Providing a font for free

stinkyfoot's picture

I'm considering creating a font created from an old typeface from a specimen book with an expired copyright and making it available for free for both commercial and non-commercial use. My goal is to get social media followers. More free fonts could follow if there are signs that the approach works. Do you think that's a realistic goal? Is there something I might have better success with? The typeface I've considered is Bodoni. Do you have a better recommendation?

stinkyfoot's picture

My business sells a (kind of mundane) utility that designers and developers use. It's not otherwise involved in aspects of design, such as typography.

hrant's picture

There are SO many free fonts out there, the only way this could work is if you made something exceptional. And typeface design is hard enough when it's mundane...

Now, if there were some sort of connection between the particular font and the reason people would follow you, that would have a better chance. A good reference here might be Phinney's Cristoforo*, which leaned on a connection with "Call of Cthulhu".

* https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tphinney/cristoforo-victorian-cthul...

hhp

George Thomas's picture

As Hrant said, exceptional. Bodoni is a classic typeface but boring. So many versions of it already exist in most people's font libraries that it is unlikely you would get many takers. Most people I know wouldn't bother.

Then there's the fact that making a high quality font requires a lot of time, thought and effort.

stinkyfoot's picture

That's a really relevant link, hrant. It's also funny that I'm reading about Hermann Ihlenburg for the second time today after being clueless about him before now.

donshottype's picture

I see no legal issues in creating a font from an old specimen book.
If you want people to be able to use the font for both personal and commercial use, package an Open Font License with the font http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SIL_Open_Font_License
Dafont http://www.dafont.com/ is perhaps the most reputable of the free font distributors. Also Font Squirrel http://www.fontsquirrel.com/
As for getting social media followers by offering the font, I leave it to others to provide proper advice.
Don

hrant's picture

If you're going to release a libre font, using Apache instead of OFL will allow more people (especially those with more expertise in type design) to participate in its future.

hhp

abattis's picture

Hrant and I disagree about this. OFL will allow more people to participate because it means all derivatives will be libre :)

hrant's picture

Apache does not stop people from deriving free fonts, while OFL does stop people who cannot allow themselves that luxury, due to factors essentially out of their control. OFL is idealistic to the point of in fact actually doing damage to minority writing systems, and you can see this in action when you look closely at the low quality of non-Latin derivations. Apache is humanly pragmatic, resulting in higher quality typography for more disadvantaged people.

When you decide to release a font under OFL instead of Apache you are –whether you realize it or not– adopting a narrow view of what kinds of people should be designing fonts.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

@hrant, have you even noticed how much your overs here make you sound like a petulant freetard?

As an aside, my two favourite licences for releasing my stuff (when I can be bothered to stick a licence on it) are the three-clause BSDL and the WTFPL. The former is very permissive, the latter is ultra-permissive.

quadibloc's picture

The well-known typefaces of which someone has made an open source imitation for potential distribution with Linux that I know of offhand are:

Times Roman
Palatino
Helvetica
Baskerville
Century Schoolbook
Optima
Goudy Old Style
Kennerly
Deepdene

There are a couple of Clarendons on Google Web Fonts, but no versions that I know of based on major popular Clarendon typefaces.

Bodoni, Cloister Oldstyle, Jenson Oldstyle, Peignot Bold, Bembo, Poliphilus, Avant-Garde, Futura, Gill Sans and a host of other well-known faces have not yet been dealt with in this manner, even if Bitstream has made versions of some of them.

In fact, I can't even think of a free Garamond out there. So there's plenty of scope for anyone who feels like making the effort to add an open-source version of a classic typeface to what is out there already. If one deals only with classic typefaces, whose designs have fallen out of whatever protection they may have had in some countries, one won't be taking bread and butter out of the mouths of today's type designers, at least not too badly, I would think.

hrant's picture

Reynir: I don't know what "overs" means here; dedication to candor and true –as opposed to hypothetical– social jusice is not petulance; and you're using "freetard" incorrectly (furthermore with you and David in fact being a much better fit).

