Letterhead Fonts and their battle

aluminum's picture

Looks like Letterhead is in the news again:


They're taking a very odd approach...they're increasing the cost for future purchasers of a font they found on a file sharing site to 'make up the difference'

jazzhustler's picture

I read about this a while ago. As much as I think his approach may not be in his own best interests, I do sympathise with his frustration that his company's hard work is being shared for free.


blank's picture

Good for them. This is the way copyright infringement should be handled—watermark the digital sales and go after the people who turned the material loose. It’s a shame that Letterhead are being painted as the asshole here; if this was the MPAA or RIAA there would have been no friendly discussion, just a team of lawyers demanding that Mr. Howe bankrupt himself to pay them off or go to court and risk even greater damages. Mr. Howe deserves both the bill and the ridicule—this was an inexpensive font to begin with!

Nick Shinn's picture

Good luck to Letterhead.
Sure, their approach may raise feathers, but it's their right to do business as they see fit.
Whether or not one agrees with their strategy, one should encourage experiments in the mind-boggling issue of how to make a living from intellectual property in the digital era.

The Don Killuminati's picture

And so the saga continues.
Cheers to Letterhead and here's hoping Mr. Davis finds some satisfaction in this strategy. In the meantime, no way am I buying fonts from them. No way.

Don McCahill's picture

> So, along with publishing the story and this guy's name, it's significantly raised the price of the font from $30 to $40 -- saying that it will keep the price up until the full $944 is paid off. This is doubly stupid.

I have to agree with this part of the equation. Why should I pay more because the last guy passed the font on? My solution is to shop somewhere else.

I can't agree with the rest of the article, however. If the EULA clearly stated that you can get billed for shared copies of the font (and more importantly, sharing of the copies), then the company deserves what it gets. (In fact, the company that bought the font should be sending a bill for $944 to the sign company that posted the material on the sharing site.)

i cant delete my username's picture

It's kind of like Full Metal Jacket, where the drill sergeant gets sick of one person screwing up, and punishes the whole group. Maybe we need to fill our socks up with lead type, tie offenders to the bed and swing, swing away...

Some of the comments in that linked page were ghastly, like #34, #60...

Uli's picture

At http://letterheadfonts.com/piracy/thousanddollarfont.php we read:

"In order to reduce the cases of piracy, Letterhead Fonts began encrypting account data into the font files in early 2007. The information embedded into the font file allows us to track the font back to it's original purchaser."

While the "account data" are usually "embedded" into the invoice to the commodity, it is unusual to "embed" these "acount data" into the commodiy itself. The interesting legal question is whether a seller of commodities is permitted at all by American laws to "embed" such "account data" into the commodities he is selling. Here two examples:

Example 1: A father buys a wedding ring for his daughter, and the jeweller "embeds" (= engraves) the father's "account data" into this ring. Is this permitted by American laws?

Example 2: You need a heart valve, and the surgeon "embeds" your "account data" into this valve, before he implants it. Is this permitted by American laws?

jazzhustler's picture

I would think it would be down to what exactly the 'account data' listed is. Would it be a customer ref. number & details relating to the date of purchase? I think that would have to be established before the question of legality is raised.


aluminum's picture

"This is the way copyright infringement should be handled—watermark the digital sales and go after the people who turned the material loose."

I'm not necessarily against watermarking, but the rest makes no sense at all.

The watermark merely IDs the purchaser. It says nothing about the person that infringed on the copyright. It MAY have been the purchaser. It may have equally as likely NOT been the purchaser.

"It’s a shame that Letterhead are being painted as the asshole here"

Say you bought a font from Adobe, then your laptop is stolen, and then Adobe says you own them $10,000 because they found the file on TorrentBay. Thoughts?

blank's picture

Uli, embedding an account number into digital files is a pretty common, and very legal system. Plenty of online music vendors who sell “DRM-free” music watermark the files they sell in this way. And as for your analogies, the items you describe are not items that can be replicated at no cost and passed on to the detriment of their creators.

aluminum's picture

"it’s their right to do business as they see fit."

Absolutely. I think it's an odd way to go about it, but they certainly are entitled to whatever approach they think makes sense to them.

"Some of the comments in that linked page were ghastly, like #34, #60..."

