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   Can I use fonts in designs?
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   Author  Topic: Can I use fonts in designs?  (Read 1545 times)
Anthony Hung
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Can I use fonts in designs?
« on: Apr 18th, 2006, 1:24pm »
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Hi. I would like to release a product line with silly slogans and logos comprising characters and words on coffee mugs etc. and sell for profit. Some designs were made that have words typed in fonts that are downloadable freely from the web. These include english fonts as well as other non-alphabet symbol fonts of other languages.
 
On the page from which I downloaded the fonts from, there is no copyright notices of any kind. However, it does not mention the site owners as the creators of the fonts.  
 
To be safe, I simply did a google search to see if these fonts can be freely used, and I found that a lot of foreign character true type and bitmap fonts are released under license agreements that ALLOW one to redistribute the fonts providing certain conditions are met, such as the following:
 
http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html  
 
and various others.
 
1) These license agreements seem to suggest that you can redistribute or modify the fonts provided certain conditions, but it seems only to refer to the distribution of the COMPUTER FONT as a software, and does not mention the use of the font for product designs. Does anyone know whether, under these licenses, one can use the fonts for product designs such as logos etc.?
 
2) The actual font files that I downloaded and the website from which they were downloaded did not reference any of these license agreements. I clicked and opened the font files and they do not have any info other than file size, name and a sample typing of the fonts. How do I find out whether these fonts were released under certain licenses?
 
May I ask whether it is legal to use free fonts that are available on the web for product design purposes where the fonts would appear in the final product? Thanks.
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Anthony Hung
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Re: Can I use fonts in designs?
« Reply #1 on: Apr 20th, 2006, 10:19am »
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Oh come on, someone's gotta know.  Embarassed
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Isaac
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Re: Can I use fonts in designs?
« Reply #2 on: Apr 20th, 2006, 10:45am »
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There law concerning protection for fonts is somewhat unsettled.   Certainly, computer programs for generating fonts are protectable by copyright.   Maybe a license on software for generating fonts might include limits on how the generated fonts could be used.   However it is not clear that the fonts are indepently protectable under copyright law.
 
In this particular case you cannot tell us what the license for these free fonts says.   That's going to make it hard for us to say what you can do.  Even if you assume that the fonts themselves are not protectable, that does not mean that the font designer might not feel differently and that he would not sue.
 
The safest thing to do might be to stick to font collections that come with a license.
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Isaac
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Re: Can I use fonts in designs?
« Reply #3 on: May 1st, 2006, 12:28pm »
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Here is an interesting article that describes some of the confusion with font licencing from the prospective of the Free Software Foundation:
 
Quote:
Submitted by novalis. on 2005-04-25 06:08 PM.  Licensing
By David "Novalis" Turner
 
There has been some recent confusion about font licensing. Since I wrote the font exception, let me tell you a bit about where we are, and how we got there, and what this all means to you.
 
First, in the US, the copyright status of fonts is somewhat confused. A font face -- that is, the look of a font, is not copyrightable (see Eltra Corp. v. Ringer, 579 F.2d 294 (4th Cir. 1978)). But font "programs" (truetype fonts, for example) are. Another ruling has extended the definition of "programs" to include certain outline data. Why this outline data is not equivalent to a font face, nobody knows. Helpfully, the copyright office has also issued contradictory statements on this. I don't know how font copyright works in other countries.
 
What this means is that no font is going to affect the distributability of a printed document in the US. Further, merely referencing the font (as in the CSS font-face: caslon;) does not create a derivative work of that font. So why did we worry about font licensing at all?
 
The situation we were considering was one where a font was embedded in a document (rather than merely referenced). Embedding allows a document to be viewed as the author intended it even on machines that don't have that font installed. So, the document (a copyrighted work) would be derived from the font program (another work). The text of the document, of course, would be unrestricted when distributed without the font.
 
This isn't an artifact of the GPL; it's just the way fonts work. Proprietary fonts often explicitly forbid embedding. So, if you want to send your document off to a printing service, the printing service needs to buy another copy of the font.
 
I was unhappy with even this amount of influence for fonts, because (a) it's rarely what font authors intend and (b) it's possible that some applications do embedding behind the user's back. The situation seemed to me to be similar to the case of the runtime libraries which GCC automatically includes in its output (and which are licensed to permit inclusion in proprietary software). So, I wrote the font exception you see on our web site.
 
The reason the exception is so limited is that we're worried about someone extracting a font from a document, and redistributing it. Extraction is, in my view, the major issue that a font license must confront. Because I haven't been able to come up with a license which correctly handles embedding and extraction in all cases, I've restricted this exception to unaltered fonts. This means that someone can't use embedding as a way to distribute a modified version of a font under restrictive terms. If you have suggestions for how to write a license which better handles extraction, please let us know. We haven't had time to give this as much thought as we've given some of the other issues involved in free licensing. We're especially interested in hearing from font creators at licensing@gnu.org.  
 
Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02110-1301, USA Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved. Report any problems or suggestions to webmaster@fsf.org. Plone and its visual design is Copyright 2000-2006 by Alexander Limi, Alan Runyan, Vidar Andersen.
 
http://www.fsf.org/blogs/licensing/20050425novalis

 
In the case you are describing I think it would have to be on a font by font basis. But this is no legal advice.
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mlfveer
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Re: Can I use fonts in designs?
« Reply #4 on: May 15th, 2006, 5:41am »
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FIRST OFF: I am not a lawyer. Smiley
 
I do know that some fonts require a commercial use license. As a comic book fan and creator, I deal with fonts that are sourced from professional comic font developers, and in order to use them commercially, I have to pay a license fee (usually not much money though).
 
If you find a font online, and are having trouble determing if it is possible to use the font for commercial purposes, I'd do two things: one) assume you can't use it commercially, two) exhaust every possible search tool to locate the owner/developer to determine rights issues.
 
Again, I am NOT a lawyer.
 
MLF
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