Free Fonts: Free Is Not Always Free

Like I explained in the introductory post An Introduction to Free Fonts the average computer user may think that fonts magically appear out of nowhere. They are everywhere – pre-installed on every computer, bundled with software, and offered by the thousands on free font websites. Yet it’s not because you don’t have to pay for them that all those fonts are really free. Furthermore even the free ones aren’t free just like that. Let’s take a look at the different types of “free fonts” out there.

Why are fonts licensed, and what does this entail?

The most important thing one has to keep in mind is that typefaces are creative works. Fonts are merely the physical manifestations of the creations of a type designer. (For the distinction between “typeface” and “font” please refer to Font or Typeface?, also on The FontFeed.) You can compare it to music, or movies, or similar artistic creations. When you purchase a DVD, you simply acquire the right to watch the creative work on that DVD. You don’t own the movie. The intellectual property rights to that movie remain with the director, producer, … This is the reason why – before the movie starts, or sometimes after it ends – a message warns you that “Unless otherwise expressly licensed by the copyright proprietor, any unauthorized copying, public performance, or any other distribution whatsoever, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited” and so on. The movie is not yours, so what you are allowed to do with it simply is not your decision to make.

Similarly, when you acquire digital type, you only own the “font” – the digital file which is the physical embodiment of a collection of letters, numbers, symbols, etc. – not the “typeface” – the design of this collection. Now very few people realise that, but all fonts are licensed, regardless if they are free fonts or commercial ones. When you receive a candy bar for free, the candy bar is yours. You eat it or you don’t, you give it to someone else, you use it in a diorama; whatever you do with it is your business. But even if you get a font for free, the typeface still remains the intellectual property of the type designer who created it. All you have is a license to use it. So regardless whether you paid for this license or got it for free, you are to comply with the end user license agreement. For example you can’t just tinker with the font and pass it on to someone else when the license doesn’t include the right to modify nor to distribute it. It simply is not your decision to make. Some licenses are universal and apply to all fonts of the same kind, while others have been specifically drawn up by a type designer or foundry for their personal body of work, sometimes even for one particular font.

Some are licensed for unlimited use, some only for private use but not for commercial jobs. You don’t want to take advantage of the kindness and generosity of the people who designed them; it’s really bad for your karma. And you don’t want to risk that, do you?
I am quoted in the introduction of the Free Fonts FAQ on Typophile


Original drawings for Flex by Paul van der Laan | Bold Monday, made at KABK, Den Haag.

Bundled fonts

The most obvious free fonts, those that are just there, on your computer and included in your software packages, are in fact anything but free. True, you didn’t have to buy them separately, yet their cost is calculated in the purchase price of said computer or program. What’s more, their use is intimately tied to the specific version of the operating system or software they came with.

Let’s take the popular Adobe Creative Suite as an example. Bundled fonts are covered by the license for the product they’re bundled with. Some fonts that came with version CS3 – for example Bickham Script Pro and Garamond Premier Pro – are not included in version CS4. As long as CS3 is installed (and has been properly licensed), you still have a license to use the aforementioned fonts. However you technically lose that license when/if you un-install Adobe CS3, or migrate to a new machine that doesn’t have Adobe CS3 licensed and installed.

The proper thing to do is to purchase licenses for fonts you got in a bundle and want to keep using after the original app is gone. Software manufacturers – in this case Adobe –have chosen to not do anything technical to force un-installing bundled fonts. There are two reasons for this. On the one hand, bundled fonts are identical to fonts that are licensed directly, so the un-install process can’t distinguish them by looking at the files. It would run the risk of un-installing fonts for which the user has a separate license. On the other hand, even if the only license the user has is for the accompanying application, un-installing fonts would be a very bad user experience. Those fonts are likely to be referenced in lots of legacy documents on the user’s system. The software manufacturers want people to do the right thing, without causing them major grief.
Special thanks to Adobe’s David Lemon for confirming what I thought I knew.
C O N C L U S I O N | Bundled fonts may only be used as long as the product (and version!) they’re bundled with is installed.


Mahmoud Hamdy refining the Arabic for the Co type family for Dalton Maag.

