Friday, January 30, 2009

BLOGSCAN - How the healthcare blogosphere was scammed

Scams in healthcare are not just limited to insurers, hospitals and clinicians. The blogosphere itself can be victimized.

At Dr. Val's blog "Getting Better" in a post entitled "How The Health Blogosphere Was Scammed", we learn that a blog aggregator company called Wellsphere promised to help bloggers better distribute their content, achieve higher recognition, etc. It sent out seductive, complementary letters made to appear as if done individually, and an invitation to submit content with the following onerous provision in the electronic fine print (only seen if a 'terms of service' link is clicked):

When you post your own copyrightable content on the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post your copyrightable content on the Website, you retain ownership of any copyright you claim to your submitted content. However, by posting your content or giving Wellsphere permission to post your content you automatically grant Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed…

In other words, you retain your copyright to your IP, except grant the company the ability to do anything they want with your material, with no reimbursement to you if they make money, and you also allow the company to distribute and sublicense your material to anyone they please, your copyright be damned.

One wonders if they would appreciate such 'fine print' in a patient informed consent form:

"During the surgery you retain ownership of your organs, but if we find one we like we reserve the right to sell it to someone else for their own use."

The company was then sold, and bloggers found themselves estranged from benefit and control of their own IP.

The following list of posts on this issue comes from Deliberate Ambiguity:

Hedge funds, anyone? I know a good one that promises 12% returns every year, even in economic downturns, that uses a secret strategy for investing developed by some genius level programmers.

-- SS


Dr. Val said...

Another disturbing aspect of this case is the deliberate misrepresentation of member healthcare credentials and pressure for lay people to answer medical questions on the site. See this blog post here:

Dr. Val said...

Also, there's an interesting comment thread here about Stanford's name being used to legitimize the business model. Does Stanford U. know what's going on?

People can also follow the latest news on Wellsphere by searching this tag on Twitter: #wellsphere.

MedInformaticsMD said...

Sadly, the CMIO of this venture appears to be a medical informaticist who trained at Stanford while I trained at Yale (I do not know him.)

Medical informatics has as a core competency and key function the clarification of medical terminology and minimization of "blur" in the paper or machine capture and dissemination of biomedical information.

Personally, had I been the CMIO I would have reviewed the terms of service agreement, seen it as overbearing, and would have asked that it be altered to be a reasonable IP agreement.

I would have also asked that its relevant legalese regarding IP rights be presented in plain English in the emails sent to bloggers, not placed behind a hyperlink in the electronic "fine print" that the purveyors knew or should have known most people would not read or read in detail.

If the businesspeople who likely created this "agreement" refused, I would have walked out the door on first principles (i.e., of good business practices).

-- SS