Font Law

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Dave Crosby
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Location: Enoch, Utah

Font Law

Post by Dave Crosby »

When does a design Idea enter Public Domain?

I asked myself that question and started doing some research.
Caution! I have NO legal training.

At present, I can only address US Law.
There are two separate Areas, Patent Law, and Intellectual Property Law.
Fonts belong in the latter.


If you have a great idea, then build models and prototypes until you get it functioning, pay a patent attorney, and finally get it patented, the government allows you 20 years head start on your competition before cutting loose “the dogs of war,” and the idea becomes Public Domain.

U.S. Code TITLE 35 ... 01_35.html
TITLE 35 PATENTS> PART II > CHAPTER 14 > § 154 Prev | Next

§ 154. Contents and term of patent; provisional rights
(a) In General.—
(1) Contents.— Every patent shall contain a short title of the invention and a grant to the patentee, his heirs or assigns, of the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States, and, if the invention is a process, of the right to exclude others from using, offering for sale or selling throughout the United States, or importing into the United States, products made by that process, referring to the specification for the particulars thereof.
(2) Term.— Subject to the payment of fees under this title, such grant shall be for a term beginning on the date on which the patent issues and ending 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, if the application contains a specific reference to an earlier filed application or applications under section 120, 121, or 365 (c) of this title, from the date on which the earliest such application was filed.
If you have a great idea and write a book or a song or design a font, Intellectual Property was allowed an additional 8 years. Fonts, books, and music used to have 28 years before becoming public domain, but then Big Music got it’s fingers into the pie in 1963.
Then everything changed again with the 1976 Copyright Act. ... ct_of_1976

When does US Intellectual Property pass into the Public Domain today?
There is a great chart at:

The Chart shows when the laws changed.

Basically, all Font or Type Face Designs published prior to 1923
are now in the Public Domain.
This includes most typefaces, as most were designed long before 1923.

Individual companies have rights to THEIR individual new electronic impression (Revival) of the OLD original typeface,
but not to the design itself.
That is why Apple, Adobe, Bitstream, Corel, IBM, Microsoft, etc. each has their version of the major typefaces, and are NOT sueing each other. You are also allowed to make YOUR new revival working from the original designs, but not to steal modern representations of it.

Those published between 1923 to 1963 when published With Notice had 28 years from date of publication before becoming Public Domain, the last of them entering Public Domain in 1991.

Those designed in 1964 to 1976 could be renewed for an additional 47 years.

That was extended for another 20 years in 1977, for a total renewal of 67 years.

This now extends to 70 years beyond the death of the individual who designed the Font regardless of when it was published.
So if a designer died in 2000, all his works will become Public Domain in 2070.

Somehow, all this sounds unfair to those who go to all the trouble of getting Patents.
Why not forget the Patent office, and just declare everything Intellectual Property? That would be a far cheaper and longer lasting path!
Last edited by Dave Crosby on Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:18 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Top Typographer
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Post by William »

> Why not forget the Patent office, and just declare everything Intellectual Property? That would be a far cheaper and longer lasting path!

I am not a lawyer either, but here is my view, from England, based upon my layman's understanding of the law here.

Intellectual property is a general term which includes Patents, Copyright, Trade Marks and the United Kingdom intellectual property right called Design Right.

The basic distinction between a patent and copyright is that a patent conveys a monopoly of a product or a process, whereas copyright conveys a monopoly over only a particular item of a more general type, where other people are not restricted from producing another item of that type. Fundamental to the grant of a patent is full disclosure of how to make the product or how to carry out the process, that is, the monopoly for a number of years is in return for having told the world how to do it for everyone to be able to make the product or carry out the process in the long term future: fundamental to the grant of a patent is that people did not know how to do it before the disclosure was made in the application for the patent.

Both patents and copyright exist on the basis of novelty, with no regard to whether it would be a good business idea.

Copyright in a font is regardless of any assessment of design merit.

William Overington

12 February 2007
Erwin Denissen
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Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2002 12:41 am
Location: Bilthoven, The Netherlands

Post by Erwin Denissen »

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the great article!

I'm not sure if you are aware of this site, but it might be worth reading.
Erwin Denissen
Proven Font Technology
Dave Crosby
Posts: 793
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2004 1:13 pm
Location: Enoch, Utah


Post by Dave Crosby »

Thanks Erwin,

I did not know of the site. This part is worth reproducing here:
The TypeRight Guide to Ethical Type Design

I. Objectives of this Guide

Our aim here is to answer some of the ethical questions you might confront when designing type, in line with our objective to promote typefaces as creative works.

II. Definition of Type Design

A. Brief history

In the west, type design as a craft in creating reusable lettering has been around since Gutenberg created his lettercasting mold. There have since been many technological advancements improving the ease with which a typeface can be developed. Whereas a designer once had to cut a new font for each point size needed, today's designers can design scalable digital outlines describing the letter shapes at any size.

