I’m not a lawyer. This isn’t legal advice. Seriously.

This is part of a series where I read TOS thoroughly before buying products and then don’t buy the product because the TOS doesn’t work for me.

This article is my notes from my readthrough of Substack’s Publisher Agreement. Substack is an email newsletter manager. Their publisher agreement doc links to their TOS and Privacy Policy which I didn’t read because the PA already gave me the sick.


2(a) prevents me from contracting separately with my customers to cut Substack out of the deal, which is standard for marketplace providers. But it also says:

You agree to notify Substack immediately if you receive any such offer or solicitation

i.e. you have to tattle. Yuck and no thanks.

2(d) makes it unclear who is responsible for paying Substack the revenued share:

  • you will pay Substack the Revenue Share (defined below) through the Third Party Payment Processor
  • the Third Party Payment Processor will pay the Revenue Share directly to Substack

These two lines appear to conflict. Do we both pay it?

4(c) says:

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, you may not collect from an End User (via the Platform or by any other method) any information (personally identifiable or not) beyond what Substack is permitted to collect

I like the intent but the phrase ‘Nothwithstanding anything to the contrary’ is bonkers. I’ve never seen it before in a contract. ‘anything to the contrary’ means anything – not just the contents of these terms. It can include a notice on my website. It can include a hypothetical dream I had while sampling ayahuasca.

13(d) tries to make this document the ‘complete and exclusive statement of the mutual understanding’ and this phrase destroys that.

4(d) prohibits:

any activity that is (long list of things) or otherwise objectionable.

My subject matter is pretty tame (programming & engineering management) but there are a few people who respond badly to any article. Also, wiktionary says that objectionable means:

Arousing disapproval; worthy of objection; offensive.

Half the internet is about arousing disapproval for the other half; and even correct information is worthy of objection. This phrase doesn’t belong in the policies for a publishing platform.

6 says:

You will provide Substack with all requested data or information about you and your Publisher Newsletters

Period? This is too broad.

7(a) has me warrant that my content doesn’t ‘infringe, violate, or misappropriate any law, statute, ordinance or regulation’. This doesn’t restrict the jurisdiction so I could be in violation of this by defaming a head of state in one of the various countries that still prohibit this. Or like reuters criminal defamation stuff happening this very minute in southeast asia.

7(b) prohibits publishing harmful computer code – this needs to distinguish between executable code and code that is being written about.

9(b) substack won’t process refunds if they cancel your newsletter. This isn’t personally objectionable to me but I suspect it creates liability for substack. I can’t imagine this is a frequent enough occurrence for them to sweat the money; if it were me I’d refund.

9(c) allows them to cancel your publication if:

your behavior or any Publisher Newsletters is offensive or unacceptable in any manner

This literally says that substack can cancel me for the content of someone else’s newsletter (I suspect that’s unintentional, but it’s in there). More interestingly, this may be an editorial action that waives their section 230 rights. I’m not a lawyer.

12 defines my page views and open rates as Substack’s confidential data. That seems off, but I wonder if there’s a privacy law that requires them to define it this way.


Weird and bad. Shopping for an alternative provider.