Freeware fonts

Freeware (the contraction of “free” and “software”) fonts are available for use at no cost, or for an optional fee. Those fonts normally are fully functional for an unlimited time, but they seldom are unconditionally free. The designer usually restricts one or more rights to copy and distribute the fonts, and prohibits making derivative versions of the typeface. Most commonly the license also imposes restrictions on the type of use, including personal use, individual use, non-profit use, non-commercial use, academic use, commercial use, or any combination of these.

Generally speaking almost all freeware fonts are “free for personal, non-commercial use”. This means that – as soon as you use the fonts to design something for someone else – you are required to purchase a license for commercial use. The price of such a license is comparable to that for a commercial font; however –(some exceptions notwithstanding) the artistic and/or technical quality rarely is. This will be examined in the next episode.

C O N C L U S I O N | Almost all freeware fonts are only free for personal, non-commercial use.

Some freeware fonts are distributed under a Creative Commons license. This typically is the standard licensing model for FontStruct fonts. Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that increases sharing and improves collaboration. Their tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardised way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The Creative Commons licenses enable people to easily change their copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved”.

A small number of freeware fonts are distributed under a SIL Open Font License (OFL). This free and open source license is specifically designed for fonts and related software. It is based on the experience in font design and linguistic software engineering of SIL International, a worldwide development and educational organisation. The main purpose is to enable a true open typographic community to spring up and grow. The OFL provides a legal framework and infrastructure for worldwide development, sharing and improvement of fonts and related software in a collaborative manner. It enables font authors to release their work under a common license that allows bundling, modification, and redistribution. It encourages shared value, is not limited to any specific computing platform or environment, and can be used by other organisations or individuals.


Original drawings for Versa by Peter Verheul | OurType.

Shareware fonts

The fundamental distinction between freeware fonts and shareware fonts is that the latter are only free for a limited period of time. Shareware fonts are usually offered to users without payment, sometimes with an incomplete character set or limited features, with the implied obligation to acquire a full license after a trial period. The rationale behind shareware fonts is to give potential buyers the opportunity to use the fonts and judge their usefulness before purchasing a license for the full version.

Shareware fonts are far less common than freeware fonts, because generating fonts with incomplete character sets is quite a hassle, plus it forces the type designer or foundry to maintain a double archive. Furthermore having duplicate versions of fonts can potentially cause problems. Either the trial version and the full version are distinguished by their naming, but then the user has to substitute the fonts in all the documents they were used in once a full license has been purchased. Or the names are identical so the full version overwrites and automatically replaces the trial version, but then people may mistake the incomplete trial version for the full version, causing them to believe the fonts are sub-standard.

C O N C L U S I O N | Shareware fonts generally are incomplete, and are only free for a limited trial period of time.


Alternate ampersand ketches for FF Kava by Yanone | FontFont.

Free commercial fonts

A number of type designers, foundries, and vendors provide some free font downloads as a marketing tool. Unlike shareware fonts these are not incomplete fonts, but rather single weights from larger type families (see Styles, Weights, Widths — It’s All in the (Type) Family). The fundamental difference is that those free weights are licensed just like commercial fonts: they are also free for commercial use, plus they are complete and not limited to a trial period of time. Instead of merely letting users try out the fonts, they can use them “for real”.

The basic idea is that for any serious work one needs more than a single weight, so if potential buyers like that single weight they are likely to purchase a license for the whole family. For example FontFont occasionally offers a single weight of one of its new releases for free; Jos Buivenga of the exljbris type foundry consistently offers one weight per family for free of his commercial typefaces; and FontShop has a Free Fonts page with a small and changing selection of quality free faces. An additional advantage is that those free fonts can also be used to introduce new font features or font formats, like Web Fonts.

C O N C L U S I O N | Free weights of commercial fonts are also free for commercial use, plus they are complete, and not limited to a trial period of time.

Pirated commercial fonts

Pirated fonts are not free at all; they are stolen and illegally redistributed. This topic warrants a post of its own, and will be discussed in the episode after next.

Tags: , , , ,

24 Comments:

  1. Wow, this really cleared things up for me. I knew less than I realized, especially about Freeware fonts. Thank you so much for this article and well as the two you reference. I had a quick scan of those two as well, as feel a lot better informed.

    Posted by Carina Marano on Jun. 25, 2010
  2. On the subject of freeware fonts, you always have to check the “Read Me” included. There are many fonts out there that are free to commercial as well, but a lot aren’t. Gotta be vigilant.

