David K's picture

I'm a student in Switzerland and I do a theorical work about law and typefaces.
I'm looking for precises exemples of illegal use of Typeface. If you know something about Linotype coming in some Company with a bill for 200 unpaid licences for Helvetica. If you have any pictures, or you know Graphic Designer or Company who don't pay any licences...

Everything is welcome

Don't feel shy about denunciation!

David K

beejay's picture

three that come to mind:

• Starbucks' use of P22's Cezanne ... Starbucks used it extensively without a proper license.

• There are a lot of type designers who have had their fonts used improperly by people trying to make a buck in the scrapbooking industry. (i guess it's an industry now) :)

• House Industries has a fairly well-defined license for its silhouettes. Andy Cruz said at an AIGA stop that House has had plenty of big companies who have used the silhouettes beyond the scope of the license. (these aren't typefaces, of course)

I'm sure you could look at Luc's Legal page, and get a good look at plenty more.

Reed Reibstein's picture

The most famous I'm aware is UPS and Dax/Meta.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Luc's page is full of misleading half-truths and the occasional outright lie. Makes it hard to put much stock in the accuracy of his other information, for those occasions when I don't have first-hand knowledge of it.



SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Hi Thomas:

Anything specific about Lucs page that you find particularly dubious? I am assuming about Adobe...

Mikey :-)

Uli's picture

"Luc’s page is full of misleading half-truths and the occasional outright lie" (Thomas Phinney)

For more information about Mr. Phinney's motivation read:, page 4

Werfer's picture

@David - I daresay there are tons of violations out there :-)) Lots of obvious ones, like companies having a standard license and using it on 1000 computers, or embedding it into some hardware or software. But they will be difficult to find, as these companies naturally would never admit such a thing :-)

A real tough one is using old CAD software - it needs a proprietary font format, and automatically transforms standard fonts into this format. Not allowed, according to most of the font licenses I know, although most foundries tolerate it, AFAIK :-)

And then there was Windows NT 3.5, which automatically transformed PostScript fonts into TrueType fonts - it was not there anymore in Windows NT 4.0, and I do believe I know why - license violation! :-)

Let's see, there are also lots of people who change/manipulate/customize free fonts because they believe the software, being "free", is also OpenSource, thereby of course violating the copyright of the designer/creator. I usually get raised eyebrows and horrified faces when I point this out to friends who show me the "new version" they just did, hihi....

Then there are the not so obvious violations - like copying a typeface and renaming it. This sometimes is not strictly illegal, but I usually find it ethically unacceptable (there are exceptions). Arial from Monotype is a nice example, or Humanist from Bitstream. Not funny.

Oh, and Uli is our self-appointed knight in shining armor, protecting us all from shady people :-) He does sometimes hit the nail on the head(!), some things on his website are just half-truths, and some things are just plain wrong - although I daresay not on purpose, but simply because of lack of understanding. It is always funny to read his stuff, though, if you understand German! He unfortunately sometimes takes his opinion as proof, and tends to insult people without having said proof. He will then tell you stuff in Latin, and will finally get the wall of silence on him. :-)

*gives Uli a nudge* Hey, pal, it is not polite to accuse someone, then delivering the accusation in a language not officially spoken in this forum. Thomas does not speak German, and David might also not speak German. So you might want to translate it, otherwise I think it is highly rotten to post something ABOUT what you think to be the motivation of Thomas without even giving him the chance to respond. Stop that. I read it, and I daresay that some of the things are true (I am equally quite sure that some of them are not!), but since this is an English speaking forum, it is just not fair towards the others!!

William Berkson's picture

This was in the news a bit over a year ago.

This was apparently a landmark case establishing that you can't just copy and re-sell fonts in the US.

Si_Daniels's picture

>And then there was Windows NT 3.5, which automatically transformed PostScript fonts into TrueType fonts - it was not there anymore in Windows NT 4.0, and I do believe I know why - license violation! :-)

Pike, I didn't picture you as part of the conspiracy theory crowd - oh well ;-). The convertor was actually dropped when MS licensed the ATM rasterizer from Adobe. The converter was implemented in NT with support of the font community - that's why it wouldn't convert an Emigre font, and set all converted fonts to "no embedding".

David K's picture

Thanks for all your Answers.

Does anyone know somethng about company who went to court for typeface quarrel?
I'd like to find some documents or more details about that kind of trouble.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Actually, it is not only content relating to Adobe that I have found false or misleading statements - although for me it is mostly in that area, because that's where I have the most personal knowledge.

