Legal issues regarding altering fonts.

nic_mulvaney's picture

Hey guys. I wonder if you can enlighten me on a few points.

If you open a copyrighted font and change it (possibly changing every point), can you then distribute it free or not? I presume not. But can you use it in commercial projects? (e.g. you change a typeface for a logotype and branding) Is that ok with the original designer if you have purchased the face?

My main issue is, that I am producing an interactive piece where people can manipulate fonts and save them, for a gallery exhibit they can manipulate Bitstream Vera (Open Source) and walk away with their new font. But this will become a standalone application aswell, and I am thinking that if i supply the program, people can do what they want with it, and I have no responsabilities if they open copyrighted fonts and change them. Is this right? If people send me their changed fonts, can I legally display them on my website, or could I even distribute them?

Please let me know your thought on this. Any help would be great

nic_mulvaney's picture

Oops, I spelt legal wrong (cringe).
Hmm can't change it now.

A. Scott Britton's picture

You're kind of treading on thin ice with that one. In theory, you should be able to create entirely new fonts from existing glyphs because, well, they're entirely new fonts (but even if this is deemed acceptable, and I'M NOT SAYING THAT IT IS, it would always be a good idea to notate the original--not that you weren't going to do that).

One of the bigger problems you'll encounter is that, although typefaces can't yet be copyrighted in the US of A, the files that store and produce them can be. Of course, a font file contains much more than just the points that comprise a set of glyphs (metrics parameters, for example). I'd really look into it further before you proceed, you may be able to overcome legal actions, but a loss of honor might hurt tremendously more.

Si_Daniels's picture

The Vera fonts, like most fonts from established foundries are in fact licensed - Gnome use the term "copyright license" but it's a license nonetheless. The license is definitely generous, and allows the creation of derivative fonts, but you can't use the name Vera or Bitstream in the derivative font name and you can't *sell* the font on it's own. Details at http://www.gnome.org/fonts/

There are plenty of font manipulation tools out there so it would seem as if you can produce such a tool. However I think you should provide disclaimers and warnings advising users of the tool to consult their font licenses. Most of the fonts your users will have on their systems would have licenses that would prohibit modification.

As for redistributing your customer's derivative fonts, there are very real legal (trademark and copyright) as well as ethical problems with this that would land you in hot water.

Cheers, Si

nic_mulvaney's picture

Yes I agree it would be a bad idea to redistribute derivative fonts. I won't do this.

Though programs like fontlab and fontographer have no way of stopping you recompiling other peoples fonts, so I guess it's in the small print, not to do it and they bear no responsability for how u use it. (hmm said the gun maker)

It seems like a fine line.

Si_Daniels's picture

I don't know about "small print". I have a FontLab 3.0 printed manual handy and a page "A Note on IP" is right there at the beginning of the book - and again the issue is raised in the first paragraph of section 1 "Editing Fonts".

Si

Thomas Phinney's picture

Something like Vera is of course a special case. Most font licenses don't allow the user to modify the font at all (though Adobe's license is an exception). Actually selling or even redistributing a modified font to people who are not licensed for it is almost certainly copyright infringement.

To understand more about the legal situation in the USA, one could read the summary judgment from the Adobe vs SSI case: <http://web.archive.org/web/20010303011442/http://www.bna.com/e-law/cases/adobe.html>

For a shorter summary of the judgment, including some legal analysis, see: http://www.atypi.org/10_Visitors/60_legal/30_typeface_protection/feinberg_html

Regards,

T

nic_mulvaney's picture

Thanks Thomas
I just read this.

"The permanent injunctions also bar defendants from creating or distributing any font software which copies or extracts the points in an Emigre or Adobe font software program. "
- http://www.emigre.com/eprSSi.php

"So, in the USA, outlines in digital font software can be protected by copyright but the letterforms they represent cannot. "
- http://cgm.cs.mcgill.ca/~luc/kinch.html

This is all getting confusing.

Anyway, personally I experiment with my application with many 'copyrighted' fonts and create some very interesting and unusual shapes. Shapes and form that inspire me to create ideas for other fonts. To me, that's progression and something that (with the right amount of control) I can explore further.

If I was asked by a client to design a billboard, would there be a difference in me using straight helvetica or a manipulated helvetica? As I own the licence am I fit to do what I like with it?


Here is what I found in the Fontlab 4.5 Manual.