    Posted by Jeff Koromi on Jun. 25, 2010
  3. This is really something I wish had been covered in my design education. I basically entered the professional work world not thinking about the ramifications of using unlicensed fonts and software. It’s just the normal thing you do when you are a student and learning how to use every tool, and never really paying for anything. A respect for the work of a type designer was covered, but the ethics of making sure your tools are all properly licensed was not really instilled.

    Posted by Tim on Jun. 25, 2010
  4. Font Squirrel is a fantastic resource that warrants a mention. It’s now the default at work, and combined with their @font-face generator and kit downloads web fonts are made easy.

    Posted by Derek Johnson on Jun. 25, 2010
  5. Now you say I automatically lose the license to use the fonts that came with an older software once I uninstall it? Let’s take your example and assume I bought Adobe CS5 and uninstalled CS4. However, I didn’t throw away or otherwise pass on my CS4 package, nor the license. (I wouldn’t even be allowed to do so if I bought only an upgrade license.) The same goes for a newer OS version, as long as I keep my original install discs and all.

    Posted by Sami on Jun. 25, 2010
  6. Another, more practical aspect: Since the installer software leaves your fonts untouched, you would have to keep a good inventory to check which fonts came with which software version, and which fonts, once installed, have become legally obsolete after an upgrade. I would not have known that some fonts that came with CS3 were no longer bundled with CS4.

    Posted by Sami on Jun. 25, 2010
  7. I like the candy bar example. When I buy a candy bar, the person I bought the bar from has one less candy bar. When I buy a font file, the person I buy the font file from has the exact same number of font files to sell.

    Yet it’s the latter I have to parse a bunch of legal text to figure out how I’m allowed to use it.

    IMHO, that’s the problem. In order to figure out whether I’m allowed to use a font in a certain way, I have to figure out where I got the file from, find that vendor’s web site, find the license, and parse the legalese—which is almost always rendered in tiny, poorly designed and difficult to read text—then apply it to my work. FontShop’s is better than most, but it’s still not very good.

    Making that process easier will go a long way to ensuring designers actually obey the licenses.

    Posted by Ryan Cannon on Jun. 25, 2010
  8. When I buy a font file, the person I buy the font file from has the exact same number of font files to sell.

    I am not sure I follow your reasoning. Where are you getting at?

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 25, 2010
  9. Just that the “license, not buy” model for things like software is very awkward because, as digital goods, they’re not scarce in the way that physical objects are. Granted there are costs for hosting, bandwidth, etc. But you can never “run out” of digital copies to sell, whereas at some point you’ll have to make more candy bars. IP is an awkward business for customers to understand—not just for fonts.

    I’m not saying that the EULA model can’t work, just that, with exception of Creative Commons, I’ve yet to see a license that doesn’t assume everyone who will read it is a lawyer. I bet you’d be hard-pressed to fill a room with people that have ready every single EULA to which they’ve “agreed.”

    Posted by Ryan Cannon on Jun. 25, 2010
  10. Ryan,

    When I buy a font file, the person I buy the font file from has the exact same number of font files to sell.

    You seem to confuse material cost of a product or its transaction cost with its price. The price of a car is not equal to the cost of all its materials and the cost of assembly. The price of a book is not equal to the cost of the paper and printing. And the price of a designer dress is certainly not equal to the cost of the fabric it’s made of.

    This is not how it works.

    Digital goods are no different. The price of a book needs to cover the material cost of the paper, the manufacturing cost of the printing, the transaction cost of shipping it to bookstores and shelving, and also a fee for people who have written, edited, designed etc. the book. And in addition, the price needs to include a profit margin — otherwise selling books would make no business sense.

    The MATERIAL cost of a digital font may be equal to zero, but material cost is just one small aspect of the cost structure, and therefore of the price. There is manufacturing cost, transaction cost, fees for designers and developers, and a profit margin.

    I recommend one semester of business administration at any college, or a similar class somewhere. You’ll understand how the basics of economy work, then everything will become much more clear.

