Manhattan US District Court Judge Paul A. Crotty is fighting against a tactic proposed by an organization called Medical Justice, whose result would be to limit the ability of consumers to place critical, on-line reviews for services they’ve received but were unhappy with.
Medical Justice advises medical professionals to force their patients to sign over their copyright interests on any online reviews they may write. Therefore, if the patient criticizes the health care professional on an online review site, the doctor will have the ability to threaten a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
Judge Crotty’s decision to disallow this practice stems from a dispute between Robert Lee, a disgruntled former patient of dentist Stacy Makhnevich.
Lee claimed that Makhnevich charged him over $4,000 for a filling a cavity, and then refused to give Lee the records that he needed to file an insurance claim. Unhappy with that service, Lee described his experience with Makhnevich on Yelp and DoctorBases. In response to the critical posts Makhnevich claimed that she and her dental practice owned the copyright to Lee’s reviews.
The dentist demanded that the Web sites remove Lee’s posts and also demanded from Lee $100 per day that the posts remained up.
Public Citizen, and advocacy group for consumers, represented Lee in a suit against Makhnevich. Judge Crotty ruled last year that the copyright agreement Makhnevich had with Lee was invalid for a long list of reasons, one of those being that such an agreement is unethical. Furthermore, Cotty argued, even if somehow Makhnevich did own Lee’s reviews, Lee would still retain a “fair use” right to post them on websites like Yelp.