For the last few months, we have been piloting a legal support program for independent writers on Substack. As part of this program, we have been working with first-rate media lawyers to provide free advice and direction to writers who are facing legal uncertainty or pressure because of their work. This support has included pre-publication legal review of individual stories and responses to cease-and-desist letters. As of today, we’re making this legal support program more widely available.
One of the advantages of Substack is that it helps writers build independence. When readers support writers directly with paid subscriptions, those writers are free to pursue the work they believe is important. Through this model, independent writers can also find financial stability – the top writers on Substack are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – but we know that money is only part of the equation.
Important writing holds the powerful to account – and quite often, that’s an arrangement that the powerful would rather not support. In some cases, antagonists use threats of legal action in an attempt to stop the work that makes them uncomfortable. Recently, for instance, a high-powered lawyer representing a politician threatened a Substack writer for his coverage of the lawmaker’s questionable business ties. The threats disappeared when the writer, backed by our support program’s lawyers, stood his ground. At Substack, we want to make it crystal clear that anyone who uses such intimidation tactics will also have to reckon with us. We will use our financial and legal resources to vigorously oppose any bad-faith efforts to dissuade Substack writers from doing their work.
We invite interested writers to apply for the Substack Defender program via our online application form.
For this first iteration of the program, applications are open to US-based writers who have enabled paid subscriptions and publish work that may attract unreasonable legal pressure, such as abuses of copyright laws, assaults on first amendment rights, and spurious defamation claims. Upon acceptance to the program, writers can use a separate form to request help for specific cases. Substack will make the ultimate choice on who is accepted into the program and which cases to support. Once a case has been taken on by the program’s lawyers, Substack, at our discretion, will cover fees up to $1 million (in exceptional cases, we may cover even more).
Substack Defender is one of many initiatives that will form a comprehensive support structure for independent writers. We are building a new media ecosystem based on trust, where writers own their relationships with readers, and readers have the power to make considered decisions about their information diet. To realize these objectives, however, software alone is not enough. We are committed to creating the conditions that allow independent writers to flourish, which means helping to restore the infrastructure that has been eroded by the continued dismantling of models and institutions that once supported a healthy free press.
We will make a large investment in a services program that includes initiatives related to healthcare, personal finance, editing, distribution, design, and coworking spaces. In our view, being independent shouldn’t mean being alone.
These efforts to build services for writers will be a central part of Substack’s operations on an ongoing basis. We will continually improve this aspect of our work and welcome feedback and inquiries about potential cooperation.
Thank you to everyone who has supported Substack writers so far, and for helping us build a better future for writing.
Interested in joining the Substack team? See our jobs page at substack.com/jobs.