    Best,
    Adam

    Posted by Adam Twardoch on Jun. 25, 2010
  11. BTW, I should mention that I maintain a subjective (and not necessarily up-to-date) list of, as I call them, “gratis fonts” available on the web. I only include fonts of notable quality there:
    http://delicious.com/adamtwar/gratis+font

    A subset of that list that only includes fonts published under a liberal license (typically opensource, allowing things like commercial use, modification, and distribution of the modified versions) is available at:
    http://delicious.com/adamtwar/gratis+font+liberal

    Posted by Adam Twardoch on Jun. 25, 2010
  12. You seem to confuse material cost of a product or its transaction cost with its price. … I recommend one semester of business administration at any college, or a similar class somewhere. You’ll understand how the basics of economy work, then everything will become much more clear.

    No need to get nasty. I’m not arguing that there’s no production cost to digital goods. I just think the candy bar analogy demonstrates how abstract the concept of licensing IP is, and how tricky it can be for customers to work out.

    Posted by Ryan Cannon on Jun. 25, 2010
  13. Thanks for this overview, Yves. Looking forward to the following post(s).
    Two things:

    While I agree to your definition of ‘Shareware’, it should be noted that designers and foundries use (and have used) this term with various differing meanings. For example, ‘freeware, not shareware’ is frequently used to indicate that the font is free to use, but may not be shared, i.e. redistributed/bundled. Also, ‘shareware’ often is erroneously defined as ‘free for personal use only, not for commercial purposes’. Others again mistake shareware for donationware, and expect an optional – typically discretionary – amount of money.

    I lost you on the conclusion of bundled fonts. This might be true for some software products, but not as a general rule. Is David Lemon saying that they put the Hypatia Italics package together only for those still stuck on CS3? (“intended for customers who received Hypatia as a registration incentive and only want the italic faces” — Typblography)

    Posted by Florian on Jun. 26, 2010
  14. Ryan,

    Well, the candy bar analogy is as accurate as comparing apples to clouds. Of course *if* you make such an analogy, then it’s tricky to understand why you need to pay for fonts, just like if you make an analogy between apples and clouds then it’s difficult to understand why apples don’t float in the air.

    But if you split the price into the most essential pieces (cost of material, cost of labor, cost of transaction, profit margin), then it’s easy. Cost of material is zero, but the rest remains.

    Also, I don’t think recommending taking basic business classes to anyone is nasty. I know people who have taken business classes and they usually agree that it was a wise decision.

    Best,
    Adam

    Posted by Adam Twardoch on Jun. 29, 2010
  15. Adam,

    I think the point that you’re missing, one that would probably not be covered in an intro to business class, is that Ryan isn’t talking about cost. He’s merely talking about the abstract nature of purchasing a license to use over the concrete nature of a consumable. I think the easiest way to do this is to use the gym as an example. I have never in my life purchased a gym, but I do pay for access to one. This is something that makes a lot of sense when you don’t receive anything in exchange for currency but the guarantee of access, but in most software exchanges, a perceived ‘product’ is received.

    Often times, like in the DVD example, a consumer isn’t aware that they didn’t buy a movie, but a right to view the movie, because to them, they have a concrete object in their hand. The same is true of lots of software, as well as fonts. I think that Ryan is saying that the legal jargon doesn’t make this easy to understand to a people already conditioned to think that purchase necessitates exchange or change of ownership. He’s not disputing the kinds of costs, or even the cost, of a font–just stating that licenses aren’t clear about the extent of use. A great example is the dispute over the CS3 fonts that the author cited, which other users have provided great reason to believe that either isn’t true or isn’t feasible.

    That being said, I do want to say that, while this was an informative article in many regards, it does not at all pass the bias test. I’m not saying that the author intended an unbiased view, or even needs to, but I think it should be maybe marked clearly that the reader is not getting an unbiased source.

    Respectfully,
    Randy

    Posted by Randy on Jun. 29, 2010
  16. The law is murky in this area as far as I can tell (in the U.S.) but, if you buy software and it comes with fonts, as long as you retain that software (installed or not) you retain use of the bundled fonts. (After all, if there were font cops checking our machines, we could just load the software – if we were “caught” – to be legal.)

    Another way to look at it is this: If I get software with bundled fonts, I use it with that software BUT it is globally installed on the OS and available to all the programs to use. This is a de jure assumption by the seller and buyer of the bundled type. Indeed, as a designer, we are often called upon (although less so with consolidation) to use a font in a page layout program, then a web authoring program, then an image editing program, then something that makes an iBook app then someone uses QuarkXPress and we have to convert to that for them (ugh!). Then the project involves CAD drawing and it is used in that (OK, maybe not but, you just NEVER know the dynamic use of your design work and the type in it and how technology changes it all in an instant.)

