Dermatologist to Patients: Give Up Copyright as a Condition of Service

Is a Minneapolis dermatology clinic requiring patients who seek treatment to sign over the copyright to everything treatment-related they post online?

Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing passes on the following post from an anonymous reader:

“Crutchfield Dermatology, in the Minneapolis area, requires its patients to give them the copyright for everything they write on the Internet, in exchange for service. The provision is in an agreement called: "No Show and Cancellation Policy, Patient Satisfaction Agreement, Privacy Protection and Assignment of Copyright Policy." Basically, the company doesn't want its patients saying bad things about it on the Internet. So it demands:

"In consideration for your medical care and the additional patient protection, described above, by signing this document you or your legal ward agree to refrain from direct or indirect publication or airing of commentary about Crutchfield Dermatology and Dr. Crutchfield's practice, expertise or treatment except in the manner provided in the preceeding Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures. You recognize that Crutchfield Dermatology has made significant investments to develop Crutchfield Dermatology's practice and reputation for outstanding care, and that published comments on the internet or through mass correspondence may severely damage Crutchfield Dermatology's practice. By this agreement, you grant all copyright ownership in any and all published statements, comments, blog postings, and any other communication made by you outside of the Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures. You further agree that Cruthfield Dermatology is entitled to equitable relief to prevent the initiation or continuation of publishing or airing of such commentary regarding Crutchfield Dermatology's practice, expertise, or treatment."

Giving them copyright over things I write about them is bad enough; giving them copyright over everything I write turns me into an indentured servant. And, of course:

"Crutchfield Dermatology reserves the right to modify any policies without notice."

That’s a pretty strong claim: patients must sign away the copyright to all Internet posts that discuss the treatment they receive. But is that actually what the agreement says?"

Not surprisingly, Crutchfield Dermatology, which actually has a pretty nice website, begs to differ, and has posted the following its website:

Recently, an erroneous post on the internet claimed that: “Crutchfield Dermatology ..claims copyright in everything you write forever.” We read the posting with great concern, shock and disappointment. Fortunately, the posting was both inaccurate and incomplete. Never-the-less, we view this as a great opportunity to communicate our position on the topic. In the past we had a problem with a disgruntled employee who pretended to be an unhappy patient and made dozens of fictitious and negative reports on websites about our practice. Because the websites allow anonymous postings, it was difficult to prove that they were indeed pure fiction. We spent hundreds of person-hours monitoring and finally getting many the false comments removed. We strongly support 2 organizations: The Reading Center of Minnesota for children with dyslexia and Camp Discovery, a fully funded camp for children with skin diseases. We would have really enjoyed donating the money to these 2 great organizations rather than spending it on trying to correct this problem. These fictitious postings really hurt us all. We recognize the exceptional power of the internet and other social media in communicating important information. We want to make sure those communications, good and bad, are based on the experiences of real patients. By doing so, we are also able to improve the quality of the information available to the public making this information better and more useful for everyone. Our Policy:

  1. We ask that if a patient believes that they have had a bad experience at our office, please let us know and give us a chance to make it right.
  2. If for any reason the patient is still unhappy, please contact the Better Business Bureau for a resolution.
  3. If the patient is still unhappy and wants to let everyone know how they feel about us, post away! That is our position and if you read our policy carefully, you will see that is exactly what it states.

This is just the latest in the ongoing battle some physicians are waging against bad online reviews and physician rating sites. The chief protagonist in this matter is Medical Justice, a company we’ve profiled here before. Medical Justice, you may remember, is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for developing a solution “to protect physicians from Internet defamation” that “balances the rights and expectations of patients with the concerns of doctors.” The Medical Justice website describes this solution in more detail, noting that the contracts it has created for physicians and patients to use are designed to “provide an actionable tool to address fictional or slanderous posts” made by patients online or on physician ratings websites.

As physician rating sites become more popular and more patients take up social media and other online tools to discuss their health care, the conflict between free expression and physicians’ right to protect themselves against false and potentially damaging information will continue to deepen.

HCPLive Wants to Know:

Have you used a contract developed by Medical Justice or a similar legal document with your patients?