In October 2010, Robert Lee needed a dentist, pronto. He didn’t realize he needed a copyright lawyer to help him pick a dentist.
In search of urgent pain relief, Lee contacted Dr. Stacy Makhnevich (a preferred provider under Lee’s insurance plan). Dr. Makhnevich’s office required Lee to sign a “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy” before it would treat him. This agreement–based on a form contract sold by a North Carolina company called Medical Justice–prohibits patients from posting online reviews of the dentist; and if the patient does write a review, the agreement says the dentist owns the review’s copyright. In exchange, the dentist promises not to ask the patient if it can sell the patient’s name to marketers–a worthless promise, as HIPAA already requires the dentist to obtain patients’ permission before selling their information to marketers. (Elsewhere, I’ve explained why I think asking patients to restrict their future reviews is unethical, probably illegal, and a bad business decision).