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Health Care Censorship: Doctors Taking Temperature, Blood Pressure, and Copyright

The next time you stagger into the hospital with a broken arm or internal hemorrhaging, take an extra minute to read through the paperwork you have to sign before you get treatment. If your not careful, you might be signing away your right to complain about your doctor online:

Medical Justice was founded in 2002, and today has about 3,000 members, located in various states and representing different medical specialties, who pay an average of $1,200 a year. The company sells membership as a batch of services, mainly centered around helping doctors that are facing medical malpractice litigation. But the Medical Justice benefit that has drawn the most scrutiny is its program of fighting "physician internet libel and web defamation." The system works by getting patients to sign contracts that assign away the copyright in any future review they might of a doctor—to the doctor [Joe Mullin, "Can Doctors Use Copyright Law to Get Rid of Negative Reviews?,", 2011.04.14].

Tech journalist and consultant Glyn Moody brands this sort of contract a perversion of copyright, the stated purpose of which is to promote learning, not stifle it. Moody worries that doctors who play Medical Justice's misnamed game set a precedent for other vendors of goods and services to make our silence a condition of doing business.

Health care costs enough already; it should not also cost us our First Amendment rights. When you pay the doctor to stitch up that nasty flesh wound, don't let her stitch up your mouth. Check that paperwork, and keep your copyright!


  1. Stan Gibilisco 2011.04.18

    What a great idea! If this goes through, maybe I can get online booksellers to make would-be reviewers sign away all rights to me before they express their views on my work.

    Lots of the online blurbs about books aren't true book reviews anyhow -- at least not the sort my English teachers taught me to write in middle school. They're more like blog comments, most of 'em.

    Just kidding, of course. It does not take a Ph.D. in psychology or sociology to figure out what lies in the pit at the bottom of this slippery slide. This reminds me of corporations trying to patent my DNA.

  2. Stan Gibilisco 2011.04.19

    Perhaps "Medical Justice" would find itself better served by disgruntled patients who don't make a negative peep, but instead go straightaway to a lawyer and sue for malpractice.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.04.19

    Agreed, Stan! Financial transactions shouldn't be this complicated. You provide me a good or service, you get my money in return, not a whole list of my rights as well.

    Another possible implication of this bad practice: schools generally require students to sign Acceptable Internet Use policies to access school computers and networks. Maybe teachers should catch on and get their admins to add a clause requiring students to surrender their copyright to any reviews they might post to or snarky comments they might put on Facebook or phone text messages.

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