Important question regarding ethics

Curioustype's picture

Several months ago I think I downloaded a font from either an open-source or free-font site for reasons I don't even remember anymore. In fact I can't remember where it came from but I know it began as something I wouldn't have used a whole lot if at all.

After downloading the font I immediately opened it in FontLab and before I knew it, I had gone off on my own zoned-out brain hike and started messing around in every glyph like I was rearranging furniture. I eventually snapped out of it and saved the file, not to open it again for months.

Recently after running across it again in one of my desktop folders, the file name didn't ring a bell so I opened it again and was like, "Oh yeah ... wow, check this out." I immediately began messing around with it some more and liked its progress so much I spent the next three or four weeks essentially rebuilding the entire font. As of this moment it's still nothing I'd ever use, but in my eyes it clearly has some definite potential.

Now the rub: In all honesty, I cannot remember where I got the font, its name, or anything else for that matter other than it was definitely a serif face of some sort, likely for text. However, now it's a nice-looking sans serif and considering the amount of work put into it and alterations made to it, couldn't even slightly resemble what it was when I first administered the anesthesia and opened it up. I also know that for sure because if was similar I'd probably remember what it began as.

So in simple terms what I've done here is created an entirely unique font, after starting the process with an entire set of previously created character forms. And the difference is so great, it was akin to taking a script font and turning it into a monospace for DOS.

The question now is, what if anything could I do with this font? Would I be breaching ethical goodness if I ended up selling this font or giving it to a friend for exclusive use in his/her business? YES, I realize I didn't start it from scratch but I also know the end result is completely unique. So where does that leave me? If someone takes, say, Helvetica for example and turns it into a gorgeous display script - and somehow benefits from it - should he or she start saying Hail Marys?

blank's picture

I think you need to undertake a really serious effort to figure out what the original font was and read the original EULA. Without knowing what the rules and design were in the first place, you can’t ethically release this design, because you really don’t know if you broke the rules or if the design really is something new.

You could always try passing the font to the Fontlab support staff to see if they can poke through the file to find the name of the original designer, and then contact that person for the most useful opinion you’re going to get.

oprion's picture

Hmm..Well, ethics are a personal thing, so I doubt anyone can answer this. Legality, on the other hand, is somewhat universal, so I am sure someone knowledgeable in these things can answer.
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

Si_Daniels's picture

Browser history, temp files, file dates, vendor ID, unique names etc., should point you to the original source.

dezcom's picture

Post a pdf of the before and after for folks to see the difference.


Curioustype's picture

First to dezcom: I can't remember what the original font was or if I even have it anymore so the before/after scenario is not possible. More on that in a second.

To sii: Ordinarily those would be good places to search but I'm what one might identify as nomadic when it comes to my computer files, their names, locations, etc. In other words, the original .vfb file has likely been "saved as" four or five different things notwithstanding the fact I probably began this journey almost a year ago. That and the fact my computer is in a perpetual disaster-zone state means I pretty much live in the technological "now." I didn't even return to the original file until several weeks later and even then failed to recognize the name.

This all does however raise some interesting questions in my mind. Such as, in the long run does it matter whether I could identify the original font or not, or provide the aforementioned before/after comparison? I probably placed too much emphasis on my inability to remember the original font.

Another thing, in regards to what Mr. Puckett wrote earlier: for the sake of discussion let's say the original was an open-type version of the script font "Tiffany," which I assume would come with some form of copyright/don't-mess-with-this protection. Yet now, the font is called "Curious" in which every glyph is a conservative sans down to the bone. What would I have done, in that situation? Did I alter the actual physical file or have I painted on some eyebrows and am calling my work the "Moaning Lisa?" If I painted a landscape of the Everglades over the Mona Lisa, could da Vinci claim an intellectual property foul? Pretty tricky stuff if you ask me.

Which is why I asked all of you. In a sense it's kinda like this: I created from scratch the lc "g" I use as my little icon there, along with the rest of the font to which it belongs. What if, though, that "g" originally started out as the one from "Futuris Condensed Light," itself a direct "descendent" of its Futura predecessor? Who would I have wronged in that case, if anyone at all? As you can see, my "g" doesn't share any conceivable similarity with the Futura lc "g" other than both of them come after the letter "f."

Of course oprion said it all when he that the ethics issue is a personal one. Obviously I see some potential violation since I've now asked the question, but I can't escape the fact that what the font is now in .vfb form is completely from my own brain. Still, my mom always said when it comes to love and morality (ethics too), "if there's any doubt, then there is no doubt." Meaning, it's either immoral or not love.

Ray Larabie's picture

Lemme see.

henrypijames's picture

If you have a good recollection of how the original font looked like, you should be able to re-discover it on the Internet; if you don't have a good recollection of how the original font looked like, you cannot claim with certainty that your alteration is fundamentally different from the original.