"When you open an existing font, however, please be sure that modifying it does not violate copyright laws: some fonts are copyrighted as software so it is not legal to change them in any font editor." - p.52

"If you have edited an existing font that was not your creation you must not remove the information contained on this page, or you may violate copyright laws." - p.169

And another interesting quote..
"We decided to allow modification of the embedding setting only because we are sure that the users of FontLab are professionals who respect others' rights to intellectual property. We assume that you will change the embedding setting only in your own fonts." p.170

hrant's picture

The new law of the land is that the "tool maker" is just as guilty as the "tool misuser". Except of course if you have a congressman in your pocket. You say you don't like it?! Then get your bee-hind back to Arabistan! Oh wait, you were born and raised in Iowa? Well then, how unpatriotic!!

hhp

Thomas Phinney's picture

Nic,

What's confusing?

Computer fonts are software. In the USA they are protected by copyright as software. The folks who make the fonts hold the copyright, and the license agreement defines what people who license the font can legally do with it.

When it comes to making a logo or something, many (but not all) vendors allow you to convert text using their font to outlines in a drawing program, and then manipulate it. Some vendors put extra conditions on the usage of the font, like you have to credit them anywhere you use it!

Regards,

T

Si_Daniels's picture

I agree that the attitude of font tool creators has shifted over the years - looking on the back of an old FOG box three out of the six uses listed would break most EULAs.

But this probably has just as much to do with the vendors wanting to do the right thing as it does with fear of legal action, or bad PR.

Cheers, Si

nic_mulvaney's picture

Thanks. Yeah I want to do the right thing, and i'll contact various foundries if they would allow me to use some of their fonts in an exhibit.

*Edited Post*

hrant's picture

Tiffany, it's worse: under the DMCA, Nic can be prosecuted for violations carried out by others with his software. Remember the Russian programmer that Adobe got arrested?

BTW, your article on licensing is highly valuable - thanks for doing it! But will it eventually become available outside of Interrobang?

hhp

hrant's picture

I don't know about me educating you - it's a lawyer thing - plus pretty hazy and controversial to boot. I guess the key "big picture" thing for any individual to keep in my is that coupled to corporate America's trump card -that you don't really need to be in the right, you simply need a big enough team of nasty lawyers to force an individual into defeat- the DMCA is all Big Money needs to reduce piracy, no matter that it's at the expense of societal decency.

hhp

Si_Daniels's picture

We're starting to play lawyers here, which is often fun, but the best advice would probably be for Nic to consult with a real lawyer.

hrant's picture

For the technicalities, agreed. But no lawyer is going to tell him "I'm part of the problem."
So he has to take any potential enthusiasm from legal counsel with a bag of salt.

hhp

Si_Daniels's picture

Thanks,

I started to write that I thought that the DMCA dealt with circumventing protection mechanisms, and that aside from the 'embedding permissions' most fonts don't contain any protection mechanisms, but then realized that I know next to nothing about the DMCA and that I probably shouldn't comment on it. So this criticism was really aimed at myself.

I also don

c3007888's picture

Hmm, out of curiousity, a bit off track. What if there were a phototype/cast typeface that has not been digitalised (font). If one were to digitalise it and make a few changes to it, is this legal?

hrant's picture

In the US it's totally legal. But as far as I know in Europe typeface designs belong to people irrespective of technology. And some countries are extremely strict: from what Peter Matthias Noordzij once told me, simply scanning some letters from a type specimen is illegal in the Netherlands (maybe only if you re-output it though).

hhp

Thomas Phinney's picture

I've always found that confusing myself, but Adobe's lawyers wrote both the FAQ and the EULA, so I leave that up to lawyers to sort out....

T

Thomas Phinney's picture

As I said, this sort of legal interpretation is one that I won't (and can't) venture into.

Regards,

T

pstanley's picture

Nigel, the legal issues that would raise are more difficult than you might think, even if a company like Adobe would really want to take action against somebody who had relied in good faith on its own FAQ (which I doubt).

I think Thomas's point is that the FAQ presumably reflects the lawyers understanding of their own EULA. A court might well agree. Though I am a lawyer, I'm not a copyright lawyer, much less a US copyright lawyer. But it seems to me that conversion of a font is clearly permitted (subject to certain limitations): see 2.6.4. Modification of the font is also permitted, to the extent permitted in 2.6.4: see clause 3. So it all really comes down to what is meant by "converting the font into a different format". That is probably ambiguous. Adobe clearly represents in its FAQ that it includes "modifications", and most courts and judges would be reluctant, in the face of such a clear representation, to hold anyone liable so long as they had acted in good faith and consistently with the FAQ.