I find the more extreme one's approach to fighting with customers, the more extreme the push back will be. (see also: RIAA) ;o)

aluminum's picture

"Plenty of online music vendors who sell “DRM-free” music watermark the files they sell in this way."

Amazon and eMusic do not. They do embed some purchase data, but don't tie it to a specific account.

HaleyFiege's picture

This is ridiculous. Do any of you really believe that every single person who pirates a font is going to use it for a commercial purpose or would have bought it had they not found it for free. I'm sorry but it's impossible to claim an accurate loss due to piracy. How is punishing paying customers is going to make anyone less inclined to steal from them.

I bet every single one of you has something pirated on your computer.

Katharina's picture

Quoting comment # 9 from Techdirt:
"Fonts are nothing but bothersome trash, especially for print industry workers. I have upwards of 50k and would never pay for any."

Of course raising the price of Garner is a dubious method, but reading this comment made me understand how desperate one can become. - By the way, Garner is not your generously equipped OT font, but it comes with three weights and asking 39 US $ seems reasonable without the excuse of making good for the loss by piracy.

pattyfab's picture

Between this and the previous issues with Letterhead, I'm just gonna steer clear. There are plenty of other foundries to buy from.

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

I read that whole thing—very ugly! The man made a mistake by sharing it with his publishing company. Piraters should be prosecuted although I don’t think the original customer is the pirater.

Nevertheless, Letterhead is charging more to its new customers recoup lost revenue? I won’t shop there ever. Not that I like those kinda fonts anyway.

Best part: If you're just looking to blow some money on a bunch of random fonts, you'll probably have a ball at this site.

Letterhead fonts are sold at Myfonts—go figure.

typetard's picture

Letterhead has created awareness of stealing fonts and that some are encrypted. Posting his name and company all good, shame on you for sharing your fonts.

The sharing the loss of income is a bit stink.

If I did a conceptual design for a client, got paid for the conceptual design from the client with a signed agreement: I own the rights to the conceptual design, until it is fully designed and produced.
However if the client then takes the conceptual design to another design company, they reproduced designed based on my conceptual.... I STILL CANNOT CHARGE MY OTHER CLIENTS 33% to make up for the loss... damn I wish I could.

or if a client goes into receivership as I had and nothing is in the tin or the office has tumbleweed, am I allowed to charge MY OTHER CLIENTS 33% to make up for the loss... no. I am sure there are many out there who too have had a client owe them a significant amount of money, for the client to then go under.. 'belly up'.. gone. Now that really hurts... takes about x3 that amount to get it back.

Though if you want the typeface you will pay for it. What is worse? paying $40 for a $30 font? or seeing it on Myfonts 3 days later for 80% discount? doh! (I am not suggesting Letterhead here) though 'some' of those discounted fonts on MyFonts are not discounted enough for me ever to want to purchase, no thanks.

Jackie Frant's picture

For those of you who have not read Chuck's latest response to piracy and font design - please take a moment to read it here:

aluminum's picture

"For those of you who have not read Chuck’s latest response..."

From the site:

"See, Letterhead Fonts would never go out of business simply because some punk wishes it so. God created this business and only He has the ability to take it away."

I'm picturing that post read in the voice of Charleston Heston.

Jackie Frant's picture

LOL - with the NRA standing proudly behind him.

pattyfab's picture

God created this business? Doesn't He have more important things to do - what with food shortages and pending environmental disaster? Wow, knowing Chuck's a bible thumper makes me even LESS inclined to buy his fonts than I already was. I hope he does go out of business. (she says as she removes the Letterhead bookmark from Safari)

Don McCahill's picture

> Wow, knowing Chuck’s a bible thumper makes me even LESS inclined to buy his fonts than I already was.

Perhaps (I hope) that comment was meant as a joke. (Although joking about religion is not a wise thing to do in business).

Paul Cutler's picture

I am not a "bible thumper" but following the links I read Psalm 140. Verses 1-5 are quite beautiful. The rest are a bit frightening. As poetry it stands up to the tradition of the Tang Dynasty, Rumi or the Japanese haikuists. At least for me. I am going to read the Psalms now.

He's standing on principle instead of business savvy. Whether I agree with his principles or not, I do like the stance, it's refreshing.


