French courts are competent to decide on the matter although Facebook’s terms provide for exclusive jurisdiction of US-courts.

Facebook had argued that it may restrict the display of nudity based on their terms and conditions (“T&C”). After many unsuccessful requests asking for the reactivation of his account, Monsieur Durand-Baïssas filed a lawsuit against Facebook for the violation of his right to free speech and claimed that he must be allowed to upload a picture of the painting. Facebook argued that French courts are not competent to rule on the dispute. Facebook particularly invoked its T&Cs providing that any claim related to Facebook shall be exclusively resolved in the US and that the law of California (US) shall prevail without regards to conflict of law provisions. According to Facebook mandatory French consumer laws do not apply to because Facebooks worldwide service is free of charge.

In a decision dated March 5 2015, the Paris Court of First Instance (4ème chambre deuxième section du tribunal de grande instance de Paris) rejected Facebook ’s arguments and held a violation of consumer law and that the concerned Section of Facebook’s Terms of Service was ”unfair”.

On April 16, 2015 Facebook appealed against the decision to the Paris appeal court. On February 12, 2016 the appellate court ruled that consumer laws apply to the service of Facebook: The fact that the basic service to the user is free of charge allows Facebook to offer billable applications and charge third-party clients for advertising (Article 15 EC No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000). As consumer laws apply to the contract, a consumer may bring proceedings against the other party to a contract either in the courts of the Member State in which that party is domiciled or in the courts for the place where the consumer is domiciled (Article 16 EC No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000).

Based on the French “Code de la consummation” (Article L132-1 and R132-2), the Paris court of appeal deemed Facebook ’s terms of service regarding dispute resolution “unfair” as Facebook makes it difficult for users in France to exercise and enforce their rights.

The “Arrêt du 12 février n°2016-58” is expected to open the way for further claims against Facebook outside of the U.S., at least for more than 20 million of French Facebook users.

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Ansprechpartner: Lukas Bühlmann


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