Font Licensing Question

popovich's picture

Hello everybody,

(if this question was answered already, just point me to the thread)

If working for somebody, when may I use typefaces from my personal library and when should a client buy the font? For which kind of job

popovich's picture

Tiffany, do you happen to know some foundries which support this 60/40 thing? This could be relevant to couple of my clients, which have no real office and work mostly at their client's locations, but who still have a font to be used in the documents, presentations and stuff.

Also, this is true about licensing a type to my boss and not to me, I just call it "my type". :-) That is what being done all the time lately. Another question in this relation is: if I buy a type on behalf of my client (under my login at a foundry/shop), how do I "license" it to my client? I mean, I pay, I download, but I don't want to use it, am doing this just because I am "such a nice guy" and the real owner should be ABC Ltd. Co. KG GmbH SA.?

My original question touched a bit different side of the question, though. For which jobs may I take typefaces from my boss' library and for which job should I license a font to my client? If I make a logo with a font from my (boss') library - may I use it only inside the rooms I've done it in, or may I sell it? :/

matteson's picture

>This is to say that most font licenses, if not all that I can think of (Nathan!), can be used without question on logos

I haven't yet read through your whole post, Tiff, but on this count I believe you're thinking of AGFA|Monotype and P22 (and maybe others) that have clauses in their licenses that restrict the use of their fonts as "principle art" in derivative work. To my mind, that means no logos and other such things that use their type.

Then there are foundries like Emigre, House, LucasFonts, et al. They all have some sort of clause in their licenses that stipulate that you have to credit them in certain instances.

matteson's picture

Blast. When my ship finally comes in (where's Giampa?) I'm going to hire a personal attorney who specializes in all things typographic.

popovich's picture

Tiffany, Nathan,

thanks for the tips. All these licenses are really misleading in some way - as a "normal" client, that buys fonts, I would actually expect to be quite free in my usage of the type, as far as I don't change glyphs or rename and sell it (or just resell without any other credits or rights). Not to use a font in a logo is in my opinion way too restrictive and unlogical. But whatever.

The situation I am in is even more perversed. As the company where I work was starting out, the guys asked me to bring my computer with me (I was starting here as a kind of freelancer). These days I am working here full-time and still on my personal computer. All type bought in these years (either by myself or by the company) is installed on my machine. And this is PC, not Mac, so I can't really mark the fonts I own and the fonts I don't own with different icons. :/

Anyways, questions continue. Say, if I buy a font, as a private person, and one day a client wants to use this font "just once" for his booklet or... website or... printed ad. Does the client have to buy the font or can I use it, as it belongs to me anyways? This might be easy to derive from your answers, but I just cannot see the concept clear enough.

The reason I ask is quite simple. I have a chance to pick couple of fonts and am thinking of their future usage. I have my personal favourites, but I am not sure, if I am able to use them in the near future for the upcoming jobs. On the other hand there are fonts that I would never use for my stuff, but that could serve some logo/headline/short text goals. So I am hesitating... :/

Christian Robertson's picture

These licensing threads always make me angry.

>>foundries consider the address for which you licensed the type to be the location at which it should be used

What the ****? Laptops, anyone?

Another question: What percentage of users read these extensive, stifling ELUA's, let alone abide by them? From the sound of it, Tiff is the only one.

I think type designers should spend more time marketing their type and less time putting up fences. They need to realize that digital is not the same as metal, and no amount of legal pontificating is going to make people treat it that way.

It sounds like the type design industry should move toward rights managed licensing. It might be a good paradigm shift. It would allow more flexibility in licensing. It will also fill the gap between commissioned corporate type and commercial type.

Then maybe the typographic exclusivists would be happy, and spend even more time thinking about all the tricky ways they can license their type.

Ironically, we will still see mountains of cheap, cutting edge fonts from young designers all over. Viva la revolucion!

matteson's picture

>They need to realize that digital is not the same as metal

I think that this is actually one reason for the licenses being such a pain in the •••. Because when I use metal type, I'm using type that I actually own. Whereas with digital, I don't own anything.

E.g., I can file a metal 'f' down to make a kern, but sometimes EULAs don't allow the same sort of modifications.

Likewise, I can sell a case of metal type to whomever I chose, but not every EULA allows you to transfer the license to someone else (which is dumb IMHO).

I think that everything is a hell of a lot simpler with metal. Unfortunately it's obsolete for all practical intents and purposes. As Gerald Giampa pointed out in another thread (can't find it though), metal type was also a lot more expensive for a full range of sizes with ligatures, small caps, etc.

Lesser of two evils, I guess. Luckily there are some foundries that give the user quite a bit of freedom. When I license type, I try to license it from them.

matteson's picture

>And Nathan. ;)

Oy vey. I always read but, if I'm honest, I don't always follow to a T. So to speak. But I do my damnedest to. Mea culpa: I sometimes use on my laptop even without the requisite clause.

I'm going straight to hell ;-)

>when we license, we are purchasing the software and the right to use it

You all will have to forgive me for keeping this going. I'm a sucker for little technical details, no matter how meaningless they appear to be. Do we really own the software? I've been under the impression that we don't own the font software at all—we own a license to use it without ownership.

