This is a general question about font creation so I am asking here. Hope it's appropriate. And yes I realize that for official legal advice I should hire a lawyer. This is just me trying to do some homework to know the background of the situation.
I am working on encoding Grantha, an Indian script, in Unicode. Please see: http://sites.google.com/site/jamadagni/ ... -FINAL.pdf (7 MB). (Note: this document was submitted two years ago, and a lot of development has happened since then. This document doesn't 100% reflect my current views on how exactly the script should be encoded, but for purpose of the present discussion only the attestation samples that are given in that proposal document are important.)
Now while waiting for the script to be officially approved for Unicode, we are looking to creating a font for the script. We intend to make the font freely available under the OFL/GPL. So there are no commercial interests involved. We only want to revive the usage of the script which is currently slowly declining.
Now as you can see from the majority of the printed samples in the proposal, only one typeface has been used for the majority of printed Grantha texts. Apparently as Grantha was largely an academic/religious script not much variety was demanded for. Apart from one bold-like variant of the same typeface (which also I have documented in my proposal) I never found any other old printed typeface. Anyhow, everybody using Grantha here likes the look of this typeface and finds it very aesthetic and so we are thinking of cloning this old typeface.
Now there are only a couple printing presses who provide limited Grantha support today, and they only have the same typeface. There are no computer fonts for this typeface -- it is just that old hand-positioned stuff (you call it metal type?). I talked to the proprietor of one of them and he said they have had only the one typeface since their establishment back in 1903 in his grandfather's time. And he doesn't know where the typeface came from -- which foundry etc. As far as my inquiries go, nobody else (apart from these few, and they're all situated in or around the same town in Tamil Nadu) supports Grantha typesetting. And there is no-one selling publication-quality commercial typefaces/fonts for Grantha either.
Given that this line of enquiry petered out, I searched for the oldest printed book I could find using this typeface. A friend pointed out a 1901 publication at http://www.noolaham.org/wiki/index.php? ... தனிசுலோகம் viz http://www.archive.org/download/bharath ... 589mbp.pdf. If you look at the PDF you will find that the same typeface as seen in the other samples in my Grantha proposal is found even in this printing almost 110 years old. Another source assured me that he has a still earlier publication from 1860s (also having the same typeface).
Given that the typeface is at least 140 years old, that there are no vendors selling this typeface, that there are no other fonts existing that mimic this old typeface, I thought there would be no problem in creating a font based on this public-domain typeface, especially seeing as the font is going to be free and open source.
I talked about this with a lawyer friend of mine here in India and he says provided I have proper documentation as to the age of the font (140 years) there should be no problem.
But I still wanted to look at the larger picture. Specifically, I am aware there are lots of Times clones around. Times is a very old Latin script typeface, is it not? Based on this old typeface, if somebody genuinely creates a font fully on their own efforts, then I presume there are no copyright/patent issues? How is the Times situation regarded in Western (i.e. w.r.t. us in India as Eastern) contexts?
Especially the following passage from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_Roman:
... are interesting as they reveal that existing typefaces can be cloned and published as open source fonts without copyright/patent issues. But still I would like people here to review and comment on the situation.Free variants
Times Roman and Times New Roman are proprietary fonts. There are some free software metric-compatible fonts used as free Times Roman and Times New Roman alternatives or used for font substitution:
URW++ produced a version of Times New Roman called Nimbus Roman in 1982. Nimbus Roman No9 L, URW's PostScript variant, was released under the GNU General Public License in 1996, and available in major free and open source operating systems.
FreeSerif, a free font descending from URW++ Nimbus Roman No9 L, which in turn descends from Times. It is one of free (GPL) fonts developed in GNU FreeFont project, first published in 2002. It is used in some free software as Times Roman replacement or for Times Roman font substitution.
Liberation Serif is metrically equivalent font to Times New Roman developed by Ascender Corp. and published by Red Hat in 2007 under the GPL license with some exceptions. It is used in some GNU/Linux distributions as default font replacement for Times New Roman.
Thanks for your patience in reading this long post (I always seek to give the entire background) and I once more request your valuable comments.