    I keep EVERY CD of EVERY program I have ever owned, including OS9, and the serial number. I still have a Mac that runs OS9 too.

    I think this would stand up in court for my using a URW font I got with Freehand before Adobe owned it.

    Ryan Canon also makes a good point: Font management is a total nightmare even with out the minutia of the hundreds of EULAs we have all signed off on and never read (and never could read without a law degree).

    Someone needs to get Matthew Butterick on this: http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/

    Posted by J on Jun. 30, 2010
  17. I must admit that Adobe performs certain “de facto” actions that kind of defeat their complicated explanations.

    For example, most of the fonts that are bundled with Creative Suite package are installed into the system font folders, even though Adobe applications have a number of Creative Suite-only and product-only font folders, where just a few fonts are located.

    If fonts are placed within the Adobe-specific font folders, they are only available in Adobe applications. If fonts are placed in the system font folders, they are available in all applications running on the user’s system.

    So — because there is a technical way for Adobe to make certain fonts available only within the Adobe apps — their decision to put most of the fonts within the system font folder, to me, implies their permission to use the fonts outside of the Adobe apps.

    I’m also not quite convinced that the technical act of installing or deinstalling certain aspects of a software package has any impact, provided that you own a license. If I install CS3, then uninstall “most of it” (i.e. all the apps except the fonts), and then install CS4 or CS5, yet I *keep* the license for CS3 (i.e. I don’t sell it or give it away), then to me, this means I can keep using the fonts that “came with” CS3. In other words, the only part of CS3 that I decided to keep installed on my machine are the fonts — and I decided to uninstall the applications.

    I agree that software licensing is a complex topic, in my opinion an unnecessarily complex one. Both users and vendors would benefit from simplifying the terms, because currently, the highly complex terms defeat the purpose: many users aren’t actually aware of the contents of the licensing terms, i.e. they’re not “conscious participants” of the agreement. Moreover, in many countries, this situation actually creates a hazard for some terms of the EULA to actually be valid. For example Germany is known for regularly invalidating EULA clauses that are “sittenwidrig”, i.e. “not compliant with the generally accepted conduct”. The more tricky the legal clauses are, the higher the risk that they will be rendered ineffective.

    But this is in fact no different from many warranty clauses: “if you do this, you lose warranty”. (If you don’t use authorized service… etc.).

    I believe this is a consequence of the fact that the software market is dominated by the U.S. legal regulations. Most European countries have quite detailed regulations in general law, while the U.K. and the U.S. tradition tends to put all the detailed regulations into individual contracts — which I consider a ridiculous habit.

    For example, in the last two years, I signed two lease contracts, one was under German law (and was 4 pages long), and the other was under U.K. law (and was 35 pages long).

    I prefer the European model where general law regulates 80-90% of the cases, and the contract only regulates the remaining small part over the U.S. model which is kind of the opposite. But that’s just my own view.

    Still, making an analogy between digital fonts and candy bars is deemed to be flawed.

    Posted by Adam Twardoch on Jun. 30, 2010
  18. Great comments from everyone. I think the value of this type of posts lies as much in the comments as in the articles themselves.

    That being said, I do want to say that, while this was an informative article in many regards, it does not at all pass the bias test. I’m not saying that the author intended an unbiased view, or even needs to, but I think it should be maybe marked clearly that the reader is not getting an unbiased source.

    I’d really like to hear your argumentation, Randy. Although it is nigh impossible to write a truly “objective” article on this subject, I would be interested to hear in what regards my write-up is biased. I want to try to avoid it in the next instalment (which is late, I know, sorry’boutthat).

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 8, 2010
  19. I’m not saying that the EULA model can’t work, just that, with exception of Creative Commons, I’ve yet to see a license that doesn’t assume everyone who will read it is a lawyer. I bet you’d be hard-pressed to fill a room with people that have ready every single EULA to which they’ve “agreed.”

