As reported in Forbes, you shouldn’t need a copyright lawyer in order to pick a dentist.

A federal judge in New York ruled that a dentist had misused US copyright law in her efforts to prevent negative Yelp reviews of her practice.

Dentist Stacy Makhnevich made her patients sign a contract that made her the “owner” of the copyright in any reviews they wrote about her practice. She threatened to sue them if they violated this agreement.

Sign or Suffer?

In 2010, Robert Lee contacted Makhnevich, who was a preferred provider under his dental insurance plan. Before the dentist would treat him, her office required him to sign a document entitled “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy.”

The agreement was based on a form provided by a North Carolina company called Medical Justice that purports to help medical professionals fight “Internet Defamation.”

In pain, Lee was in no position to negotiate the terms of the contract, so he signed it.

Later, unhappy that he was forced to pay thousands of dollars in dental bills out-of-pocket, Lee criticized the dentist on Yelp and other consumer review sites.

Copyright Infringement Claim

The dentist sent Lee draft versions of complaints claiming $100,000 in damages for copyright infringement, at a rate of $100 per day. The dentist also sent takedown notices to Yelp and the other review sites under the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

With the help of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and private copyright attorneys, Lee and other patients sued Makhnevich in 2001.

In early March, the judge ruled that not only was the so-called contract unenforceable, it constituted a misuse of copyright law.

The court awarded Lee damages of $4,776.00 – the amount that he was required to pay out-of-pocket for the dental services.

However, it appears unlikely that Lee will be able to collect, as Makhnevich has not participated in the defense of her case since 2013, and her copyright lawyers have withdrawn from the case.