Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Anyone a font of knowledge?

I was chatting with a publisher the other day and we got onto fonts. Who owns them, what obligations do we have as designers and publishers? I buy a few fonts, usually through Fontfont, MyFonts or Veer. Font Space has loads of free fonts but you need to make sure you check for any restrictions on their use. I believe, perhaps a little naively, that we should always do the right thing here.

Anyway . . . as long as I have purchased the font and thus have a licence to use it for commercial needs and, as the publisher has employed me to design the book, there shouldn't be any obligation for the publisher to purchase the font as well. Or should there? Anyone?


  1. This is interesting Sandy. Once a design is approved I always supply a list of fonts and link to where they should be purchased by the publisher (unless they have specified up front that I should purchase the fonts from the allocated design budget).

  2. It's a massive problem, and I think it stems from confusing and complex licensing terms in font purchase agreements. A lot of agreements allow fonts to be used in packs of five, or perhaps at a geographical site. But it's not clear if the terms relate to who supplies the font, or who uses it (and how it is used). Does the publisher need to buy the rights so that the typesetter and the printer have permission to install it on their computers? Or is it their responsibility to buy those fonts? Or seeing as they are only using the font as an outsourced service of the publisher, do they need to purchase the font at all? It's a minefield, and it's complicated further by the fact that font purchasing is often done by the IT departments in-house in publishing companies, and they are reluctant to commit to such complicated terms.

    Sadly, I think the consequence is that many publishers simply don't buy the font at all and use it with their eyes closed, hoping they won't get caught.

  3. Hi Sandy.

    Legal and illegal font usage has a lot to do with passing fonts on to other users. In our industry this has caused problems with fonts going from freelancer to publisher to colour house to printer. The current wisdom is that all players should own a legal copy of the font, but of course, this raises the question of who should pay. Things get very complicated very quickly.

  4. And just whilst I'm on this . . .

    From time to time I see very subtle manipulations of fonts on free or cheap font websites. I know in one case purchasing one user license of the original would cost more than US$500.00.

    I can't see how these subtly manipulated fonts can be legal, and I would feel pretty uncomfortable using them.