    You are correct about the language of many EULAs, but I must say I don’t agree with the rest of your argumentation. After analysing different types of EULAs – see also my “plain language” version of the FontFont EULA – I have found that most of the stipulations are plain common sense. To quote from my latest Unzipped post on Multi-User Licences: “For example, when you have to pay money to acquire something, it seems only logical that you can’t simply pass it on to someone else for free. My no-nonsense mind tells me this deprives the author of said product of income. You have no need for a EULA to realise this. Similarly, when you are a freelancer working on your own, it is self-evident that you only have to purchase a single licence and pay less to use fonts than an agency employing 20 people.”

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 8, 2010
  20. Since you (sort of) asked –

    I’ve recently had to read the EULAs of most major font vendors.

    I agree that EULAs are too long and too complicated. Worse, in certain cases I’ve had to point out errors in the EULA overlooked by the vendor.

    That said, I also agree that font buyers sometimes have incorrect ideas about what it means to license a font.

    But the font vendor is in the best position to educate the buyer, because the font vendor gets to write the EULA. So vendors should be writing EULAs that buyers can easily understand, instead of imposing dense, impenetrable EULAs on buyers and then wondering why they don’t get it.

    To the font vendors who say “EULAs are inherently difficult and they can’t get shorter or simpler”, I say: absolutely not true. EULAs are complicated because font vendors let lawyers make them complicated. If you tell your lawyer “I need a simple EULA because it’s a business requirement”, then that’s what you’ll get.

    I’ve noticed that font EULAs all say basically the same thing. It’s occurred to me that font vendors could switch over to a uniform-license scheme (similar to Creative Commons in structure, but not substance) where the core language of the license is fixed, but then certain parameters could be customized for each transaction. That would make life easier for buyers, who would only have to “learn” one basic EULA and could easily compare their license rights between fonts and between vendors. It also might make life easier for vendors, who wouldn’t have to draft and maintain their own EULAs. Everybody could get back to making & using fonts.

    Yves, I like the concept of this post though I might quibble with a couple characterizations. For instance, you say “Typefaces are creative works … You can compare it to music, or movies, or similar artistic creations”. But in the USA, this is emphatically not true. Typeface designs are not protected by copyright like music, movies, etc. are. I say this not to nitpick, but just to illustrate that these issues can be genuinely knotty, and it’s no wonder font buyers can get confused.

    Posted by Matthew Butterick on Jul. 12, 2010
  21. Avoid all MS fonts!

    Late comment, this is from MICROSOFT SOFTWARE LICENSE TERMS (Windows Vista).

    “h. Font Components. While the software is running, you may use its fonts to display
    and print content. You may only
    · embed fonts in content as permitted by the embedding restrictions in the fonts; and
    · temporarily download them to a printer or other output device to print content.”

    Embedding is not allowed for MS fonts that come with Windows or MS Office, fonts that come with any MS software, or as “free” downloads from MS, are usually not to be used in other then MS software (as far as I know, its been a couple of years since last time I checked their licenses). Microsoft started with these kind of restrictions when OpenOffice.org started to become a serious contender. They have experimented with different wordings to different versions of their fonts/software (for a while, it was even illegal to print out MS Office documents with some printers (parts of the font software is copied to some printers) in some jurisdictions). The main idea is that their fonts shall not be usable outside Windows and Office and hence documents created with MS software will look different viewed in other software and MS then claim that the other software is at fault because it is buggy (yes, their salesmen actually do this). The main reason documents made in MS Office don’t look the same in OOO, is that OOO has to use different fonts.

    Perhaps not applicable to USA, but as I live in Sweden, I (or an organisation), have the right to modify fonts (and other software) that I (or the organisation) license, IF it don’t work as intended AND ONLY for my own use (or inside the organsisation), but not give anyone else (or someone outside the organisation), my (or the organisations) version, not even embedded in a document (even if the license agree embedding for the original font). This have been a life saver, there are a lot of fonts with åäö:s that isn’t usable for Swedish text (and most of the rest are ugly).

    Posted by m on Sep. 26, 2010
  22. I think you have missed a couple of categories here. Firstly public domain fonts – where fonts have been deliberately released into the public domain by their creator then they can really be said to be free. Secondly, what you might call lost fonts (e.g. a number the FontSquirrel fonts fall into this category) where the ownership of the font really is lost in the mists of time. It might be a slight risk to use these because of the potential of ownership being claimed and proved.

    There are a couple of concerns about Creative Commons Licensed fonts:
    1) Where an attribution license is used it is rare to find an explicit definition of what contributes attribution which makes it virtually unusable
    2) Presumably there is nothing to stop the owner of a CC font deciding later to change which license they use and thus make the font unusable in certain cirumstance (or does that go against natural justice).

