Dentist Who Claimed Copyright Over Patient’s Yelp Review Must Pay $4,766 In Damages

Way back in 2011, we told you about a dental patient who said his dentist had gone too far with a “privacy agreement” that preempted patients from publicly complaining about the doctor and claimed copyright on patients’ reviews. After nearly four years of legal wrangling, the dentist has finally been ordered to pay the patient nearly $5,000 in damages, though he may never get it.

Some quick background: The patient complained on Yelp and elsewhere that the dentist had overcharged him and screwed up submitting his claims to his insurer.

The dentist, citing an agreement the patient had signed, demanded the reviews be removed because they “are not considered constructive commentaries but rather as personal attacks to the office’s well-being and reputation.”

The patient refused, resulting in invoices for $100 charges for each day the reviews remained online.

In an attempt to get the write-ups taken down, the dentist claimed copyright ownership of the content under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but the patient countered that the reviews were protected fair use speech.

According to the default judgement [PDF] by a U.S. District Court in NYC last week, the judge concurs, saying that the prohibition against negative criticism, along with the use of copyright claims to prevent these reviews from being seen “constitute breaches of fiduciary duty and violations of dental ethics and are subject to the equitable defenses of unclean hands, and, as to such assignment and assertion, constitute copyright misuse.”

In the end, the court awarded the patient $4,766 in damages but he’s unlikely to ever see that money as the dentist apparently vanished into the ether in 2013.

[via GigaOm]