In any case, it appears you haven't tried very hard to track down the original font (how many hours have you spent trying?), and I don't think there's any excuse for that.

Curioustype's picture

henrypijames, your post - at least from where I stand - amounts to little more than an ordinance stating that since a horse can be turned into glue, it's clear one must be able to turn glue into a horse.

I have no recollection of any kind as it relates to the original font, including how it looked, what it was named or if it went better with white wine or red. However, I CAN be absolutely certain the difference in the original font and what I have now is like night and day ... for, let's see, one, two, three ... four ... a whole hell of a lot of reasons. Most prominent among those being how much time and attention I've already given the font.

I realize you don't know me from a toaster oven but let me assure you I am not the type to spend fortnights to the nth power tweaking nodes a single point east or west and then back again for more than 200 glyphs. Another reason I can be certain is, I am a slave to sans-serif typefaces.

That being said, I've never seen a single sans font that's made me even consider what it might look like with that chunk of it missing, or this descender lowered by 20 percent. Thus, even though a well-developed fetus could count the number of times I've ramshackled an already existing typeface for the sheer hedonic glee of it, when I am struck by that demonic urge, being conservative about it is the last thing on my mind. Conversely, the creator of Deep Blue probably couldn't count the number of times I've all but finished, for example, a particularly wide all-caps font before nausea compelled me to turn around and transform it into a bunch of wetbar-themed dingbats.

And finally, a few really important considerations in the overall picture here:

a.) This font isn't even spaced well and hasn't even been approached with the prospect of kerning yet. Summary 1: the several months I've spent on the font has all been on the letterforms. In fact this particular font might be the fourth different one I've done since opening the original file. Summary 2: It's no more ready to be used - or given away, or sold - as a legitimate typeface than my untied laces that land in the shape of an "o" or "s" after I've taken off my shoes. Consequently, my illegitimate excuse for not trying hard to find out the font's original existence remains as follows: why would I? I promise, long before I take that first step into moral descent - provided I ever even kern this font much less finish it - I will pack my parka and snow shoes for whatever lengthy search of the wild I may have to launch to find my own little font Yoda.

b.) You wrote: "if you don’t have a good recollection of how the original font looked like, you cannot claim with certainty that your alteration is fundamentally different from the original." Uh ... hmmm. You might have something here. But help me out here - couldn't that lack of recall also be attributed to the fact that it does look so different now? Almost via default? I vote against falling into that black hole of a chicken/egg dialogue. But not before making this point - if it currently did look anything like the original, science would dictate my chance of total recall improves by, well, I don't know but I bet it's a pretty sizable amount.

But, thanks for checking in with your disdain despite the fact I could've just said screw the world and stealthily tried to milk every penny I could get out of this font, and have committed no sin beyond asking the people here to offer their opinion on an ethical issue. Baseless and unwarranted cynicism and disparagement has always gotten a bad rap in my opinion.

paul d hunt's picture

post an image and see if we can help identify the source?

James Arboghast's picture

Curious Type, there is an easy way of resolving this situation.

1) Print out all the glyphs in the font you made out of that other font (which we're unsure of the identity of).
2) Tape the print out of the glyphs (your designs and drawings) to the side of your monitor.
3) Draw, reproduce each glyph in Fontlab starting with a New font, drawing by eye.
4) Just look at the printed glyphs and draw what you see. Draw by eye, imitate, mimic.
5) This way your new font will have no stolen points, no stolen curves.

Note to colleagues---is this a good idea do you think? It's only a suggestion, and it's the only thing I can think of doing to put some distance between the original font Curious started with and what he decided on as his after his drawing and design activities.

Meantime, Curious, we really need to see what you ended up with to help identify the source font, in order to determine how different your result may or may not be from the source.

j a m e s

James Arboghast's picture

@Curioustype: But, thanks for checking in with your disdain despite the fact I could’ve just said screw the world and stealthily tried to milk every penny I could get out of this font, and have committed no sin beyond asking the people here to offer their opinion on an ethical issue. Baseless and unwarranted cynicism and disparagement has always gotten a bad rap in my opinion.

Dude, what henry p james had to say back there was definitely not baseless and unwarranted cynicism and disparagement. No sir. He is trying to help you. That's all I am trying to do as well.

Just take it all in good faith and we will do our level best to help you get this sorted out.

j a m e s

genericboy's picture

Hi Curious,

Forgive me if this sounds a little confrontational, but what exactly were you hoping to get from this thread if not honest feedback on your original question? Your OP asks:

"The question now is, what if anything could I do with this font? Would I be breaching ethical goodness if I ended up selling this font or giving it to a friend for exclusive use in his/her business?"

Various people since have given you the obvious answer - that the first step needs to be finding the original font (and its attendant EULA) and assessing the differences between it and your new creation. To turn around later and say that obviously you would do that if you ever planned to release it kind of makes the original question redundant. If you don't plan to release it, you have no worries. If you do, you need to find the original.