(FWIW, it seems to my nonexpert eye that the FAQ is probably right. It is clear from clause 3 that the contract regards conversion "into another format" as capable of encompassing some degree of modification, and as being permitted on the terms of clause 2.6.4. I don't see why conversion "to another format" should not be capable of encompassing a variety of modifications; indeed, if one views the "font" as software (not as letterforms) any "conversion" of format will inevitably involve modification.)

pstanley's picture

Well, surely at that point they may well hit problems. If they distribute the font they have modified to their client, then they are going outside the EULA, and outside the terms of the FAQ too. They could use the modified font internally for that client's purposes -- but nothing else.

I suppose if the client licenses the font, and the advertising agency (on behalf of the client) then modifies it, the letter of the EULA and FAQ have been complied with. So long as the client has sufficient licenses for the original font, I don't see that the fact that the modification was done by a sub-contractor would matter.

This doesn't seem unreasonable. So long as everyone licenses the original properly, Adobe doesn't mind it being modified. This seems realistic, perhaps generous. What they cannot have is people "modifying" fonts and then releasing the result into the wild.

Of course the client is entitled to know whether they are getting pret-a-porter with alterations or something truly bespoke.

pstanley's picture

Well, on the face of it a person who has been granted rights by X is entitled to exercise those rights. A third party might come along and stop them if the rights were not X's to grant. But in those circumstances X's customer would expect to have a claim against X for breach of contract: You promised me I could use this font, and I can't. The customer is not obliged to second-guess the EULA (though in some cases, such as embedding, the rights it grants are expressly contingent upon the rights granted by Adobe's supplier in Adobe's EULA). In theory, if the customer's supplier cannot "make good" the promise its EULA contains, the customer would look to recover any loss (eg, the cost of adapting the font) from its supplier, in that case Adobe. The limitation of liability provisions in most EULAs might be a problem, but their enforcement would not be a foregone conclusion in many jurisdictions.

Of course, I'm not commenting on the specific case you cite. Embarking on such a wholesale modification project pushes at the boundaries of the Adobe EULA in any event (depending on how it's done), and might raise trademark issues too. I doubt it would be rational to embark upon such an endeavour without squaring the licence issues first explicitly; I expect something similar happened here.

taran80's picture

it's interesting.. and what if i'll draw in photoshop characters similar to some from commercial pixel font - as i understood its legal in usa? lil weird

Miss Tiffany's picture

In Adobe's "Font FAQ" items 10 & 11 state:



quote:

10. Can I convert the font software into a different format or modify font software that I have licensed?

Adobe

Miss Tiffany's picture

Ok. So there is yet _more_ reading to do. Educate me, Hrant. Where can I read about this? Sounds like Nic should read it too. Could he have his software wrapped in his software's EULA which explains to those which use his software that they must check their EULAs?

(Moved thread to RELEASE)

Miss Tiffany's picture

Very true, Simon. I did not post intending to even suggest that I am offering legal advice. But, I can see that it sounds that way. Maybe we need a lawyer here at typophile. There must be at least one copyright lawyer on the planet that is also a type geek. ;)

anonymous's picture

Tiffany

The Adobe FAQs statements you mention do not agree with Adobe's EULA posted on their website at:
http://www.adobe.com/products/eulas/main.html

If you look more closely at Adobe's EULA for type they allow you to "convert" the fonts software into another format in section 2.6.4 but in section 3 they clearly state that except for converting the font software you are NOT allowed to modify it.

Nigel

anonymous's picture

Thomas

As the EULA is the legally binding document I am sure that Adobe's lawyers would almost certainly hold a customer to it (the EULA) rather than an FAQ.

Nigel

anonymous's picture

Paul

There are many advertising agencies that take their Adobe Type Library fonts and modify them as part of a "new" corporate typeface identity for their clients.

That is where the real problem lies, not with individual use.

Nigel

anonymous's picture

Paul

The following URL brings up another interesting issue. They have created an additional 10 derivative weights of Agfa's Rotis.

http://www.typeguy.com/pages/alts/rotis.html

They used Adobe's font software so they would need both Adobe's permission as well as Agfa.

If, as may be the case, Adobe is not even permitted to create additional weights and so would not be in a position to authorize someone else to, and it is reasonable to assume that Agfa would want control of its own typeface, then why would a third party think that it has the right to do so.


Nigel

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