Jan's picture

‘God created this business’ gives me the shivers. Really, that scares me. Maybe I’m too european to get that.

jupiterboy's picture

God hates the same people you do.

Chris Rugen's picture

Letterhead is wise to watermark, foolish to make such a public stink and try to shift the accountability to the guy for their decision to raise prices. I don't know this guy and I'm under no illusions that font piracy will ever go away. This is a legal matter, not something for the 'public stockades' of the web. I think the market has spoken already: bad move. Customers will not ever thank you for screwing them. Why is this so surprising?

Typical's picture

Re: account data

With various types of shareware, after your purchase, the vendor gives you an encrypted 'key,' comprised of several lines of of unreadable characters, which serves to both unlock the software for use but also embeds your name and email into the software.

This is good at deterring the original purchaser from sharing his/her key.

A similar thing can be done with opentype fonts, but there is a major difference: the purchaser does not know that his name/email are encrypted into the font, or at least it's not visible when you click on font properties. Thus the psychological effect is weaker.

Sharon Van Lieu's picture

If I were selling a font, I would add something to the purchasing process that would state the very basics of the Eula but in a way that people would want to read it. Like - read this and get a free font with your purchase. Then have a simple paragraph about not sharing the font and why, something that makes the font creator become an individual to the buyer. The more you know about the artist in any medium, the less you want to rip them off.

My naive two cents.


Paul Cutler's picture

I met with a very interesting person the other night. His philosophy: there are creators and there are "owners".

I don't know squat about doing business and don't want to. I have always been able to generate ideas.
Most of the implications of that elude me but I have come to a few conclusions:

I am glad to be in that position.

People that do not have that capability are confused by and in some cases resent creativity, sometimes leading to appropriation.

This gift can sustain me.


beejay's picture

patty fab
> Wow, knowing Chuck’s a bible thumper makes me even LESS inclined to buy his fonts than I already was. I hope he does go out of business. (she says as she removes the Letterhead bookmark from Safari).

I can't remember such a vile comment here in some time.

I don't agree with Chuck's methods, nor do I think it's wise to inject religion into the dialogue, but he's the little guy standing up for something he believes in. To wish him ill will like this — it's stomach turning.

typetard's picture

I would have thought posting the received 'unhappy' emails up on a website as in Letterhead or any site would be a copyright issue if the owner of the comments 'and their expressions' did not authorise content of the email to be posted.

Also happy clapper or not does not really change if I purchase fonts or not, if they however are pushing their religion on me then I have the choice not to visit. I don't really see that with Letterhead, though eyebrows high.

i cant delete my username's picture

I don't think Chucks religious beliefs have any place in this discussion. I'm pretty sure Gutenberg was christian too (yes I am aware that was in a different time period). If we were to avoid buying art, food or even appliances from people who had strong religious views that differed from our own, our homes would be pretty bare.

If he's still making money, Letterhead can charge whatever the heck they want. I'm sure if his sales suddenly took a nosedive, he would rethink his position.

eeblet's picture

Most of that blog post at Letterhead seems reasonable to me, if fruitlessly confrontational - but the last few lines really seem crazy. I am not anti-Christian at all, but I think "bible thumper" was a fairly well-chosen phrase. To think that your business is, er, endorsed by GOD? Seems blasphemous at best.

Unfortunately, a desire for fair compensation is, in this case, counter to good marketing. He could have appealed to people's sympathies by writing a not-condescending blog post that explains a bit about what it's like to make fonts for a living, and how his EULA is more reasonable than others'. Instead of a price-hike, he could have offered a $5 discount for people who have never bought a font before, and have only pirated. What a difference that would have made! Piraters are people who WILL NOT buy fonts, unless they feel a personal affinity with the person who created the font; seems like the kind, forgiving approach would be both more business-savvy and more, well, Christian.


Paul Cutler's picture

Strange but inevitable twist to the thread.

Chuck's statement seems holistic to me. He said created, not endorsed.

Whether he is making a business mistake remains to be seen. I like that he is standing on principle for better or worse. I wish more people would do that. It would be a far more interesting and less predictable world.

My life has taught me that what other people think of me is not important, what I think of them is.


jupiterboy's picture

I don’t think Chucks religious beliefs have any place in this discussion. I’m pretty sure Gutenberg was christian too (yes I am aware that was in a different time period). If we were to avoid buying art, food or even appliances from people who had strong religious views that differed from our own, our homes would be pretty bare.