People have offered to try and help identify it if you post your version. If they can give you some ideas then you'll be a lot closer to finding the original. And if they can't, then there's a pretty good chance that your new glyphs are sufficiently different for you to no longer worry. Whether or not that would mean you are legally clear is a totally different question, but either way you'd have a much better understanding of how to proceed.

Take care,



Curioustype's picture

Mr. Arboghast: There is no question I've received very insightful and stimulating response here, and very much appreciate the help people are trying to provide. Including most recently from you.

Just two things, however, the first being to pretty much everyone and the second more directly to you:

1.) My original goal was not to figure out what the original font was ... not even close. Honestly I couldn't care less, especially since this thread has convinced me of what I kinda already knew - that regardless of how good it is or different it is from the original, the font in its current state will never be anything more than an exercise in practice and experience.

My original and lone goal was to see how others here would view the whole scenario in ethical terms. I really wasn't looking to obtain anyone's permission to sell or even give away the font just to feel better about doing it. More like trying to measure my approach to ethics next to others who could thoughtfully consider and comment on their own. I suppose if people are looking for the challenge it might provide, I could post some kind of image, but I have no need to know its origins. I do however appreciate all the people who jumped in the boat here and tried to help me row ashore. If the mystery of it all would provide stimulating thought to anyone, just let me know and I'll let you at it.

2.) Not to dig too deep here, Mr. Arboghast, I will just say that the definition of the word "excuse," in this context, is to "justify; make an apology for." To suggest I either did something unjust or for which I needed to apologize - especially considering what I REALLY did and explained above - is an insult to my character. To then suggest that "unjust" conduct was indefensible is what I call a verbal assault first, and "help," somewhere like ninety-eighth. Out of 99. That's just me, though, relying on the specific words written above by henry p james and how webster's defines the most striking among them. Perhaps I should apologize for such deviant analytics. Or for being a smartass just havin a little fun with you guys.

genericboy's picture

Hi Curious,

I don't think anyone was 'suggesting' that you had done anything unjust - simply that if you were wanting to release this font (which is what you heavily suggested in your original post) then tracking down the original was your obvious first step. If you want to release a font which is a derivative work, then really there is no excuse not to try and find out the original. It's a simple statement, not a 'verbal assault' or an 'insult to your character' - there's no call to be so dramatic. This last post to James did you no favours.



Curioustype's picture


Calling me "dramatic" tells me you apparently haven't spent much of your life studying social morays or sociology (30 minutes, tops?); nor have you made an effort to get to know me in the least - all of which in my book is unpardonable.

Was that a little harsh to you? Because it is virtually identical to what henry p james said to me ... only I didn't even do anything remotely similar to calling anyone "dramatic," which was just used for reference and not to imply your application of the word was condescending.

See for yourself - these were his words: "In any case, it appears you haven’t tried very hard to track down the original font (how many hours have you spent trying?), and I don’t think there’s any excuse for that."

I guess it's a disagreement of what each of us considers borderline offensive. I can dig that.

As for the font issue, I never really intended to release the font in any way, shape, or form. I just became interested in the world's view on it because in the two seconds I actually did give releasing it some real thought, the dichotomy of it made me so queasy I almost yacked. It's an odd feeling to go from feeling like scum to full artist's exhiliration in a mere 1.98 seconds. In truth this subject has hundreds of potential layers and no real clear solution. For example, what if I opened a new, blank font in FontLab and then created all the glyphs from scratch using the infected .vfb file as a visual guide? And the two fonts differed by say 40 percent instead of 70?

Another mind-bender is this: do foundries/designers copyright or legally prohibit others from altering the actual physical font file itself, or from creating a new vfb from scratch and simply duplicating the letter forms? Or both? Whatever the answer is, I am of the opinion that many of those clamoring for stricter infringement rules need to more thoroughly identify what it is they're attempting to protect. I did however obtain several very solid and diverse opinions and was able to - for myself anyway - resolve my own inner quarrel on the issue. Even amidst all the verbal gymnastics.

Si_Daniels's picture

Isn't the ethics question very clear cut. Using someone’s font as the basis of your font regardless of the number of changes you make is not ethically okay - the issue of losing track of the original source doesn't appear to be relevant.

If the question relates to legalities rather than ethics, then there are separate arguments and I think James’s tracing suggestion probably passes the bar in most jurisdictions. (not being a lawyer I don’t know for sure).

However there are various cautionary tales out there of people making "original" fonts that seem to contain generic characters (math operators etc.,) lifted from other fonts, or "original" fonts popping up with other people's vendor IDs embedded. These fall more into the camp of PR - in this business simple mistakes like this can hurt reputations long-term.

Jonathan Clede's picture

Without the original EULA, I don't think you or anyone else can answer this question. (That goes no matter how different the customized version is from the original.)