B. Present state of the industry

The digital age has brought new concerns to the type market. The same technology that has made fonts easier to manufacture has also made it easy to copy existing type designs in a matter of seconds. Many countries have strict laws concerning type copyrights, while others still have not corrected old laws that allow unscrupulous individuals and companies to appropriate type designs and prosper at the expense of the original designer(s).

C. What is a typeface design?

A typeface design is, at its most basic level, a style of print. You may still be using the same 26 letters and 10 digits, but they are interpreted in a unique way. An original typeface design might be likened to an original song that uses a set series of notes to form a unique tune. In this guide, we use "typeface" to describe a typeface design, and the word "font" to describe a font file and its data.

III. The role of the type designer

A. Overview

It is the responsibility of type designers to produce original and novel typefaces, and to respect the rights of other type designers.

B. Artistic Information

1. Originality

Originality is the degree of authorship you contribute to the typeface design. To have originated a typeface design, you must have created the design and not copied it.

If, on the other hand, you set out to duplicate the style of an existing typeface, then you are creating a revival. And if your typeface is based on the outlines from another typeface then you are creating a derivative typeface (also known as "remix").

2. Revival

Revivals are a gray area.
Obviously, a designer has to copy from an existing model in order to revive it. To make sure that your revival is done ethically, there are a number (of) questions you must consider. Has the latest copyright owner of the typeface been dead for more than 75 years? Is the copyright still current? If the answer to either of these is "No," you must seek permission from the current copyright owner. NOTE: "No,"? This is poorly written.

In addition, be sure you have prepared the revival from original artwork and not from an existing digital typeface. The revived typeface should offer something "new" in today's typographic palette.

3. Respect for others

In many ways, all typeface designs have been influenced by designs that have come before. Thus, it's important to have respect for other type designers' work. Many typefaces might seem similar to the untrained eye; a type designer, however, should not set out to design a typeface that looks like another.

4. Gray areas

a) "Remixing": derivative fonts, or remixed fonts

Most end-user licence agreements (EULAs) prohibit the creation of, or restrict the usage of, derivative fonts (also known as "remixed fonts"). Therefore, you must first seek the copyright owners' permission before you sell or distribute any derivative fonts.

There is a trend today—particularly with deconstructed typefaces—to mix two types. We're uncomfortable with this, particularly if the origins are evident in the final work. As with derivative fonts, we welcome "font mixing" when it involves works you've created from scratch, or when a licence or permission has been granted from original copyright owners.

b) Autotracing

Autotracing an original typeface to create outlines should be used as an initial step in the production of a typeface (if at all). But autotracing an existing typeface is the same as creating a derivative work.

c) Renaming

You can only rename a font if you are the licensee of the font and you intend to limit use to your own system(s). You should never distribute or sell a renamed font. If you rename a font, you must leave the original copyright information intact. These terms may vary depending on the EULA, so be sure to check.

5. Wrong

a) Point theft, or using other outlines

When creating a new typeface it is wrong to use any information from another designer's font unless you have his or her permission. This includes taking elements or even single points out of existing fonts.

b) Piracy

Piracy consists of any practice in type design that goes against the guidelines in this guide. The theft of others' font data to pass them off as your own is piracy. Typefaces that have been renamed and distributed, or that have been "filtered" through font-editing programs (e.g. loaded and regenerated several times through one or more software applications), or that have been resized in a font editor are illegal under international copyright treaties in the absence of permission from the copyright holder. Piracy in any way should be wholly avoided by all type designers.

C. Legal info

1. International copyrights

a) Berne Convention

Under the Berne Convention, one signatory nation agrees to respect the copyrights of every other signatory. The United States is one of these nations. Since most developed countries protect typeface designs, the U.S. is in the strange and paradoxical position of officially respecting the copyright on foreign typeface designs but not its own domestic designs.

b) Lack of copyright in the U.S.

The lack of typeface design copyright leaves type designers in the United States extremely vulnerable to piracy—not only domestically, but in export markets as well. As its chief mission, TypeRight seeks to change this situation by winning domestic copyright protection for typeface designs. We believe this will benefit the consumer most of all. The European system has shown that protection of type designs has encouraged the development of new and innovative typefaces and made them more widely available.

2. Protection of font data

Right now, there's a misconception that because U.S. copyright law does not protect a typeface's design, then it does not protect the font data either. This is not true. The data in a font is protected by law, so you are not allowed to take it to create your own fonts. This misconception has encouraged piracy and the illegal production of ultra-cheap font CD-ROMs by individuals and companies that profit at the expense of original designers' efforts.
I don't know how anyone would identify "Single Points," but there it is.
Be sure to add YOUR copyright information in your new font!
Last edited by Dave Crosby on Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

Also worth reading this page:

The Font Forging Industry
My FontsReviews: MainTypeFont CreatorHelpFC13 Pro + MT10.0 @ Win 10 64-bit 2004 build 19042.630
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