Monday, November 8, 2010

Judith Griggs' Next Employer - The Crutchfield Dermatology Assignment of Copyright Policy - will this catch on?

The web allows you to get information about just about anything, and people are taking advantage of this to learn about companies before they do business with them. If you or I go to a business, we may choose to share our experience, good or bad. Companies obviously don't like to hear bad news about them, and end up reacting in a variety of ways when negative information is posted online.

But what if the negative information is never posted at all - because you're restricted from posting it?

Boing Boing links to and quotes from a document from Crutchfield Dermatology entitled the No-Show & Cancellation Policy
Patient Satisfaction Agreement, Privacy Protection, and Assignment of Copyright Policy

Yes, assignment of copyright. But before we get to that, let's look at something that Boing Boing didn't explicitly highlight - Crutchfield's Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures:

As we agree to work as hard as we can to meet your satisfaction, you agree to report any question, issue, or concern you have related in any way to the care we have provided to our Satisfaction Director at (651) 209-3600 or You further agree to follow the process outlined below (“Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures”) prior to any disclosure of the matter by you to third parties.

First, you agree to provide Crutchfield Dermatology thirty days from the time of providing notice of your concern to our Satisfaction Director as described above. Second, Crutchfield Dermatology is also a proud member of the Better Business Bureau. In the event we are unable to resolve a matter to your satisfaction within thirty days as described above, you agree to submit your concern to the Better Business Bureau for a determination regarding your concern. Finally, if your concern remains inadequately addressed after these time periods and processes, you agree to notify Crutchfield Dermatology of any communication you make regarding an unresolved issue and authorize the Clinic to verify the source of any such communication to ensure concerns and issues are properly reported to permit us to address such matters in the future.

Now let's get to the part that Boing Boing quoted:

In consideration for your medical care and the additional patient protection described above, by signing this document you or your legal ward agree to refrain from direct or indirect publication or airing of commentary about Crutchfield Dermatology and Dr. Crutchfield’s practice, expertise or treatment except in the manner provided in the preceding Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures. You recognize that Crutchfield Dermatology has made significant investments to develop Crutchfield Dermatology’s practice and reputation for outstanding care, and that published comments on the internet or through mass correspondence may severely damage Crutchfield Dermatology’s practice. By this agreement, you grant all copyright ownership in any and all published statements, comments, blog postings, or any other communication made by you outside of the Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures. You further agree that Crutchfield Dermatology is entitled to equitable relief to prevent the initiation or continuation of publishing or airing of such commentary regarding Crutchfield Dermatology’s practice, expertise, or treatment.

The Boing Boing writer noted that the agreement could be construed to grant all copyright ownership of everything you write to Crutchfield. But let's assume for the moment that the copyright grant is solely restricted to comments about one's experience with Crutchfield itself.

However, this agreement does not extend to people who don't sign it. As a result, Crutchfield's Yelp page currently has seven reviews - one in the middle (3 star), three outstanding (5 star), and three at the bottom (1 star). I have no idea whether Crutchfield is taking action against some of the things posted in the three star review:

Dr. Crutchfield and his nurses rush you in and out of your appointment, and you have to be the one to interrupt and slow them down. His office strives to be efficient, but sometimes come off like they are hoping you just shut up, sit down, and take what they give you.

But on the other hand, did statements such as this one on Yelp violate Crutchfield's agreement?

Dr. Crutchfield has helped me look my best for several years now and people say I look much younger than I am. He makes u look natural and not overdone.

Uh, he makes "u" look natural? Looks like that's damaging to Crutchfield's copyrighted material. Since Judith Griggs will probably be out of a job really soon, perhaps she can get employment by rewriting Crutchfield's copyrighted material.

And the damage isn't contained on Yelp. You can also see recent negative comments (from people who didn't sign the agreement) on Crutchfield's Facebook page. Here's what Erica Owens Yeager wrote, in part:

Whatever benefit you may get from your policy of having patients sign over rights to anything they write on the Internet basically forever (ostensibly so you may control what is written about you?) is almost certainly not worth the *horrible* perception that many people seem to be developing of you as a result. Suggestion: fire your PR person.

On Sunday, Fast Company's Rich Brooks wrote a post entitled 3 Steps to Avoid Being the Next Cooks Source. If the Crutchfield medical practice chooses to follow Brooks' advice, this is what they will do:

Don't steal, plagiarize, or break any of the other commandments.

From a narrow legal term, Crutchfield isn't stealing, because according to them the copyright is theirs. But a court could decide otherwise.

Definitely don't steal, plagiarize or otherwise offend a blogger or anyone else with a social media megaphone.

Look, things got bad enough when Monica Gaudio used her social media megaphone to criticize Cooks Source. But when you have Boing Boing against you, all sorts of damage can happen.

Own your mistake.

At this stage, there are two obvious options open to Crutchfield.

One option is for Crutchfield to get a lawyer and redraft the agreement, taking out the offending text. Perhaps Crutchfield may want to continue to use the BBB for dispute resolution, but perhaps it might be better for Crutchfield to allow people to talk about the issue independently. There are libel and slander laws already on the books that can be used if things get out of hand.

Another option is for Crutchfield to stick to its position and explain why this is beneficial to the practice and to its patients. Perhaps some of us may not like the agreement, but I seriously doubt that Crutchfield will lose 100% of its patients over the flap. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that 90% of Crutchfield's patients don't even know about it; bloggers would naturally get incensed at anything that limits their freedom to blog, but most people are not bloggers and really don't care.

To some of my readers, the second option probably sounds like a terrible option. However, if Crutchfield really believes in this contractual provision, then that is the option that they should pursue.

It's certainly better than doing nothing, which is apparently what Judith Griggs has been doing all weekend as the Cooks Source firestorm continues to burn.
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