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Doctors Say They Own Your Reviews---a Prescription for Legal High Jinks

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodMay 24, 2011 11:35 PM


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If you talk smack on Yelp, it's coming down.

What's the News: Sign here, here, here, and here—that’s the first thing your doctor’s office asks you to do. Chances are, you’re not reading the forms too closely. But tucked in there might be a little clause that goes something like this: “all your online reviews are belong to us.” And if you refuse to sign it, they’ll refuse to see you. Doctors and dentists have started including this language, provided by an organization called Medical Justice

, in their releases in an effort to keep negative online reviews from going up on sites like Yelp. But, as Ars Technica found

, there are about a million different ways that this is both silly and pointless. How the Heck:

  • First of all, although the clause is said to be for use only against nonpatients who post fraudulent reviews (according to the dentist's office where the Ars writer first encountered it), there’s no way for a doctor to know who a reviewer is. On the internet, as the saying goes, no one knows you’re a dog. Moreover, nonpatients have obviously never signed the release, so any doctor tampering with their reviews would be in serious legal trouble.

  • Then, the clause likely doesn’t hold legal water—the primary situations in which people sign away to the rights to future works are employer-employee relationships, and you are not your doctor’s employee. So it probably wouldn’t stand in court, says Ars. It’s furthermore a near certainty that no self-respecting reviewing site is going to agree to take down negative reviews without some serious proof that they're illegitimate.

  • Ars asked around and concluded that no doctor’s office has yet taken action on this clause, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had a chilling effect. If people think that their doctor is poring over their reviews and spiking the ones that don’t gush, they might not bother to write at all. And as anyone who’s had to find a new doctor knows, the negative reviews are key to getting a sense of the practice.

The Future Holds: Doctors need all the help they can get with frivolous lawsuits, and Medical Justice, which comes out from this affair looking pretty ridiculous, if not flat-out malevolent, might do some decent work in that department. But this is an area of defamation law where doctors don’t need to call in the armies. If they’re worried, maybe they need to do what other business owners do: ramp up their customer service and engage negative reviewers to see if they can rectify the wrong. (via Ars Technica

) Image credit: eelke dekker/flickr

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