font question

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bluelotus
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font question

Post by bluelotus » Tue Aug 09, 2016 1:31 pm

Are there any "standard" fonts (nothing exotic, just a very general font) that are officially in the public domain?
I know there are thousands of websites that offer fonts that are free for commercial and private use, but how can one actually know that these fonts are not just copies of another font that actually needs a license.
So, are there any fonts that are clearly not owned by anyone and can be used freely?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Tue Aug 09, 2016 8:29 pm

Hi bluelotus

I imagine there are hundreds if not thousands of typefaces which are in the public domain because their designers died sufficiently long ago. A classic example would be the work of Eric Gill, who died in 1940.

But typefaces occupy a unique place in copyright law. There is no prohibition on using a typeface even if it in copyright. The protection merely prevents others from copying the design of the lettering. Thus if you have legitimately acquired* a font then you may use it in the course of printing, because frankly if you weren't allowed to do so, there wouldn't be much point in acquiring it in the first place. This would be rather like buying a book which you weren't permitted to read. The difference is that you may not give public readings from a book you have bought, but you can publish something which is printed using a font.

Many people don't really understand this unique situation and publishers of fonts are happy to rely of this ignorance if it means that they can sell licences which are not actually required.

As can be seen from the link to section 54 shown above, the law was written long before so-called soft fonts were created, but it doesn't matter whether the effect on the page is created by a piece of inked lead type from the days of letterpress printing, or as with this reply, the letters are created on the screen by means of software, the same rules apply.

You should be aware that the law on copyright and typefaces varies quite a lot in the various different jurisdictions, such as the USA and as a result you will find a lot of contradictory comment on the subject across the internet. What I have summarised above is the law as it applies in the UK.


*by 'legitimately acquired' I mean the font has been bought or has been freely made available in the format that you have acquired it (probably as a soft font). For instance if you have a program like Microsoft Office which came with a number of fonts bundled with it, including those for which Microsoft claims the copyright, you can freely use them despite the fact that the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) probably implies that you can only do so within the terms of the licence.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

bluelotus
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Post by bluelotus » Wed Aug 10, 2016 4:44 pm

Hi Andy,

Thank you for your reply!
So do you basically mean that fonts can be sold, but not licensed? There are many big companies that charge a lot for the licensed use of these fonts, what a crazy situation.

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