As for the fact that I work at Adobe, that's a matter of public record. But my interest in truth outweighs my personal feelings - otherwise I wouldn't have gone on the record vociferously saying that the Bush National Guard memos seemed to be forgeries, while simultaneously donating money to President Bush's opponents.

For that matter, just because somebody has a personal stake in something does not necessarily mean that their statements are untrue. Are both parties always lying in every divorce?



Club-21's picture

David K, Five years ago I was commissioned to work on an advertising campaign by a very well known European Advertising agency. After the meeting the art director mentioned they'd been using my fonts on various campaigns - one of which was for a well known international Charity. He then proceeded to give me a copy of the printed corporate identity manual for the campaign. In the back of the manual was a factory produced CD which contained copies of my fonts and also fonts owned by a corporate type foundry. Of course I was gob-smacked - the agency had neither permission or had paid for the rights to distribute my data in such a way - as far as i was aware they had paid for just a standard 5 user license. As the commission they had just agreed to give me was paid very generously and the Charity I mention was a worthwhile cause I decided to let it go. It just shows the lack of awareness there is in the industry regarding licensing.

Todly's picture

If I could inject a bit of ignorance here and hopefully get some feedback, that would be wonderful. This is the closest post I have found to my topic, and I hope it might add an interesting perspective for David K.

I'm a small-scale graphic designer (T-shirts, note cards, greeting cards) and I've been searching everywhere for the legality of my using different fonts in my designs. I want to do the right thing and respect other designers' intellectual property, but I can't seem to find much info out there. Everyone mostly seems to discuss the issues surrounding copying/altering/reselling font files, none of which (I think) I'm doing.

I "purchased" and downloaded a "4200 FREE FONTS" package a couple of months ago. There were no text/licensing files with the TTF files (as I've seen before with other fonts I've looked at), but the header info in many of the files reads "(c)...All rights reserved...". I'm assuming I need to search for the creator of the fonts to obtain their permission to use the fonts in my work. If this is indeed the case, would I expect to pay them a one-time fee? Or royalties on any sales I make of products displaying their font? Is there any standard practice?

I've asked many professionals (including lawyers and designers) these questions and, interestingly enough, MOST have said, "Don't worry about it - you should be fine". I'm not comfortable with that answer...

Any feedback / information would be greatly appreciated.

"In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous." Aristotle

Miss Tiffany's picture

I think you are safe in following the suggestions of those you've asked previously. Those massive bundles don't usually have EULAs beyond what you've mentioned because they really are free (not literally) to use however you wish. In addition, most foundries would not expect additional fees to use their fonts on your shirts. If the bundle didn't have a EULA stipulating anything additional then I say go for it.

Who agrees?

Si_Daniels's picture

I agree. It's a question we get all the time, as most EULAs don't address the issue, because after all the point of a font has always been to facilitate printing.

So my advice would be that unless the EULA prohibits a specific use (and some EULAs, eg some boutique symbol font EULAs, do have restrictions around shirts) you're free to use the font in a print project.

Robert Trogman's picture

I went to court over a font copying and won. The verdict was based on the use of the name that was a marketing tool.

Stephen Coles's picture

When was this case, Robert? Was it a digital font? Can you name it?

Ch's picture

i'm a bit confused here. please explain to me if this scenario is acceptable or not:

1) designer or designer's company buys font X license for their computer.
2) designer is hired to develop logo for corporate client.
3) designer tries various ideas.
4) client chooses logo which uses characters from font X, converted to outlines.
5) logo is put into widespread usage.
6) font X software remains on designer's computer.

what am i missing here ? is further permission required ? this is a sincere question. i've started another thread on the future of licensing, but here i'm asking for the specific nature of the violations cited above.

dezcom's picture

There is a difference between creating outlines for a few characters in a logo and giving the client the working software for the font to use in running text as a corporate typeface. I don't know exactly what you mean but typically a logo based on an existing typeface is manipulated and customized to work better as a logo to begin with. This differs from the UPS font which was a working typeface.


Si_Daniels's picture

>if this scenario is acceptable or not:

Some EULAs (in particular some EULAS associated with symbol fonts - HouseInd maybe?) do not allow a symbol to be the primary element in a logo under their standard terms.

Miss Tiffany's picture

P22 (and all subsidiaries), Emigre, ...all do not allow symbols to be used in logos or other products where the glyphs are the key elements.

dezcom's picture


Si_Daniels's picture

Roughing the EULA...