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I'll have to read the license, as the Wikipedia article is confusing. It appears that the requirement that fonts must be packaged with software only applies to selling them for money, not for all redistribution. That apparent silliness, though, may not be what Hrant is objecting to.

OK, I've read the license, and although it's much briefer than the GPL, I can't see a problem.

Ah:
Apache does not stop people from deriving free fonts, while OFL does stop people who cannot allow themselves that luxury, due to factors essentially out of their control. OFL is idealistic to the point of in fact actually doing damage to minority writing systems,

reading what Hrant said lets me see what the issue is; that issue is that the OFL is like the GPL instead of the BSD license.

The objection is reasonable - people who use minority writing systems tend to live in poor countries, and so they may not be able to indulge themselves the way people in rich countries might by working for free. While people in the rich world might not have any problem drawing the glyphs for the writing system of a foreign language competently, it may well take a native speaker to set up all the various Unicode composition rules for a given language correctly.

So an OFL-licensed font does not serve as a resource for commercial indigenous font designers.

But why did the GPL come about in the first place? To prevent someone from tweaking a program, making a few improvements, and then preventing the originators of the program from making similar improvements without copying anything from that person's implementation.

I see this limitation of the GPL, therefore, as coldly practical - not primarily a manifestation of the idealism that Richard Stallman indeed does advocate. I too have lots of problems with Richard Stallman's idealism; as far as I'm concerned, people producing IP and making money from it under the current copyright regime are not doing anything questionable (merely by doing so).

The scarcity that leads to the world's real poverty problems isn't scarcity of IP, which is so easy to copy, legally or otherwise. It's scarcity of land, shelter, food, water... neither legal copies of Linux or pirate copies of Windows or Britney Spears records will help all that much with that.

This is not to deny that computers haven't helped to improve the efficiency of the production of physical goods. But, if Brazil needed an operating system for its computers, it has the resources to write one. And the gains are relatively small ones; agriculture hasn't improved by Moore's Law style leaps and bounds.

hrant's picture

Yes, the problem with OFL is that it reduces the chances of minority scripts enjoying higher quality typography (which we have in fact been seeing on the ground, with Armenian and other scripts). Because of human nature.

{Added:}
As an aside, as far as I'm concerned the critical contribution of native insight arises first and foremost in the proper design of glyphs. Without nativity (or a great deal of native help) one can only mimic precedent (which is not true cultural contribution).

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I apologize that I was busy making a major addition to my post, about Richard Stallman's idealism, while you were replying to it.

In any case, while your point about mimicking precedent is valid, it contrasts with rather than contradicting my post, except perhaps contradicting a misunderstanding on my part.

Of course non-native designers normally can't properly contribute to the aesthetic development of a script that is alien to them. But when you speak of the OFL harming minority scripts, I had thought in terms of how existing OFL faces for those scripts were most likely to be defective.

If they don't follow the proper writing rules for the language, then they are unusable for the native speakers of the language to express themselves. Correcting that would be a lot of work, which people in the target area might not be able to do for free. That would obviously be a problem.

On the other hand, if those faces are fully usable, then they're not doing cultural damage. That any commercial operation seeking to make new styles of type available in the target area for pay would have to do their own Open Type coding doesn't strike me as an issue. If we're talking about a poor country where people can't afford to work for free, we're also talking about a poor country where people can't afford to pay for fonts. So why is the culture endangered by firms serving the rich elite having to do their own work?

Now, though, this is a massive oversimplification. Most people in the United States would never pay over $1,000 for a font, but they read magazines published by companies that have done so. Poor countries still have businesses in them which have appreciable amounts of capital.

Poor countries also tend to be small countries, and if they have more complex scripts than ours, the position I have taken so far would seem to demand that their economies support typographical firms larger than Adobe. Except that Adobe supports a lot of scripts, and I had thought it wasn't that hard to specify ligatures and such in OpenType.

Of course, that's based on a picture of a "complex script" being something like the one for Thai or Burmese, say. Maybe you're thinking of something more along the lines of Nastaliq' - for which, I notice, the Pakistani government has found it necessary to provide a font providing support. I don't know about the quality of that particular font; I've tended to assume it's probably basic and limited. In that case, unlike the case of Brahmi scripts, Ethiopic, and so on, I don't know of any OFL fonts produced by Westerners, though.