I would say this, though: if you have two choices, one ethical and the other ambiguous, I would go with the former.

aluminum's picture

Ethically, if what you have now has no bearing on the original, then you seem to have crossed beyond the realm of derivatives and into 'inspired by' or the like.

rax's picture

Despite agreeing with most of the answers provided to you Curioustype, I think that you knew the answer to your question way before making this thread.

Even though none of us has a "right" answer to your question, I think the ones you got pretty much in essence respond to Jonathan Clede's proposition "if you have two choices, one ethical and the other ambiguous, most of us would go with the former."

There must be some way out of here...

Curioustype's picture

rax you are probably right, but I think this issue is far more complex than could ever be worked out here. I don't remember "disagreeing" with the answers provided here; I was simply trying to generate the most diversity in them as I possibly could. This was not an exercise in self-reassurance by any means, and when all is said and done this was just a forum topic about a font that will never see the light of day. It certainly wasn't my attempt to defend something like what happened to Jos's Delicious font or the T26 lookalike of "Infinity" if I'm remembering correctly.

I guess above all, this ordinarily would have been a no-brainer for me if not for my certainty in the fact that the original font and what it is now are two completely different things. Which made me wonder why some of the talk centered around the concept of being "inspired" by or creating a quasi-tribute version of the font. I can't imagine either of those being applicable since I can't be inspired by or pay tribute to a typeface of which I have no memory or knowledge. That said, I think the meat of my inquiry got lost - that being the issue of the differences in the two fonts.

As I asked earlier, what if i just opened a new vfb file and re-created the font by simply eye-balling it and matching all the point positions? That of course would mean I created what ultimately was my own design (keeping in mind how much it differs from the original) in a brand new FontLab file. Could that still be considered unethical. And if so, who's to say how far that ethical line could be extended? I definitely have trouble with those who say under those circumstances I'd still be less-than above board since the only real tie or similarities between the two that remain was that long ago I opened the original in FontLab. The number "if-thens" that could be raised on this topic are mind boggling.

henrypijames's picture

"I have no idea whatsoever how the original looked, except that it has no similarity to the current form" is a self-contradicting statement. Without any means of varification (even for yourself, let alone for others), your repeated claim (probably in good faith, but that doesn't matter) that your new creation were fundamentally different from the original remains groundless and therefore extremely doubious.

dezcom's picture

The moral to the story is, don't open other peoples fonts in FontLab and start messing with them--even if you have no intention of using it, you may change your mind later.
You learn much more by starting from scratch and designing your own.


innovati's picture

Can I tell a story, of a similar experience and how I solved it.

I'm a big Nine Inch Nails fan, and they decided last year that they were going to release hours of the studio recordings as the multi-track original format so anybody could easily remix them. They also put those under a creative commons licence and made a website to host fan-made remixes called

During the summer I downloaded a song that I forgot about, then one night I stumbled across this track called bosendorfer morhper and I was hypnotized by it. It was totally unrecognizable, and I loved it - I had no idea where it was from.

I wanted to use it in a remix, or pieces of it, and I knew it was under a creative commons licence so I knew I was free to, but I couldn't give credit to the author because I didn't know.

I spent 3 entire evenings and nights scouring listening for it, hunting for it. I knew I downloaded it April 4th, so I looked at the other songs I had downloaded and tried to search for what I thought I might have been searching for. Then I searched for dozens of other songs.

I had given up on it, when one day I was just listening to on random (and there are THOUSANDS of songs) and it played. At last I knew who it was!

My advice to you search systematically Try to think back to the date you got the original if you can, and see what else you downloaded at that time. Check the metadata for any hints as to the author, or any information you could search for. don't give up because it's still out there, and you will likely run across it again, and maybe even when you're not looking for it.

Good luck, I know what this situation feels like, but do know that it is possible to find these things if you try. As it turns out when I discovered the song, I also discovered the artist, and now I know everything else they've done.

Happy Hunting!

Curioustype's picture

Wow, henry, you're really committed to questioning almost everything about me, from my memory to the veracity of my statements. The most recent example included calling my claims "groundless" and "extremely doubious ..."

Clearly it's time to break out the analogies here since they're always the best chance to successfully explain something to a tire iron. I realize you're taking a strictly scientific approach here, one that says a person with no knowledge of a subject couldn't possibly make comparisons to it, or form opinions on it. However, scientists also routinely admit the least understood aspect of the human condition is the brain, and the memory even moreso. But I digress ...

Let's say you have some recall of going to a movie once with a friend perhaps 15-20 years ago, but can't remember its name, the theater, or anything other than it wasn't an action/thriller since those are your favorite. Then yesterday when talking to this friend's sister about seeing "The Dark Night" last week, she complains how you never take her to the movies. While trying to conjure a defense, you bring up the irony in even seeing one with her punk brother but not her fine self. Then for whatever reason she asks "was it a good one, or one of those 'guy' movies like the Batman thing?"

