Type Thievery

novice's picture

I was wondering about the legal implications of editing a pre-existing font... If i want to make an adaptation of an existing typeface, is it legal to open it in Fontlab and edit it and re-save it as my own? I am trying to create something for a design concept I have and don't intend to sell the typeface I create - does that make a difference?

david h's picture

> is it legal to open it in Fontlab and edit it and re-save it as my own?


dezcom's picture

Thievery is the correct word for it. It is really a bad thing and not legal or moral to open someones font file, make a few changes, and call it your own. If you want to design a font, do it from scratch. It is a lot of work but it will at least really be your own.


Miss Tiffany's picture

You should read the EULA for the font in question. Some foundries do allow modifications for internal use.

hrant's picture

Guys, where did he say he was going to call it his own, or sell it, or anything? Calm down for cryin' out loud. Not to mention that some foundries* totally allow "internal" modification.

* As far as I'm concerned, the smart and/or kind ones.


Nick Shinn's picture

Check the EULA.
Many foundries allow modification.
Here's the relevant part of my EULA:

2.6 Modifications. You may modify typesetting produced by the
Fonts in any way you see fit. You may also modify the Fonts for your
own personal or internal business use, but you may not distribute,
or transfer your adaptations without written permission from the
Shinn Type Foundry; this means (a) you may not make customized
versions of the Fonts for use by your clients, and (b) you may not
adapt, or merge the Fonts to create hybrid Fonts for resale. Each
workstation where a modified Font is installed shall be counted as
one of your permitted number of users.

I guess I didn't stipulate whether you may "call it your own"!

hrant's picture

> you may not make customized versions
> of the Fonts for use by your clients

You might want to clarify that it's OK if the client owns the font too.


Bald Condensed's picture

I guess people got a bit ticked off by the unfortunate "re-save it as my own" bit, though I'm quite confident Tara didn't mean any harm.

novice's picture

No, I didn't mean any harm. It's not for a client, its for an independent art project. Stealing is not really my thing - the typeface is only a small part of the project and I wasn't planning to name the new typeface or distribute it. But if I ever choose to circulate the whole project (which will contain the typeface) I don't want to experience any legal problems.

I would also like to know why it is illegal... Don't type designers ever redraw or trace type in order to make adaptations of it? Didn't Robert Slimbach redraw the work of Garamond? All type can be copied by eye or by tracing, even the spacing between it, right? This issue feels like a question of individual ethics. It seems to be part of an older problem - the difference between 'being influenced' and 'appropriation'.

If you make something completely different out of something old, does it really matter how you got there?

Or is it about the ease with which the software makes the borrowing possible? So it's not what you steal, it's how quickly you do it that makes it wrong?

hrant's picture

Tara, good questions.


deh's picture

Tara, redrawing/retracing is different from reusing the font data itself. Consider the imperfect analogy of taking your own photograph of El Capitan vs making a photocopy of Ansel Adams'. Mere "mechanical" copying typically does not differentiate between the copyrightable and noncopyrightable portions of a work. If there's any copyrightable data in your finished font that owes its origin to the source font, you've constructed a "derivative work". Whether constructing a particular derivative work is legal depends on the EULA and whether fair use is applicable (often tricky to determine).

.'s picture

Hi Novice.
When Mr Slimbach made Adobe Garamond, I can pretty much guarantee that he didn't open ITC Garamond, Garamond 3, and Stempel Garamond, do some copy'n'pasting and make a few tweaks, and voila! Adobe Garamond! He drew all of the letters from scratch referencing historical models.

Which is legally okay, since the models in question are no longer protected by copyright. And there are a lot of really talented type "historical re-enacters" who make wonderful new forms based on historical models. Mr Carter, Mr Porchez, Mr Hoefler, Mr Feliciano, Ms Licko, and Mr Storm are among the great talents who have made type based on old models.

That being said... I fully endorse the exploration of existing fonts for new type designers. You can learn a great deal about making type by seeing how the greats make theirs. This is akin to listening to Miles Davis's or Charlie Parker's solos; you can learn a great deal from attentive listening about structure and phrasing. But don't go out and play Miles Davis CD and call it your musicianship, and don't learn those solos by rote and perform them and call them original.

So. As Nick and Tiffany noted, you should read the EULA to see what the publisher of the font you are wanting to fiddle with says about such fiddling. For many publishers, this kind of fiddling is forbidden, and for some others it is permitted within certain constraints. Please do stick to the terms of the EULA; adherence to the EULA is the only thing we type publishers ask of our clients, and most of us are reasonable small business people, just trying to make a living in a risky profession.


PabloImpallari's picture

Open Source fonts, released under the SIL Open Font license, allows you to open the font, make edits, and save it as a new font under a new name.

But you can't say it's your font.
You must keep the credits of all the people involved in the original version, and add your name to the list.
Also, you must specify what you have modified in the FONLOG.txt file that must be distributed together with your new font.

What's your main motivation to edit and existing font?
Maybe you want to fix an error, or tweak the spacing or kerning.
Maybe you want to change a glyph that you don't like.
Maybe you want to add diacritics to support new languages.
Maybe adding ligatures.
Maybe you want to make it a little lighter (or bolder, or condensed or wider) to better suit your printing needs.

I see those kind of modifications with good intentions to be perfectly valid, as long as you keep the credits of the original designers. Keep in mind that this only applies to Open Source fonts, not commercial ones.

If you want to modify a commercial font, the right thing to do is to contact the original foundry/designer first. Some designers allows modifications to create custom branding fonts, some charge a little extra money to allowing the modifications, some others don't.
Always ask the original designers first.

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