I suspect a few designers have lost jobs over time because they did not respond with the right enthusiasm to religious solicitation from their clients. Pure conjecture, but I do suspect.

Ray Larabie's picture

Right or wrong, the drama/antics from Letterhead are always entertaining. What amusing punishment does he have in store for his customers? Tune in next week.

aluminum's picture

"but he’s the little guy standing up for something he believes in. To wish him ill will like this — it’s stomach turning."

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that his rants aren't generating much sympathy from the consumer masses. I can't speak for Haley but to me the bible-thumping isn't a turn-off in terms of him being religious, but rather a turn off in the sense that 'God is on my side' which is an argument used by some rather notorious historical figures to do things that, I'm sure, any god wouldn't be too happy about.*

*Except maybe Odin or Tyr**.

** Is there a God of typography? ***

*** 'cuz there really should be.

Zara Evens's picture

Wow, knowing Chuck’s a bible thumper makes me even LESS inclined to buy his fonts than I already was. I hope he does go out of business.

Wow, indeed. I am an atheist, and an anti-bible thumper atheist at that, yet I feel completely insulted by this statement.

James Arboghast's picture

Cut the cards!

Yes---I am still on holiday. I'm not getting involved in this debate, I'm only doing this as a favour to the community and for Patty.

Patty made a negative personal remark about Chuck. Okay---let it stand, but there is no need to supress Patty's remark by expressing your revulsion. This is how incivility starts and escalates, and typographic discussions get turned into train wrecks. One comment pointing out the nature of Patty's remark is all that's required. Thankyou, you can all stop now.

I don't agree with Patty's remark about Chuck either, but I defend to the death her right to say it, and her right not to be made a victim of personal remarks made about her.

Patty---would you like to post an apology? It's up to you.

Sending you all good vibes. Have a better day, I'll be thinking of you all while I finish Pyke's Peak (new font).

Take care :^)

j a m e s

Zara Evens's picture


I agree with much of what you are saying, but I think the community as a whole, also has the right to speak out against offensive comments, just as Patty has the right to voice her opinion. As long as we remain civil and not make personal attacks against each other, everything posted in these forums is fair game.

BlueStreak's picture

I'm on Patty's side in this and don't see anything offensive in her comment. Living in the heart of the US bible belt I've learned to be very wary of people that profess their christianity with words rather than acts. Letterhead is reinforcing that lesson. It's not the pirating "punk" that is going to put Letterhead out of business. It's the "screw the paying customer" reaction to the punk that is going to put them out of business.

Nick Shinn's picture

I didn't find Chuck's religious comment the least bit offensive. It's not like he's threatening the bullies with eternal damnation.
It was a few brief words at the end of a long and thoughtful essay which systematically addressed the issues.

Secure yourself to heaven, indeed, because you won't get much moral support any other way.
Sure, people here will sympathisize if you're pirated, but if you don't adopt the victim role, who is going to support you?
Not the state, as this kind of digital shoplifting is a petty crime that's never prosecuted.
There is a lack of support from Typophiles, otherwise critical of piracy, who seem to resent that Letterhead would disrupt their workflow--even if they're not a customer.
Then there are the information-wants-to-be-free folk, who think that everybody is guilty to some extent (well, all their peers are doing it), therefore it's OK to sin, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fuddy-duddy.

In general, people who rock the boat do alienate some (especially the status quo), but they also garner respect from others, so it's not necessarily bad business to step out of line. The digital marketplace is big enough.

oprion's picture

** Is there a God of typography? ***

I suppose Odin would be pretty high up in the ranks, hanging himself on a tree for a handful of runes :)

Or possibly YHWH
"Twenty-two letters: God drew them, hewed them, combined them, weighed them, interchanged them, and through them produced the whole creation and everything that is destined to come into being" -Sefer Yetzirah

Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

typetard's picture

I think Letterhead have brought attention to stealing and sharing fonts and should be applauded for it. However, the charge to make up lost revenue calculated by how many downloads counted is crazy, why not just make up a number as I am sure his fonts have been shared elsewhere and call it a clean $100 a font for the next 5 years.

to my clients:

Dear clients old, new and potential,
it has been brought to my attention that a current client has taken one of conceptual designs and used it without paying. Therefore we will be charging all old, new and potential 33.3% until we feel the potential earnings have been paid off.