And despite your memory gap, you feel 100 percent secure in saying, "nah, they weren't even close." Which you base on a.) knowing it wasn't your favorite kind and b.) no general sense of having an especially good or bad experience. Here your memories are based not on visuals, pure instinct mixed with inner emotions and/or sense. I promise, it happens all the time ... except at the Traditionalist Scientists Club meetings in Tuscon every year.

Listen: first of all, I know the two are different because the original was NOT a sans because I don't tinker with those. Ever. That immediately means the original wasn't the same classification - an immediate difference. Also, I do understand the notion of "contrast," which means though I can't recollect the original, I am certain I made big changes in that area to make it more sans-appropriate. Oh look, another significant difference.

Finally, and for like the third time, I know they couldn't possibly be similar because I have vivid memories of the amount of time spent on it and the volume of alterations over several months. In a sense it's like having no recollection of how a house looked before you spent a year remodeling it but can still be sure it's completely different now because you can remember tearing up the place, the several coats of paint applied, putting in wood floors to replace the whatever crap the owners had there before, etc.

Thus, I leave you with the following: I can't remember the original at all but know for certain the current one is NOTHING LIKE IT AT ALL. Question or doubt me all you like ... now don't you have a boiling beaker somewhere that's about to start leaking over the edge?

Curioustype's picture

dezcom if you're a visual person you can picture me holding my index finger on the tip of my nose and pointing at you as my response to your recent statement. Although, some progressives (read: those who don't give a crap) might still say, as long as the finished product is completely different in every way, what's really been "stolen," or pirated, whatever? Again, if I went into "Now Sans" (which by the way I like very much) and turned it into something that looked like "FF Amoeba," how exactly have I truly violated or stolen from you? Personally, my answer would be along the lines of, well I can't think of one single thing I have "stolen" from you, but since my gut is wrenching right now it must be something. To which my left brain then says, but does a wrenching gut translate to actual theft of something tangible? At that point I just say OK guys, quit arguing now - let the typophiles settle it.

henrypijames's picture

I'm sorry, but "can’t remember (the movie's) name, the theater, or anything other than it wasn’t an action/thriller" is simply unimaginable: I would certainly be able to remember a number of other things, like that it wasn't porn (as I've never watched porn in a movie theater), the main language wasn't Arabic (never watched any Arabic movie), the visual mode wasn't 3D (I clearly remember each single 3D movie I've ever seen), and so on. If I really don't remember anything about a movie, I cannot possibly know that it wasn't an action-thriller (which coincidentally is indeed one of my favorite genres).

James Arboghast's picture don’t you have a boiling beaker somewhere that’s about to start leaking over the edge?

Not exactly, but I'm not holding my breath for this thread, nor am I reading two thirds of the blather making up your posts.

...the current one is NOTHING LIKE IT AT ALL.

Then you shouldn't have a problem posting samples of this thing you insist is so different from the font you started modifying so long ago.

Wow, henry, you’re really committed to questioning almost everything about me, from my memory to the veracity of my statements. The most recent example included calling my claims “groundless” and “extremely doubious ...”

Clearly it’s time to break out the analogies here since they’re always the best chance to successfully explain something to a tire iron.

No, please stop posting the analogies. They only take up a lot of space and do little to enhance your position or your arguments.

Also please stop making ad hominem personal attacks on other typophilers here. Comparing Henry to "a tire iron" is insulting and an example of an ad hominem "argument against the man". Ad homimen is a logical fallacy. In other words it has no validity in the context of this discussion / debate. Please read the General Posting Guidelines and note that Typophile's users are asked to refrain from making personal attacks. Whether you realize it or not, you have made numerous ad hominem personal attacks on this thread. "Tire iron" has unpleasant conotations associated with violence and grievous bodily harm. Leave that shit out please.

I have no idea whatsoever how the original looked, except that it has no similarity to the current form

As Henry points out, this statement is another logical fallacy. Since you can't admit this basic problem with your logic I won't waste any more of my time trying to talk sense to you.

You are in denial and everybody else reading this can see that. You are also in breach of civility guidelines. Consider that an official warning.

Advise turning Typophile off and not returning here for a full week. You sound like you have some serious personal issues that need dealing with. Please get that sorted out because the state you are in is not fit for participating in polite, rational discussions here at typophile.

Your postings are quite irrational and do not make sense.

j a m e s

Curioustype's picture

and one more thing, henry ... i can very easily have no recollection whatsoever of the original font, but vividly remember sitting there one night thinking to myself, man I have just brutalized this font before taking like 10 minutes trying to remember what the original was - and afterward saying to myself, "dang, I can't believe how completely different it is." I also can remember the acute feeling of surprise at how I had created a totally different font without even realizing it as I did it.