    Posted by Richard - Accessible Web on Nov. 22, 2010
  23. A previous commenter wrote: “Embedding is not allowed for MS fonts that come with Windows or MS Office”

    This is simply false. Every Microsoft font I have seen is set to either installable embedding or editable embedding. Certainly none are set to “restricted embedding.”

    It’s true that some MS fonts have licensing terms that restrict you to installing them on Windows and/or with MS apps, but that’s a separate thing.

    Cheers,

    T

    Posted by Thomas Phinney on Apr. 24, 2011
  24. A major flaw with this entire exposition is that it implicitly assumes that the “creative work” that goes into designing a font (which I do appreciate artistically), is truly de novo. If it isn’t, the case for calling foul (for “infringing” derivative work) falls apart when the latest derivative is really just the most recent in a long, LONG chain of derivations.

    Typeface designers have been trying to get paid for their work for a long time, but one thing they themselves never did, was pay a single penny to any of the designers who came before them. The line between ripping somebody off, and honoring a predecessor by that sincerest form of flattery (imitation), is a fine one. Indeed, I doubt that any of the descendants of Aldus Manutius got paid a dime. Old Aldus didn’t just invent a typeface; he invented a whole CATEGORY (“italics”). I also doubt his heirs saw any shekels, Dollars or Euros when his name (and image, in profile) was used by the maker of the world’s first desktop publishing software, Aldus PageMaker (which is intimately connected to a large, if temporary renaissance in job opportunities type designers). But the gravy train is over, ATypI!

    ATypI or the Association Typographique Internationale (the International Typography Association) describes itself as “an international non-profit organisation dedicated to typography”. I think it could more fairly be described as an organization dedicated to “making sure that nobody can print anything without some typeface designer somewhere getting paid”, which is an entirely different mission.

    The history of writing (recording words by making marks), from cuneiform on clay, through quill-pen calligraphy on parchment, to molten type-metal, on up through outline fonts living digitally inside of electronic devices, has too many authors and too many contributors for it to be even remotely legitimate for the current practitioners of tweaking centuries-old and millennia-old designs, to cry foul and try to funnel payment into their own pockets when they didn’t themselves drop so much as a hypocritical nickel into the pockets of the creators who came before them.

    The aggressive and disingenuous attempts by ATypI and others to hi-jack our legal systems and make false analogies with other forms of creativity, are hypocritical, self-serving, and bound to fail. They want to get paid based on legal theory “X” (Pay-up, buddy), but when it comes time for them to pay their own predecessors they offer theory “Y” (What? Huh? The Alphabet? You’ve GOT to be KIDDING!)

    Writing systems, and the tens of thousands of glyphs and letter-forms that have evolved over time, have too many inventors for any other outcome. Writing systems belong to mankind, to Homo sapiens. It is fine for Hermann Zapf to get credit for his beautiful creations, and even get paid (but not indefinitely!) But lest Hermann get too riled up, he should note that many forms of human creative endeavor make excellent progress with only fame and accolade as reward. You have never and will never see a patent or a copyright for a mathematical equation or discovery. But we honor Euclid, Euler, and Erdős.

    And the US Court of Appeals has basically the same “bah, humbug!” opinion as I! See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eltra_Corp._v._Ringer

    We can perhaps make an exception for very strange looking typefaces which truly fall FAR outside the mainstream in their appearance (and usability). But for typefaces which look pretty standard, comprised of elements that have already been used hundreds or thousands of times before by other designers, it is more like tweaking a recipe for soup. Get over yourself, if you think you invented Clam Chowder when really all you have done is come up with a nice balance of standard and optional ingredients. And if someone likes your soup and starts cooking his own and it tastes alot like yours, dont threaten to sue him. Smile, raise a glass of wine to acknowledge his flattery, and don’t forget that your own Clam Chowder tastes like …Clam Chowder!!!

    Posted by Brett Selph on Sep. 27, 2013

Post a comment:

  •  

The FontFeed

The FontFeed is a daily dispatch of recommended fonts, typography techniques, and inspirational examples of digital type at work in the real world. Eat up.

Archives

Subscribe

The FontFeed RSS The FontFeed Comments RSS