A dissatisfied patient with a bill totaling nearly $4,800 has filed a copyright lawsuit against his dentist. He also claims an agreement, which bars him from criticizing the dentist, is unconscionable.
The legal dispute stems from negative comments posted by Robert Lee regarding his Manhattan dentist, Dr. Stacy Makhnevich. The aggrieved patient criticized Makhnevich on Yelp and other online sites, claiming she overbilled him and advising others to “avoid at all cost!”
As detailed in a press release by Public Citizen, Lee went to Makhnevich to treat a severely sore tooth. Before he could be treated, he was handed several forms to sign. One of them required Lee to agree not to publish any commentary about the dentist, not to disparage the dentist, and to assign copyright to the dentist for any commentary that Lee wrote. Lee was reluctant to give up his right to publish commentary, but he was in severe pain and so signed the form.
Makhnevich subsequently sent Lee an invoice for $4,766. Lee paid the bill and asked the dentist to send the necessary paperwork to his insurance company. After the dentist sent the information to the wrong insurance provider, Lee asked for his records so he could submit the claim himself. Lee alleges that Makhnevich refused and instead referred Lee to a third party that demanded five percent of the total bill for copying the records.
Following these incidents, Lee criticized Makhnevich on Yelp, DoctorBase, and other online sites. The dentist then sent Lee a letter warning that he had violated the agreement and threatened to sue Lee for breach of contract and copyright infringement.
Makhnevich also contacted Yelp and DoctorBase and demanded Lee’s comments be removed. However, the review sites refused to remove the comments because they regard purported copyright assignments as legally unenforceable. Makhnevich then sent invoices to Lee for $100 a day for copyright infringement in September and October, and sent another letter threatening to sue Lee.
Lee (and Public Citizen) responded by filing a lawsuit. It contends that the agreement Lee was required to sign is unconscionable and should be declared null and void. It further contends that requiring patients to surrender the right to publish truthful criticism violates medical practitioners’ duty to patients because they are placing their own interests above those of their patients. Finally, the lawsuit alleges that the agreement misuses copyright law to suppress expression.
The contract was prepared by a North Carolina company, Medical Justice Services Inc., and has been provided to doctors and dentists around the country. Following the lawsuit, the company is now advising its customers to stop using the agreements, according to Ars Technica.
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