Medium’s Ethical and Effective Terms of Service

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Medium is home to creative writers across the globe.  The platform’s focus is on sharing and highlighting original content from inspired storytellers.

Medium’s Terms of Service may not be the most engaging selection of content on the site, but it certainly reads like a well-crafted piece of prose.  This is one of the elements that makes the brand’s policy more effective than those of some other social media platforms.  The agreement opens with, “We’ll try to make this as painless and straightforward as possible.”  Recognizing and respecting users’ time as well as expressing a genuine desire for comprehension on the part of the reader is both an ethical and a courteous practice.

On two different occasions, the writers urge readers to consume the document in its entirety by first stating, “Even if your eyes normally glaze over the word ‘Terms,’ it’s a good idea to read this agreement carefully before you use Medium,” and then again before launching into the dreaded legal jargon: “These following provisions are important, you should read them carefully, and we apologize for the excruciating lawyerly patois.”

The document is in an easy-to-read format that does not consist of a concise list of bullet points, but is at least arranged in short paragraphs with clear headings.  Additionally, the company solicits its users’ suggestions and opinions with regards to the terms.

All of these are good practices to ensure the brand has done everything in its power to encourage users to actually read, comprehend, and agree to the terms and conditions should an accusation of anything contrary to this surface during a legal situation.

Another potential area of legal scrutiny, and one which has gained a lot of attention over recent years, is that of content ownership.  Medium addresses this topic right away by defining “Your Content” and “Our Content” and emboldening the sentence: “You own the rights to the content you post on Medium.”  It then goes on to explain, “We don’t claim ownership over any of it. However, by posting or transferring content to Medium, you give us permission to use your content solely to do the things we need to do to provide Medium Services…,” and “We will never sell your content to third parties without your explicit permission.”

Many of the other areas are pretty standard.  Medium tells its users that it does not monitor content, but that it does reserve the right to refuse to host any content at its discretion.  It warns against copyright infringement.  Considering updates to policies, the site assures the users that changes will be emailed and/or posted on the website prior to the start date.  Medium could improve this section by stating exactly where the post will be visible.  Additionally, the terms state that users are free to delete accounts if they do not agree to the new terms, but a link to do so is not included.  This could be considered unethical as it does not make it easy for the user to quickly do so.  However, links are included when another document (such as “Rules” or the “Privacy Policy”) is referenced.

It is wise of Medium to include a Rules section to outline behavioral expectations for the safety and positive experience of others.  They are also pretty standard, and in their regard the writers simply state, “There aren’t many. In fact, they can pretty much all be summed up thusly: Don’t pee in the pool (metaphorically speaking).”  Users follow a link to view a short list of rules each with its own subheading and brief explanation.  Finally, Medium maintains that it reserves the right to suspend and delete accounts and/or content for violation of these rules.

Overall, Medium covers the critical areas of content ownership, appropriate content free of copyright infringement, privacy, updates and agreement, monitoring procedures, the company’s rights to manage and host content at its discretion, and simple rules for social behavior on the platform.  The information is presented in an easy-to-digest manner that indicates Medium wants its users to actually read for understanding rather than blindly agree and claim ignorance later.  By creating a guideline, but also including the legal lingo, Medium appeases both the human and legal aspects of a contractual agreement.

Personally, I was relieved to find Medium’s terms and conditions to be so friendly and engaging.  If more platforms presented this typically-drab information in both an enlightening and an entertaining manner, then more people would interact with the content.  If I am ever part of a collaborative effort to create such policy for a brand, I will be sure to revisit this site and seek out others like it for reference during the drafting process!




  1. says

    Well, this was interesting! I picked this entry in part because I had never heard of Medium, and I enjoyed getting a glimpse into what makes it run. It makes sense that a platform dedicated to creative writing would make an effort to, you know, write its terms creatively. (Any sentence that includes the words “thusly” and “pee” certainly qualifies!)

    I agree that the whole idea of intellectual property/ownership would be crucial on such a site, and it looks like Medium is on the up and up as far as that goes. This strikes me as one of those sites that, since it’s fairly new (with less than 350,000 followers), can afford to be “cool” in terms of a lot of terms. If and when Medium really takes off, which realms might become less personal, more corporate? Ads geared toward specific topics? Skirmishes over who stands to benefit from pieces of writing? Let’s hope we get to find out.

    • says

      Thank you for dropping by and commenting. You bring up some very interesting questions. I’ll tell you how I heard about Medium in the first place. I watched an interview by Marie Forleo with Gary Vaynerchuck in promotion of his new book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook last spring. (When our social media management professor announced we were using that book, I was excited because I already had it on the shelf ;).) Anyhow, in that interview Vaynerchuck told Marie that Medium was a platform she should be using and to really keep an eye on it. Vaynerchuck has admitted that social media is a bit like gambling, and he’s decided to play at the Medium game.

      You mentioned interest in who, or what content, might be highlighted over others. Well, after viewing the site’s Terms of Service, I checked out the homepage. I noticed a piece with Vaynerchuck’s name highlighted as a staff pick. (It’s not there now, and so I don’t know if it was ABOUT him or written BY him….)

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