Werfer's picture

Just make sure you have an invoice :-) That normally covers the "normal" range.

jordy's picture

David K
There are undoubtedly many companies and firms which do not pay for all of the typefaces they purchase, preferring intead to simply let all of the users on their networks use them disregarding the EULA rules. If you do a bit of research you will find that Luc Devroye's comments, while very pointed, are accurate. One thing is clear. Luc and Thomas Phinney of Adobe do not agree about a lot of things. Personally I am on Luc's side. I dislike large corporations controlling and attempting to dominate the market as Adobe has done. While capitalism is supposed to be about competition it also is about how much one corporation can do to eliminate the competition, regardless of the ethics or morals involved. For more on what a corporation is or does I would refer you to the recently published book by Robert B. Reich, "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life."

William Berkson's picture

Jordy, if you are talking about type, I think you are way off base.

When Adobe was keeping its PostScript format secret, in the 80's, you'd have had an argument. But now Adobe seems to be following a strategy of encouraging type design outside its company, particularly in the Open Type formats that its graphics programs are good at using. Ok, it's self interest, but it looks like pretty enlightened self-interest to me--and not monopolistic as far as fonts go.

And Thomas Phinney in particular has been very generous with his time both on Typophile and at conferences, explaining the technical side of type to anyone who is interested. And they publish a lot of technical type information, available for free download. All this information helps other designers compete with Adobe's type faces.

Thomas Phinney's picture


Luc and I do simply disagree on many things which are more matters of opinion. This doesn't bother me so much. I'm perfectly capable of having a spirited disagreement with somebody and still respecting and liking them, as long as they are honest and not malicious.

> If you do a bit of research you will find that Luc Devroye’s comments, while very pointed, are accurate.

I guess we've researched different issues, or in different ways. But I've said my piece on this before.

My biggest issue with him is that Luc has a history of posting links to pirated fonts, including pirated fonts from the company I work for, and not willingly removing them when politely asked. That's made me pretty grumpy with him.

But on the bigger picture....

You're free to "dislike large corporations controlling and attempting to dominate the market as Adobe has done." But you must be talking about a market other than type. Which company acquired ITC and then Linotype? What's the biggest font retailer? (Hint: answers to both are "not Adobe.") If you're talking type, Adobe has neither attempted nor succeeded at controlling/dominating the market.

Now, it's true that despite reduced market share over the years, Adobe remains highly *influential* in the type market. How? By having software that uses fonts in sophisticated ways, providing font development source code and tools at no charge, inventing or co-inventing key standards, giving font development training and info to our nominal "competitors" (both privately and via conferences and seminars), and helping educate the next generation of type designers and font developers at Reading (and this year at KABK as well).

I've lost track of the number of times I've publicly posted font feature source code and presentations about font development practices, or updated my essay on font formats....

Frankly, I find it hard to imagine a private company being more open and collegial in how it influenced the font marketplace.

Perhaps you just don't like Adobe's market position for other software besides fonts?



Dr jack's picture

Todly said
I “purchased” and downloaded a “4200 FREE FONTS” package a couple of months ago. There were no text/licensing files with the TTF files (as I’ve seen before with other fonts I’ve looked at), but the header info in many of the files reads “(c)...All rights reserved...”.


Todly, I've had clients years ago who asked for a specific font and I sometimes would steer them to a different font on one of those cheap and nasty font compilation CD's because of the ease of use. One day I noticed a standard License required Commercial font on one of those cheap font CD's. The Font's name had been changed, and a friend of mine had Fontographer and checked, and yes, all copyright legals and the creator's details had been removed. In the early days I thought cheap Font CD's were heaven sent. In fact, most are stolen and only cheap and nasty copies.

If you keep abreast of the most commonly used Commercial Fonts, you'll soon see a rip-off on those Compilation Font CD's.

And in the old days, when they offered you x amount of Fonts on a CD, then they would give you only the Font Files. Then some of these nasty Font companies would supply these disks embedded with a type program 'browsers'. Some were even early developed Adware/Spyware.

aluminum's picture

"Perhaps you just don’t like Adobe’s market position for other software besides fonts?"

There's probably a lot of truth in that. Likely for both Adobe and MS's type divisions. Nice departments stuck inside rather loathed corporations. ;o)

Thomas Phinney's picture

Nah, Adobe doesn't inspire the same sort of generalized loathing that Microsoft does. I think for a lot of people, that would be the hardest aspect of working in the MS type group, receiving sort of generic abuse that has nothing to do with you, your work, or your immediate colleagues. I'm really amazed by the sort of permanent good humor with which Si deals with it.



dezcom's picture

Si is a joy and thick-skinned as well. I think he fends off the poorly directed criticism with the knowledge that he is a good and honest human being and can go home to his lovely little family with a free conscience and joy in his heart.


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