An Update to a 2011 Post About Doctors Using Copyright to Stifle Web Criticism

In July 2011, I posted an item about a clever scheme to stifle criticism of health professionals.  Through the help of a firm called “Medical Justice,” doctors and others could get a form for patients to sign, effectively giving the professional the copyright in anything the patient published about the provider.  The provider, if unhappy with, say, a Yelp review, could then demand of Yelp that the review be pulled, as a copyright infringement. Here’s that post: “If an Outrage Is Clever Enough, Is It Still an Outrage? Or, Kudos to Boalt Hall and Santa Clara Law School.

My SLS colleague Paul Goldstein just pointed out to me the playing out of at least one use of this copyright assignment strategy – the patient fought back and the provider (in this case a dentist) has disappeared!  Here’s a story on it from Ars Technica; a summary follows.

In 2010, a man named Robert Lee went to Dr. Stacey Makhnevich, the “Classical Singer Dentist of New York”.  He signed a form she offered him, entitled “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy”, which she had received from Medical Justice.  He ended up very unhappy with the services he received and posted a scathing review on Yelp.  Makhnevich’s staff then filed “take down” notices under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.  Yelp took the review down.  The dentist’s staff then sent invoices to Lee, claiming copyright damages of $100 a day.

He got in touch with Public Citizen and, with the help of Paul Levy there, in November 2011 he sued both Medical Justice and Dr. Makhnevich.  Medical Justice folded one day after the suit was filed, saying they were “withdrawing” that form.  Now the dentist has disappeared.  Her lawyers went to court to seek permission to drop their representation of her, as she hadn’t been in contact with them for three months and they can’t find her.  A default judgment may loom.

So, apparently, an outrage can be too clever by half and still be an outrage.  And keep an eye open for “the classical singer dentist”of wherever.