Té Rowan's picture

Yes, @hrant, sound like a petulant freetard. That missive of yours is so unclear, it looks like you want fonts to be Apache-, BSD- etc. -licensed solely so you can rip them off. 'That luxury.' What luxury? I would have to be all awake to even have a chance to figure it out.

hrant's picture

John, mostly I had in mind the extension of existing libre fonts for minority scripts.

we're also talking about a poor country where people can't afford to pay for fonts.

That's where the saving grace of fonts –being tools and not end-products– nicely comes in: the people paying for a good non-Latin font are not the people who most benefit, culturally; the latter are readers, who don't (directly at least) pay anything – the true "end-users".

Reynir, besides being awake, you'd have to be able to put yourself in other people's shoes.

People who rip others off have their eyes on money. In contrast, the goal of people in my shoes is helping those who are getting the cold shoulder from professional type designers because OFL is too hippie. We can't ignore our bills. You could say we have a debt both to culture and to corporations!

hhp

----

Today, learn about the Armenian Genocide.

quadibloc's picture

That's where the saving grace of fonts –being tools and not end-products– nicely comes in: the people paying for a good non-Latin font are not the people who most benefit, culturally; the latter are readers, who don't (directly at least) pay anything – the true "end-users".

Well, at least I did acknowledge that point. But I am still in the dark about one point which makes me still unable to fully understand your concern. What you had in mind was "the extension of existing libre fonts for minority scripts". Extension in what way? Adding better rules for ligatures and language processing? Adding more glyphs?

What is it that those fonts in numerous cases need, and which cannot reasonably be expected to be provided for free, that is being obstructed by the OFL? Unless I know the nature of the harm claimed to be caused, I can't either agree or disagree with your claim that there's a problem.

Incidentally, being a long-time reader of The Register, I wouldn't be inclined to call you wildly inappropriate names in lieu of productive discussion in any case.

EDIT: I see you wrote "which we have in fact been seeing on the ground, with Armenian and other scripts", and that is a tip-off that complex scripts aren't the issue, as Armenian isn't a complex script any more than Greek or Latin are. And since your comments were initially directed at the OP, whose project involved a new typeface for the Latin script, then it seems you mean extending an existing libre font by adding the characters for the minority script to it.

If this is in fact your concern, then I am going to have to say that I find serious fault with the logic of your objection. Releasing a libre font under the OFL for the Latin alphabet in no way stops someone else from producing and releasing an entirely new font for a different alphabet in a similar style. Oh, wait, there is duplication of effort: the punctuation marks will have to be redrawn - and the Arabic numerals!

Please tell me that I am mistaken. Cultural doom cannot be the result of having to switch to a different font when including Latin text, or by the need to redraw digits and punctuation marks and other sorts.

hrant's picture

Yes, I meant adding a writing system to a Latin –or more extensive– base. Something that has historically been done to commercial fonts with not even a whiff of permission being requested... This is something I don't [want to] condone...

I wouldn't be inclined to call you wildly inappropriate names in lieu of productive discussion in any case.

I noticed. A nice bonus – thank you.

hhp

----

Today, learn about the Armenian Genocide.

quadibloc's picture

Once again our posts cross. You tell me what you meant just as I'm posting that if that's what you meant, it seems to me like a concern that has little validity. So maybe that's what I'm wrong about, maybe this is a more serious issue for minority scripts than I realize.

I'm willing to learn, but at least you can see why some justification is required.

hrant's picture

Actually I greatly appreciate a balanced discussion on this, since I have to focus my thoughts for an eventual conference presentation about this topic.

