A company called Medical Justice is reportedly using the DMCA to censor critical reviews of their clients – doctors. In response, some legal experts have set up a website to challenge this practise by allowing bad reviews to be posted on their site instead.
In the midst of the copyright debates, one argument often used by critics is to say that tightening copyright laws opens the doors to general censorship. Sometimes, supporters of tough copyright laws counter that infringing copyrighted material is not a free speech issue and dismiss the whole argument. While some may have a dismissive attitude toward the idea of tough copyright laws as censorship, new developments show that copyright laws are once again being used as a tool for censorship.
The story comes from Paid Content. A company known as Medical Justice is using the DMCA to silence critics of doctors. The idea is that doctors make their patience sign a contract that hands over the copyright of any potential review the patient might post online. If that patient decides to post a bad review anyway, Medical Justice can send a DMCA notice which requires that the content be removed quickly. Apparently, this is the quickest way to take down content. Medical Justice has defended the practise by saying that doctors cannot rebut any bad reviews due to doctor patient confidentiality, so using copyright is supposedly to level the playing field.
In response, Eric Goldman and UC Berkeley Law Professor Jason Schultz started up a website called Doctored Reviews which aims to explain why the practice of using the DMCA to censor bad reviews likely not only illegal, but unethical. From the website:
Medical Justice’s efforts may be a sign of things to come. Imagine if other companies used similar contracts. Before you get a haircut, before you buy a six-pack of soda at the local grocery store or before you order a meal at a restaurant, imagine you were required to keep quiet and never post your opinion online about the product or service you purchased. Sound ridiculous? It does to us, and we think it’s no less ridiculous when doctors demand this of their patients.
Paid Content notes that one website, Yelp, is refusing to honour such DMCA take-downs while RateMD’s has created a “Wall of Shame” for doctors who use such contracts.
Sadly, using the DMCA to censor free speech is nothing new. In 2007, anti-creationists were banned from YouTube for copyright infringement. The DMCA notices were apparently issued by creationists not happy with their views.
In January of 2008, the director and screenwriter of the film, “Forget About It”, sent a DMCA takedown notice to film critic Gregory Conley in an effort to take down a bad review under claims of, among other things, copyright infringement, linking to their website without authorization.
In August of 2008, critics of someone claiming to have psychic powers were at the receiving end of a DMCA take-down notice. The motivation behind it was to remove the video debunking the psychic’s claims.
Later on in the same month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) used the DMCA to take down a video posted by Students for a Free Tibet.
This latest incident is simply another case of copyright laws being used to curtail free speech. It has nothing to do with downloading the latest “blockbuster” movie or a recent top 40 album and everything to do with straight-up censorship.
I personally hope that Doctored Reviews isn’t going to ultimately hit the nail on the head and predict this sort of activity being the start of a new and disturbing trend, but as we all know, if something can be abused, it probably will be abused.