You know, it's not your suspicions or the questioning of my integrity/sincerity I find so offensive - it's the total, unmitigated haste in which you vocalized it, twice. Talk about being groundless. It's times like these when I am convinced some people just enjoy being cynical or questioning others so much, the thought of actually supporting such conduct with any real substance is a brain function of which they cannot conceive and/or no longer possess. And I'm sorry, but my brain cannot conceive of being anything but knocked out of kilter by such people. So we're both screwed.

Curioustype's picture

"You are also in breach of civility guidelines. Consider that an official warning."

Warning of what, exactly? You know, the first time I came here and engaged in various discussions for a few months, I got so tired of the snottiness and elitism here - not to mention the misplaced vanity - I didn't come back for like six months.

This thread began with a legitimate question about ethics. And let me remind you of one important fact - the vitriol here began when henry said "In any case, it appears you haven’t tried very hard to track down the original font (how many hours have you spent trying?), and I don’t think there’s any excuse for that."

In that sentence, he calls my actions inexcusable because I didn't do something HE thinks I should've done - even those of us burdened by "personal issues" can see that. If refusing to bow down to that kind of condescencion is what you'd consider "anti-social" and worthy of issuing "warnings," believe me I'd much rather be seen as someone with "personal issues" than with your soundness of mind. Not to mention as I went on to explain, he's been wrong the entire time - especially when questioning the validity of my claim that the current font is nothing like the original, because, according to him, I can't even remember the original.

It's amazing how you've concluded I'm the lightning rod here and consider it perfectly "polite" and "rational" to question someone's truthfulness and the veracity of his statements. As for the "tire iron" reference, replace that with "lowest common denominator." It's a regional statement of generalization and not a personal insult (regional meaning, used a lot where I'm from). But you're right, because you didn't know that or bother to look, I'm really the jerk here who needs to do a complete personality review. I'll get right on that.

Curioustype's picture

Also, and again, my original goal was not to verify whether or not the current font is distributable, or trying to find out what it was. It was solely to stimulate others' view of this particular ethical dilemma. Which means in the end, I could've been talking about fonts and events that never happened. So why would I bother posting the original when it was irrelevant? You'll have to forgive me for a.) not understanding anything you've said, and b.) pointing a loaded gun at your head and forcing you to read one sentence of this thread. And if somehow you're a moderator or own this site and ARE forced to read this thread and really cannot see what's taken place here, then trust me I will gladly never come back to this site because it's clearly clique-based and not exactly "open."

Curioustype's picture

" Intolerance is an ugly thing ... of all people involved with type, designers and typographers can least afford to be intolerant."

- James Arboghast

henrypijames's picture

Actually, I haven't questioned your sincerity -- as I usually don't speculate on the intention of people I hardly know -- and I do believe you're acting in good faith -- which is somewhat self-evident by the fact that you've started this discussion. But as I stated before, whether or not you're acting in faith doesn't change the dubious nature of various statements you've made. One doesn't have to be lying in order to say something false.

That's all I'm gonna say regarding the issue of your character -- which you erroneously thought I was questioning. It's off-topic and doesn't belong in a public forum discussion anyway.

Curioustype's picture

Fair enough. I think the more confounding thing about all this is I probably should have just used a hypothetical situation since in the end it never mattered where I got the original font or what I did or didn't remember about it. And when asking questions of those who responded, I wasn't attempting to defend one position (which people might have thought was mine), nor was I defending any potential actions I wanted to take in regards to the font - I was simply attempting to promote a wider variety of opinions. Sometimes the line is too indistinguishable between what should be called a "forum," and what should be called a "debate." I never intended to be antagonistic, nor did I begin the thread with a firm position I then felt a need to defend.

dezcom's picture

I give up.


pattyfab's picture

Chris, you just NOW give up on this guy? I can't believe I bothered to read this thread.

Curioustype's picture

feel the love

nithrandur's picture

Hello Curioustype.

It really is up to you whether you consider your transformations of the cannot-be-found typeface as inspired (because it really is) or immediately derived (because it really is). Inspired works are also derived: one derives something from a work, and transforms it, improves upon it, mutates it according to one's own deviant taste, making it one's own. Then it becomes a question of whether you consider direct contact with and transformation of the original source unethical. To many, it is, because you are directly manipulating someone's original (even if digital typefaces may be distributed, each original a perfect replica of the original), and, in a sense, you are "stealing their points and curves." On the other hand, you can also argue that you could've made your current typeface without even altering the cannot-be-found typeface, which is also probable, one way or another, perhaps a time in the uncertain future. This, however, is not the case: you have admitted to having directly manipulated the original. In a sense, what little remains of the original in your new typeface is simply the original, stretched, compressed, recurved, straightened, remolded; as long as it is not reduced to nothing: that what you have now, reduced to its essence that you claimed, is the original. That you have put effort into making a new typeface is admirable, but as the base material is not yours, and as you have had no permission to directly derive from it, then I'm afraid, in good faith, that you should not release the typeface as it is now, nor claim it as your own.