I know it's a very serious issue for me. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

hhp

hrant's picture

The reason you don't hear my complaint from many others is that most people in my shoes simply give up on providing quality type for minority cultures, certainly for those not theirs. They just stick to running their restaurants, their accounting business, etc. But it's wasted potential.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

Walking in other folks' footsteps is something I'm generally good at. But, I have to be awake enough and with enough faculties working to recognise that there are footsteps there to begin with. That's why my alcohol intake amounts to less than a litre per year, often less than half a litre per year.

hrant's picture

Please note the difference between walking in the holes other people have made versus trying to grasp what it's like being them.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

I'm sure you recall what's been said about thousand-mile journeys. And while you're reviewing, remember the difference between walking in others' footsteps and following others' footsteps. The former is 'trying to grasp what it's like being them'.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I have another issue with the OFL: the optional Reserved Font Name mechanism interacts very badly with most sorts of intelligent usage as web fonts. In such cases it becomes a restrictive license—or at least a stupidly destructive one.

The usual course—which I have seen in action—is that people and corporations just ignore the license when an RFN is involved and they are doing web fonts. But that makes the Reserved Font Name a feature to avoid in OFL.

hrant's picture

Why would somebody use RFN?

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

I personally think SIL had print in mind when they put the OFL together and didn't consider web use at all. Maybe the next version of the licence will address web use properly so there'll be no need for individual authors to add RFN exceptions. Until then, a subsetting tool that mungs the name fields on the fly would be a usable workaround, I believe; something I thought they already did. Don't browsers ignore name fields, anyway?

quadibloc's picture

RFNs allow corporate entities to contribute open-source fonts while still protecting their trademarks.

It does mean that the modified fonts can't be used as substitutes for the original without being specified explicitly. But in the case of web fonts, you're providing a font yourself on your web site (i.e. in a format like WOFF) and so your web page would specify the name of the version you're providing.

The only case where RFNs mess up the display of a web page is if you're just hoping the viewer happens to have the original font, or at least one of its modified versions, installed on his computer. That isn't how people serious about the appearance of their web page should do it anyways. So I'm having a hard time understanding why the RFN is a real problem.

Té Rowan's picture

With the overemphasis on the Letter instead of the Spirit of the Law, trouble will ensue. And to comply with the Letter, modding (incl. subsetting) a font should include a renaming when RFN is in play. Reasonably easy when done by hand; oughta be easy when machined, but how many tools provide for it?

Mind, I had none of this in mind when I renamed 'my' Ubuntu to Gerpir or 'my' PT Sans/Serif to Stafnes Sans/Serif. I just wanted to have both the originals and the new'yins installed.

hrant's picture

With the overemphasis on the Letter instead of the Spirit of the Law, trouble will ensue.

Well said.
And that BTW is why I don't condone people making money by redistributing an OFL font "packaged" with some random junk.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

And that BTW is why I don't condone people making money by redistributing an OFL font "packaged" with some random junk.

That is a practice, indeed, not to be condoned, because it subverts what appears to be the purpose of a clause in the license.

Unfortunately, though, because the GPL doesn't restrict sale of its free software, it's possible to do something legitimate with (at least almost) no more effort required than the practice you deplore. Sell a CD-ROM with a complete Linux distribution on it, packed with every OFL font in existence (and open-source fonts under other licenses too)... and what you're doing is completely legitimate, but of course those fonts are also readable from Windows. And yet you've written no software yourself, not even a silly little utility.

Packaging a Linux distro on CD-ROM involves some work, sure, but the problem is clear; while subverting the OFL is not moral, that clause in the OFL practically subverts itself.

hrant's picture

If somebody releases a font under a license that allows resale (even as-is), is it better to assume the person is a dunce who shouldn't be taken advantage of, or that he happens to believe in the sort of thing I believe in?

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I don't understand the question. In context, it should be referring to the OFL, but the words seem to refer to the opposite case.

hrant's picture

I trust we're talking about the spirit of a license (which I class above its letter).

What I mean is if somebody releases a font under a license that allows resale (sans packaging) the only workable assumption is that he meant to leave that possibility open (noting that realistically the reseller would have to add some sort of value to the original, otherwise he won't sell many copies). In contrast, it's not a good assumption to think that somebody who releases an OFL font is OK with a third party adding some bogus "packaging" and selling the result (even though that would be legal).

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

As an aside, AFAICT, the UFL (Ubuntu Font Licence) does allow direct reselling.

