Modifying a font for a client

aquatoad's picture

Hi all.

I'm doing an identity for a children's clothing line. As part of the package, I've done a semi-serif version of VAG Rounded for headline usage (it was just itching for serifs). I imagine there are restrictions on selling it to the world at large, but are there any restrictions on selling this modified font to them? Do they need a liscense for VAG Rounded?


hrant's picture

Legally (at least in [most of] the civilized world) they need to own the original's license to the extent that the derivative will be used. Ethically, I would add that public credit must be given to the original. Some would add to that the requirement that you ask the owner of the original for permission, but that's too much of a "fraternity" farce for me to take seriously.

On the other hand, some EULAs are stricter (like Emigre's and MS's), but I wonder about the validity of all their clauses outside the US.


aquatoad's picture

Hrant's position seems reasonable. I think John Hudson would still argue the commission vs. liscense issue... I dunno. Since I'm not trying to sell/distribute this font to the world at large, and they have a VAG liscense, what are the creators loosing out on? Did they put in the work to make a semi- serif version?

Ah...... Did I put in the work to make a semi serif version? There is the issue eh? Yes, and no. But, I believe I've paid for the step ahead I've received, in the licensing process. (maybe)

Gotta go.

hrant's picture

> what are the creators loosing out on?

The chance to be commissioned to do the mod themselves?
But such labor monopolism is not good.


John Hudson's picture

I think John Hudson would still argue the commission vs. license issue

I'm not sure that I understand this comment, but basically I agree with Hrant's summary of the legal and ethical requirement: you need to ensure that a) the original font license permits such modification and b) that the client has a legitimate license that covers every installation of your modified font.

Regarding asking permission, this should be clearly granted or not in the original license. Personally, if someone were to come to me and ask me to make a modification of a typeface from another small foundry, I would probably contact the original designer and see if they were interested in being involved. There are lots of ways this could work, from co-design to consulting. I don't think this is an ethical requirement, just something that I would do in the spirit of fraternal farce that Hrant mocks.

hrant's picture

I think it's a very good idea if you already know the original designer in question, and it's also fine if you want to use the project as an opportunity to get to know him. But the pressure of an Unwritten Fraternal Ritual where the results of not following The Dictates of the Holy Order are that you will be shunned by The Brothers of Leadhead is too medieval even for my tastes. Don't laugh - I know designers who think like that.


aquatoad's picture

Wow. Near consensus. What do you know.

Oops sorry John Hudson I meant John Butler. I posted after re-reading the thread that Joe linked to (thanks). I was referring to what Mr. Hudson said in a post there:

>There is no pillaging if the thing is paid for.

Exactly. And fonts are not "paid for" generally. They are licensed. You can license a font package for generally between $0 and $150 a weight. Actually paying for a font, also called a commission or a work for hire, generally will cost you several orders of magnitude more... [elswhere] If you want to draw your own Jenson, no one is stopping you. If you want to make something derived from the digital outline data in Adobe Jenson or FB Hightower, you damn well better contact Adobe or Font Bureau and talk to their staff.

So much for consensus. :-) Valid points all around. At a bare minimum it seem everyone must own a lisense for the orginal, and that lisense must allow modification.

Thanks all.

hrant's picture

Well, I've noticed at least one area of strong disagreement, especially with Johns:
I happen to think there is such a thing as an unreasonable EULA, because:
1) No type design is wholly original anyway.
2) The necessities of human society. The French Revolution was "illegal" too.

The line that the creator of a font must have absolute legal control of it -even if it's considered capricious by any reasonable person- holds no water for me. Violating a law must be an individual decision - society is made of individuals, not parts of a machine. Unreasonable idiots must suffer the consequences, although those who stand up to them should be ready for the battle as well.

For example, the MS EULA prohibits any modification whatsoever, even if it's for internal pleasure. I heartily encourage people to violate that clause - I don't think saving MS money in potential support costs due to the existence of "nonstandard" versions of their fonts is more important than the acquisition of technical font expertise through experimentation, and the hacking of fonts to improve internal functionality. On the other hand, I don't condone the distribution of such modified fonts.


matha_standun's picture

The necessities of human society. The French Revolution was "illegal" too.

I'm not sure this is a good example Hrant.

Had it failed, it would have been an extremely "illegal" rising/rebellion and the leaders would have been done away with and things would have probably continued on much as before.

The fact that it was a successful revolution meant that the revolutionaries could rewrite the rules (and the history books) themselves and justify everything and do away with whoever they wanted.

I reckon distribution of hacked fonts would be far more revolutionary than the hacking itself. If it was done on a large enough scale the rules would have to change. Not that I condone that sort of thing. Nor do I agree with cutting people's heads off.


Joe Pemberton's picture

Hrant gives a good synopsis.

Also, this topic came up last October here:

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