I really love this, I know I have said it before as above though how great, it would bring awareness to stealing conceptual designs. And I would 1- get wealthy fast, 2- go out of business overnight probably during the day. I think just posting the clients name all over the website should do it.

dezcom's picture

The only issue with posting the clients name is that he/she may not be the culprit. What if either someone who works for him or a printer who did a job for him was the dirty dealer? The client is then only guilty of assuming honesty among his workers. As for making other customers pay for the crimes of another, it is like arresting all of your customers who come into your bank the day after the bank was robbed. They didn't commit the crime but "someone" has to pay for it so if you can't find the guilty, charge the innocent just because they are conveniently located.


SuperUltraFabulous's picture

... and that would be very unChrist-like

*shugs, next topic please*

Jackie Frant's picture

Is it possible that Chuck is just using this one soul - to set an example. To let his purchasers realize that they are responsible for the security of their purchase and not let it "get around the net."

It turns my own stomach when I see libraries of font manufacturers tossed up on a site like the one Chuck pointed out. I can remember struggling as a typographer in New York - always having to buy the latest, newest font for my Alphatype shop. I remember the huge financial burden I took upon myself in 1989-1991 in buying digitized fonts for MAC for the shop.

No one could ever tell me just how many brands of Garamond I needed to please the old typesetting customers who 1) thanked me when they could do it themselves and 2) to this day still call trying to figure out what font they used way back when....

For those of us that have spent our money on fonts we have an understanding. I have said this before, and it still baffles me - the kid at home with a computer - can pluck more fonts from more manufacturers for their computer without paying for it - and imagine- today have a larger (and yes, better) collection of fonts then Photolettering did back in its heyday!

Chuck is doing something unorthodox. Something we are not use to and we have not seen before. Yes, there may be reasons, as business persons, we don't believe in it. Many of us are not bible-thumpers -- but in this country weren't we taught to respect all religions - regardless?

I feel like I'm up on a soapbox here -- viva la FREEDOM OF SPEECH -- the right to bear arms -- and of course free business enterprise.

While I'm at it - take a moment to thank a military person these days...

pattyfab's picture

I am sorry if I offended anyone. But I am likewise offended by those who play the "God" card inappropriately as I believe Chuck has done. I may be a bit oversensitive to religion being used as a cudgel, living in the US in this day and age. Again no intent to offend. I've been off the forum for awhile so was unaware of the storm I stirred up.

aluminum's picture

I think Chuck played a lot of cards incorrectly in this situation. But he is, of course, completely free to do so. ;o)

Ch's picture

to nick:

>>Sure, people here will sympathisize if you’re pirated,
>>but if you don’t adopt the victim role, who is going to support you?

seriously ? if you assume you're a victim you most likely will remain a victim,
and waste a lot of resources playing that game.

>>There is a lack of support from Typophiles, otherwise critical of piracy,
>>who seem to resent that Letterhead would disrupt their workflow—
>>even if they’re not a customer.

justified resentment, afaikt. this is a bone-headed move which will only push them faster into obscolescence.

>>Then there are the information-wants-to-be-free folk, who think everybody is
>>guilty to some extent (well, all their peers are doing it), therefore it’s OK to sin,
>>and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fuddy-duddy.

it's not that simple. this is a rather silly and misinformed characterization of many people with many different ideas about what property and reproduction mean in the digital age. the most cogent arguments i've heard have nothing to do with "everybody's doing it".

i'm in the middle here, btw - NOT one of your "informationwantstobefree" folk.
i buy my fonts and i don't give them away, but i will not be shopping at letterhead anymore, in protest to what i see as a completely regressive and counter-productive move on this playing field.

>>In general, people who rock the boat do alienate some

this is rocking the boat ? not really, just shooting a bigger hole in their own.

>>but they also garner respect from others,
>>so it’s not necessarily bad business to step out of line.

time will tell. not sure how raising prices and sending ridiculous and indefensible invoices garners respect.

>>The digital marketplace is big enough.

exactly why this is a bone-headed move !
improve business by raising prices and punishing legit customers ?
marketing genius ! come on back for more !

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