It is best to print out what you have now, and retrace them by eye in a font-creation software near your monitor. That way, the inspiration is your derived work, and you yourself put up the base material from the ground up, with all the clicking and dragging and key-pressing. And then call it inspired. :)

I hope that helps.

Curioustype's picture

It helps very much and was just as appreciated for its thoughtfulness. I already had decided not to release the font in any way ... in fact I'll never even use it for my own personal work/enjoyment. As I mentioned in earlier posts and was pointed out to me by others, I kinda already knew my position on the ethics of this issue before beginning the thread. I was just interested in hearing the positions of the designers here.

Apparently (before your post) some responders missed the part where I said the identity of the original font was unimportant both to me and the spirit of my inquiry since I sought only the views on the process itself and not advice on what I should do with the font; that's why I tried to use phrases such as what I "could" have done with the finished product. Ultimately I should've just posed the question as a hypothetical, asking what would others think if I did "this," and "that," to a font before releasing it. Instead I confused everyone by including actual events and describing the obstacle of having a bad memory which in this context was irrelevant.

I also found interesting your discussion about the stealing of points and curves. Earlier I'd asked someone if they would've felt victimized if I had taken one of their fonts and created something completely different - to where he could never have even recognized it. When presented in that way, it would be hard for anyone to specifically identify exactly WHAT had been "stolen." Certainly not the concept or visuals of the font ... and when all's said and done, a font's appearance is everything a font is.

Despite that, however, there would be quite a bit of stealing - not the least of which being the original designer's time he or she spent creating the foundation of the font ... i.e., program settings, metrics settings, etc. All those things must be done at the outset, and they take valuable time. So even if the new font is 100 percent different, you've taken - without asking - the results of the time they spent doing those things. Also just as improper about this is, aside from what I just mentioned, this I'm sure would be a violation of a license or an "agreement" between you and the designer, in which you state you will not alter any part of the font file itself (meaning the .vfb).

Curioustype's picture

"I can’t believe I bothered to read this thread."

Come on now, PattyFab, you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. I mean really, it's not like you had any choice considering the gun being held to your head the whole time. Of course I wasn't actually there and thus never saw the gun, but it absolutely must have existed ... of that I am convinced. Because if it didn't, one might conclude you were determined to go out of your way to drag down the ones you consider responsible for your terrible decision-making.

One would then have to conclude the crappiness of your decision never dawned on you until you were completely finished reading, since from the first word you were completely free to simply stop "bothering" to read at any time. I for one refuse to believe you first could be that dim-witted, or would follow it with having the audacity to establish just how much above all this you really were. Believing you were capable of such conduct would be almost as tasteless as the conduct itself.

Tell's picture

Really Christopher, it's impressive that you've gone to all this effort, but if you really want a soap box that badly, just ask. It is Christmas after all.

nithrandur's picture

So even if the new font is 100 percent different, you’ve taken - without asking - the results of the time they spent doing those things.

Well-said. Perhaps it's not a matter of property of the curves and points, but rather, the pride and joy of pouring one's effort onto a delicate piece.

pattyfab's picture

Tell: I think Furioustype is being paid by the word. I knew he wouldn't be able to lay off.

aluminum's picture

I think this thread has gone beyond a discussion of professional ethics and now calls for some psychoanalysis.

DrDoc's picture

I actually think that this thread started as an interesting discussion of legality versus ethics, and where each one comes into play here. I think that this community does represent an extremist view in terms of intellectual property protection as it relates to type, and that is very understandable.

I think an interesting question to mull over would be how something like this would be treated before we had digital type. What if you took copies of the original drawings for, say, Gill Sans, and started drawing over the curves, and then redrew them, and then redrew them, until you wound up with something more closely resembling Caslon than Gill? Is that still unethical, as we seem to have decided that the OP's actions were? I apologize; I know we've had more than our fair share of analogies here, but consider this less of an analogy and more of a standalone question.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that legality and ethics are two separate things, and that it's very easy to say "check the EULA" instead of questioning whether an EULA is too restrictive. Creating one font from another in which every single node is different may be less legal than creating a virtually identical font, using the original only as a visual aid; but which is less ethical?

I just ask that at this point we take this discussion away from the OP; that particular discussion has moved beyond rationality and relevance. We do have the makings of a rather interesting discourse on our hands, however; let us not waste it.

Curioustype's picture

That would be Mr. Furioustype to you, PattyFab. Wait ... you're still here?

Everyone, please meet PattyFab. You know her - she's the one who spends her last day of a week-long vacation belittling the hotel staff and blaming them for how lousy their country is and the horrible time she had - only to return to the exact same hotel year after year after year and do the very same thing . "Hey smellman, take my bags out to the limo and go take a shower ... everytime I press my nose against your neck, the smell of Irish Spring gags me ..." as she walks off giggling to herself "tee hee, I called him 'smellman.' I'm so clever!"