Personally, I think this 'indirect resale' provision exists so you can bundle fonts with a word processor or desktop publisher.

quadibloc's picture

In contrast, it's not a good assumption to think that somebody who releases an OFL font is OK with a third party adding some bogus "packaging" and selling the result (even though that would be legal).

And I absolutely agree with that. The problem I was pointing out, though, is that it's possible to add packaging that's anything but bogus (two complete word processors, the associated office suites, a host of other applications, and the complete operating system they run on)... for less effort than adding bogus packaging would take! To me, at least, that raises questions like "why did they bother" - it seems as though the parties involved hadn't thought the issue through carefully.

So it's not just that the letter is not enough to enforce the spirit, it's that even the spirit of the license is placed in an awkward spot by the existence of GPL software that uses fonts. Because CD-ROMs are in a standard filesystem which all major operating systems can read, on the one hand, and including OFL fonts as one of the things provided in a Linux distribution does make sense for the users of that distribution.

Of course, if the intent is really just to make the fonts available, one can still say that refuge is being taken in the letter to violate the spirit. But this case makes things so murky that this particular dichotomy is less clear-cut.

hrant's picture

Good to know about UFL.
BTW are there other cases where a EULA was crafted for a specific typeface?

it seems as though the parties involved hadn't thought the issue through carefully.

To me it's more an over-reliance on feeling. We're currently stuck between utopian delusion and rabid protectionism. My goal is pointing out the middle road.

The letter of a law is naturally never enough to enforce its spirit; that's where human morals necessarily –and thankfully– come in. On the other hand, this separation is in fact a "feature" to avoid nitpicky rewriting/expansion of laws as social norms shift; it's a separation that mirrors human nature. I would further add that the intractable mushrooming of formal laws in contemporary society is a reflection on the incompetence of our leaders, which stems from the unsustainability of our system.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I would further add that the intractable mushrooming of formal laws in contemporary society is a reflection on the incompetence of our leaders,

That is not what I would have blamed for it. The rule of law is a good principle in itself. I see three factors as responsible for this:

The complexity of a large-scale free-enterprise industrial society;

The increased inclusiveness of our societies, which has led to its being viewed as dangerous to allow latitude for subjective interpretations of the law, or to allow people to operate by common-sense, because that allows latitude to act on bigotry; and

The presence of judicial activism in a divided and politically-polarized society.

Not even the third item on that list could really be prevented by any one leader being more competent. Maybe if a lot of people were more competent - but is it the politicians, or the voters, who could be more easily improved?

hrant's picture

No, I agree that formal laws are needed. The hamartia is asking people who are –systemically– too busy with their lives to elect their leaders. It cannot work. And it's not working.

hhp

Joe Chau's picture

Check out Fontever.com, we don't have copyright issues since we require typographers to sell their fonts with full copyright (amend, resell, distribute, anything you can do ) to single purchaser only :)

josesseph321's picture

I nerve thought that fonts need to purchase, for I always use the free fonts, and they are awesome all the time. For example, you can also find idea fonts in the article: http://www.mageewp.com/blog/resources-for-better-wordpress-themes-awesom...

quadibloc's picture

Incidentally, there is an historical example of why the GPL is sometimes needed instead of the BSD license, even though it's not directly applicable.

At one point, Apple sued Xerox for infringing on some aspects of the Macintosh user interface.

hrant's picture

Quite preposterous when you consider that Jobs stole the GUI idea from Xerox.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

Money makes monkey of many a man.

Mark Simonson's picture

... Apple sued Xerox...

I think you got it mixed up there. Apple sued Microsoft (and lost). Midway through that suit, Xerox tried to sue Apple on similar grounds (hoping to benefit if Apple won), but the case was dismissed.

quadibloc's picture

No, I'm not kidding. Basically, one thing that a Xerox product included that was not in the original Xerox PARC design Apple copied and added to... was the drop-down menu at the top of the screen. That let Apple sue Xerox and that led to Xerox withdrawing their product.

EDIT: Checking, however, I can't seem to find a reference to this, although I do see the time when Xerox sued Apple. So my memory may be playing tricks on me.

stinkyfoot's picture

@quadibloc: Thanks for the list of existing free fonts.

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