Legal challenges over online reviews seek to separate fact from fiction
From the ABA Journal:
Robert Allen Lee desperately needed a dentist.
Dr. Stacy Makhnevich at Aster Dental in New York City was able to squeeze Lee in to treat his toothache. When Lee arrived, the dentist required he sign a "mutual agreement to maintain privacy"—a confidentiality agreement with a nondisparagement clause that waives patients' rights to publicly comment on services and assigns copyright to the provider. Anxious for treatment, Lee signed and slid into the dentist's chair.
Though Lee found relief from his toothache, dealing with his dentist over the bill—which totaled $4,766 for the filling—became a pain. He complained about Makhnevich on Yelp and DoctorBase, another online site, claiming the dentist overcharged him and did not furnish the treatment records that would allow him to make an insurance claim and be reimbursed.
Makhnevich fought back. Armed with the privacy agreement Lee signed, she sent takedown notices to the websites hosting the complaints. She then threatened to sue Lee, sending him invoices of $100 a day for copyright infringement.
Lee returned fire. He filed suit against the dentist in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, aiming to invalidate the copyright claim.
“She charged him a lot of money. It was outrageous,” says Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington, D.C., who works on online free speech issues and handled Lee’s case. “What he wrote was true.”
More than four years after treatment, Lee won. The court, in its 2015 ruling, termed the privacy agreement null and void, calling the contract “a deceptive act or practice in violation of New York General Business Law,” which bars deceptive business practices. Lee was awarded $4,766 in damages.
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