Copyright and Licensure of Fonts
With all the hubbub this week about SOPA, PIPA, and Wikipedia's beautiful protest of those initiatives, an email with a subject line of "Are you at risk if your team ignores font compliance?" really caught my attention when it popped in my inbox. The email shared a recent story about Dutch company Typotheque VOF suing RaiseDigital LLC, the design firm who created politician Rick Santorum's website, for $2 million for unlicensed use of Typotheque's trademark font Fedra. Just two months ago, P22 Type Foundry sued NBC Universal Studios for copyright infringement when Universal used the P22's font Cezanne Regular on Harry Potter merchandise connected to a ride Universal Studios themepark. Lawsuits involving typefaces are nothing new but they live in the grey area between technically right and legally wrong. Fonts themselves can't be copyright but the software used to create them can. So if the font was created by hand, then it's not protected, but if it was created by a computer, then it is copyrightable. If a hand-designed typeface is ever going to be an editable computer font, then at some point along the way software will be used to digitize it.
So what does this mean for the average business who is neither running for president or running after Voldemort? The answer is to as much as possible ensure you have the right to use the typefaces you're using in your public marketing and outreach communications. In general, the fonts that come with your computer's operating system such as Times New Roman are licensed as free to use for personal and business purposes. That's a relatively small amount which means that most fonts technically require some type of end-user licensing agreement. Licenses vary by type foundry and intent. If you're uncertain, ask your designer and they can help you. When embarking on a design project, your designer may bring up the issue of purchasing a font in order to have legal usage rights. The cost of fonts can vary quite a bit and it's best to find out early on so you can factor it into the budget for your project.