For such a ridiculous thread, Ms. Fab, you seem to spend an inordinate amount both reading and commenting on it. Perhaps you should consider describing your experiences with observing ethical standards while designing your typefaces. Please, share those with us - I know I'd love to hear them. At least about the one(s) you created after 1972.

As for psychoanalysis, this entire site needs it, not just this thread.

Curioustype's picture

Pardon, P-Fab, while we drooling peasants continue our pathetic, mindless drivelings:

"I think an interesting question to mull over would be how something like this would be treated before we had digital type." Now that IS an excellent question I never considered. But in a sense echoes an earlier question I pondered in regards to the "separabality" of a font's appearance and the tangible file itself. I think in the years of metal type, and certainly P-Fab could help us here, the absence of technology was a unknown burden but certainly made other things easier. With technology came the burden of figuring out how to regulate it.

I do not think changing every single node in an existing font is less ethical than legal in the big picture. I do however believe there is something distasteful in avoiding the necessity of actually clicking the mouse once for each of the two or three thousand nodes first placed in the original. There is a certain theft of labor in such an act.

With all the debates over piracy going on, it seems protecting to appearance of a typeface should be easier to police. I can't imagine how I could be considered more criminal or unethical than those who created "Futuris," or "Futility," et. al. On the surface, I feel like the "Futuris" people are more poisonous to the industry, but it's also not good to benefit from the "labor" of others even if it is just the insertion of a few thousand nodes. I suppose if someone was hell-bent on avoiding such labor, they could simply start with an open-source font perhaps though I don't know the technicalities of that.

pattyfab's picture

It is an interesting topic. My apologies to the good people of Typophile for sidetracking it. I should have known better than to provoke.

I'll steer clear of Curioustype's threads in the future.

DrDoc's picture

I think the core issue here is how much of type design is technical versus how much of it is artistic. If it is the former, then creating a font identical to Futura from scratch is more acceptable than creating a completely different font from the original nodes. The problem is that type design is neither 100% technical nor 100% artistic, so we're forced to say that both are unacceptable. I don't think something like this is as black-and-white as we're making it.

Curioustype's picture

"I’ll steer clear of Curioustype’s threads in the future."

Thank you God. You're still The Man.

"I think the core issue here is how much of type design is technical versus how much of it is artistic."

Agreed. It also could be that black and white, but becomes "black and white and black and white" when you consider each is its own unique concept and therefore black and white in and of itself. If you really wanted to throw a screwball toward this plate, how would the typographic "authorities" respond if someone took an open-source file with no restrictions at all and then created "Futuris," which I guess would be the exact opposite of the scenario I originally presented. Unfortunately since PattyFab has left the building we'll just have to hope another "authority" manages to make their way to this thread. Darn.

Not to mention, in addition to the technical vs. visual aspect, there's the ethical vs. legal one as well. Which also makes it choice vs. mandate. I can only offer my view: if someone took a typeface I made and completely altered and then sold it, I'd probably be annoyed but not ready to spit legal nails or anything. However, if someone took an empty vfb and created a visual replica of my work, I'd threaten to have PattyFab show up at their doorstep with a summons and four or five hours to kill.

genericboy's picture

"I actually think that this thread started as an interesting discussion of legality versus ethics, and where each one comes into play here."

DrDoc, this is the one point I disagree on - I think this thread accidentally became an interesting discussion of legality vs. ethics! That discussion is, of course, an abstract, generalised one - at the start of the thread it seemed like the OP was asking for practical advice on a specific instance. The practical advice that several people gave was to find the font and read the EULA - in a single instance, there's no point debating what the EULA may say. It may have been draconian, or it may have said 'do what the hell you like with this font'. Without knowing what the EULA says, how can we question whether it's too restrictive?

Of course, the later question is much more interesting! And your analogy is a nice clean one, so no worries there. The more you change a typeface from its original roots, the more of a grey area it becomes. One question would be: why didn't you start it from scratch in the first place? But of course that's a question that only gets asked with hindsight.

In your analogy, I think that paper 'tracing' over Gill and ending up with Caslon would be some extremely creative tracing! But of course, digitally there is the issue of 'the file'. How much remains left of the original kerning, proportion, etc? There's obviously a scale here, which goes from unethical, to mildly unprofessional, to... Well, unlucky, I suppose, if you release an original font which is later shown to have been drawn over another font (as in the example that was posted earlier). This could be a legal problem, but not really an ethical one. When presented as a specific instance, of course it's easy to say 'check the EULA'. But I still think it's easy because it's the only real answer, aside from redrawing your face from a printout.

I really hope the atmosphere in this thread clears up. These aren't the thoughts of a type designer (end-user all the way), and I would be interested to see what some other folks think. At the moment though, I can't see that happening. Curious, you really need to calm down. If you react to troll-feeding, then I'm sorry mate, but you're probably a troll.

Cheers, Andi


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