Whereas type that I myself design, I do own. And I can give or sell licenses to other folks to use it as well. Yet I'm not actually selling them the software.

Is my understanding completely wrong? I feel that my grammar in this post certainly is...

Miss Tiffany's picture

Most, if not all, foundries consider the address for which you licensed the type to be the location at which it should be used. So, if you license type and you want to use it at work, perhaps your boss should be licensing the type.

One workaround, of sorts, would be to find a foundry who supports the 60/40 software clause (I wish I knew the "real" legal term for this). Meaning, you license the type for your office address, but the license allows usage at another location. Even then this is sticky and gray, because most of these foundries also stipulate that it must be used for office work only. Therefore you wouldn't (shouldn't) use it for freelance work.

I have a terrible font addiction with which my boss cannot help me, so I've found myself habitually licensing type. But, I license it to be used at my office location. I don't do freelance so it doesn't affect me.

I hope this helps. (I've moved it to the licensing area too. I hope that is okay)

Miss Tiffany's picture

Alexey, I apologize for the delay. Let's make sure you and I are talking about the same thing. And before I forget you might watch for the upcoming issue of Interrobang, the magazine produced by SoTA The Society of Typographic Aficionados. I've written an article that discusses licenses, and comes with a useful chart that breaks down the more pertinent points found in type licenses.

If you think of fonts as being similar to royalty free photography you are on the right track. Sort of. This is to say that most font licenses, if not all that I can think of (Nathan!), can be used without question on logos, booklets, ads, billboards, posters, pads ... most printed material, if not all. On the other hand, if your work allows embedding of any kind you really really (I can't stress this enough, and I say this to everyone) need to read the license from the foundry you plan to license type BEFORE you do the actual licensing. Why? Because some foundries have extremely (in my opinion) restrictive clauses concerning embedding. And most, if not all, have such clauses in their licenses. Some of the more generous licenses are Emigre, Storm, and ShinnType.

Your questions raise all kinds of red flags. If you are at home, I'll assume this is the address at which you've licensed your personal library of fonts, you can use these fonts for your freelance/personal work. If you are at home doing jobs for your boss, legally, your boss should also have a license of these fonts, because in the end your boss will be paid for the final job. But again, this is a red flag. In my opinion, and I hope the real type people speak up on this, if you are doing something like a logo, where the actual font software will never need to be transferred, I would think it is up to you if you want to allow your boss this advantage.

If I were you I would do my best to separate my home (work) from my office (work). Meaning, your boss should be licensing the type that he needs at his location, full stop. If this is happening, and for instance home (you) and office (boss) both have licenses for Amplitude there can be no confusion.

I'm in an interesting position at my office. I don't have a home computer, nor do I do freelance. But, I have such an awful type licensing habit that I have a different icon on the fonts which I've licensed versus those that my boss has licensed for me to use. So, when I move on I will transfer those licenses to my next address. I wouldn't suggest this to anyone. If this is your situation, you need to develop a relationship with your boss that won't make this messy when you leave.

Alexey said: I mean, I pay, I download, but I don't want to use it, am doing this just because I am "such a nice guy" and the real owner should be ABC Ltd. Co. KG GmbH SA.?

Your client should only have to pay for a type license if they need to use the type at their address. You can however, include within your invoice/bill to them the price of licensing the type for their project which you did at your address. Does that make sense?

If you are paying for font licenses under your login (which means your address) and then giving the fonts to your clients, this is wrong. You will have to contact FontShop to see if you can transfer the licenses to the clients. Luckily, FontShop does allow license transfer, not all foundries do.

Alexey asked: Do you happen to know some foundries which support this 60/40 thing?

One such foundry is Linotype. Their license states: "If the Font Software is intended to be used for commercial purposes, each individual license permits one additional usage (installation) on a personal home or portable computer."

I hope this helps.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Ah yes. Thanks for jogging my memory Nathan.

Derivative work is very confusing. When the clause states "principle art" they are thinking about, more or less, the object/design cannot stand on its own merit. For instance. Some foundries might disallow the use of their font (whether letter or dingbat) as artwork on a tshirt or coffee cup. It also means the act of slightly changing the font and then reselling it as your own. Most foundries don't allow this, and if at all you must purchase a different license to do so.

However, all of that said, derivative work does not have anything to do with logos. But, that is a gray area in my mind. What if I used the capital D from ITC Bodoni 72 as a logo for a company. And then put it on a tshirt for the client? Would it only become derivative work if the client wanted to resell the tshirt?

Miss Tiffany's picture

> Tiff is the only one

And Nathan. ;)

> I don't own anything

I can see how we don't "own" anything tangible. Software is difficult this way. However, when we license, we are purchasing the software and the right to use it according to the EULA attached. It is the EULA that is attached that makes it difficult. I'm with Nathan on choice of foundry. Although I am only on person, not licensing type for a whole cubicle maze full of employees, so it is easier in some instances.

Miss Tiffany's picture


You're right, Nathan. I don't know where that came from. We own the license (and the physical manifestation of it) not the software itself.

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