Are Futura and Helvetica public domain?

leoboiko's picture

Hi. I swear I’m not trying to start any flames here :) It’s just that I’m not a type professional—heck, I’m probably not even a type enthusiast by the standards of this forum—and I’m having a hard time finding information on the copyright situation of famous classic fonts.

According to Wikipedia, Futura was released on 1927 and Helvetica on 1957. So their copyright should have expired already, right? I mean, I know specific digitalizations (such as, say, Bitstream’s Futura or Adobe’s Helvetica) are copyrighted, just like specific editions of public-domain books are copyrighted. But shouldn’t the fonts per se be PD by now? Is there anything that prevents me from, say, taking a printout of the original 1927 Futura, vectorize it in FontForge, and release it as a free Futura (other than my own utter inability)? If yes, what is it, specifically? As in, what (and whose) copyright application or patent number?

And if they are in fact public domain, how come no one has released free Helveticas and Futuras to this day? Or they did, and I suck at searching?

cuttlefish's picture

Helvetica is definitely not public domain.

Uli's picture

> Are Futura and Helvetica public domain?

see http://www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/publicdomain.pdf

see also http://www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/publicdomain2.pdf

Example: Linotype ripped off Futura and sold it as "Fotura":

http://www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/fotura.htm

The big foundries never cared about "copyright".

Why should you care?

Bendy's picture

The names are copyright and each foundry's digitisation is copyright. There are plenty of crap knock-offs out there but people are willing to pay for the better ones so they're not free.

leoboiko's picture

> The names are copyright

That’s interesting. Out of curiosity, do you know who own the trademarks (or whatever) for Futura and Helvetica these days?

> There are plenty of crap knock-offs out there

Is that so? I couldn’t find any exact replicas, only things like Coolvetica and Beteckna which are ruined versions of, I mean, “inspired” by the classics, but with lots of tiny little changes that alter the identity of the type.

Is there any open-source fonts—crap or not—that at least attempt to reproduce Futura and Helvetica faithfully?

Mark Simonson's picture

The names are trademarked, not copyrighted. You can't copyright a name, but you can get trademark protection for it.

Mark Simonson's picture

Example: Linotype ripped off Futura and sold it as "Fotura":

Seems like this came up another time, but Fotura originated at Alphabet Innovations, Phil Martin's film font company, around 1970. It's not a clone of Futura, although it is clearly based on it and acknowledges the fact (with a wink) in its name. While the caps are very close (maybe identical), the proportions of the lowercase are different in the extreme, with an x-height nearly as high as the caps. One may well call it a rip-off of Futura, but it's obviously not meant as a look-alike substitute.

How Fotura wound up at Linotype I don't know, but that's not where it originated.

Tomi from Suomi's picture

I made my own version of Franklin Gothic, and named it Tee Franklin. There has been no problems from any big guys (Monotype, Linotype or Adobe). My design was in between Adobe and ITC versions, based on my samples of M. F. Benton, with added thin weights. In fact I offered Tee Franklin to Monotype/ITC, but they declined.

I also made a new version of Kabel, but with that my design was very different from the original, so there was no real conflict.

Historically, during metal type, font foundries bought each others fonts just to copy their designs. I guess things have not changed that much from those times…

Bendy's picture

Tomi, that's very interesting and pertinent to a revival/reinterpretation project I might start. Watch this space.

maxgraphic's picture

In the US, typeface designs aren't copyrightable, so sure, you can trace and redraw any font you like. It's not a good way to make friends, but many companies have done just that.

It's the name that has trademark protection, as was mentioned, but the design is considered to have an "intrinsic utilitarian function for use in composing text." (Dingbat fonts would seem to be a different story.)

The workaround in the US is to call fonts software, but again, the shape of the letters isn't what's being protected, just the particular software that generates them.

Uli's picture

leoboiko:

> do you know who own the trademarks for Futura

The trademark is dead. See here:

www.chillingeffects.de/temp2.jpg

Bendy's picture

I'm reaching for the salt.

Nick Shinn's picture

Helvetica and Futura are free for Mac OS users, although not all styles.

maxgraphic's picture

Nimbus Sans is a free clone of Helvetica that comes with GhostScript, along with some other fonts mostly donated by URW++.

I would love to find a free or licensable-for-my-use (online preview) version of Futura.

Christopher Adams's picture

LuzSans is an anodyne rendition of Futura by a respectable outfit (the Hoefler Type Foundry); likewise known as HP New Futura, it is the corporate typeface of Hewlett-Packard.

LuzSans is available in TrueType format from the Canonical software repositories:
luzsans-ttf_1.tar.gz

Just don't go pretending that it is Futura.

Quincunx's picture

Apart from the fact if type designs are copyrightable or not (I think they are in Europe), copyright usually expires a certain period (usually 70 years or so) after the author has died, not after the material in question was released. So if you take that as an indication, Futura and Helvetica are not in the public domain. Especially not if you 'take a printout of the origin al 1927 Futura', as you put it, and trace those, as obviously any original hand drawings or printouts have copyrights on them...

maxgraphic's picture

But again, in the US those forms are not copyrightable, so tracing original 1927 Futura drawings doesn't violate copyright because typefaces are not copyrightable in the US.

Quincunx's picture

I have no idea if that is true. Perhaps you're right, I don't know. Original hand drawings are basically lettering or technical drawings, one would think those are copyrightable? Or does that suddenly not count because there are letters on them? That would be quite retarded.

If so, then yes, you could plagiarize (because let's be honest, even if it's legally allowed, you're still taking someone else's work) the material in the US. However, as the typefaces in question were designed in Germany and Switzerland, you'd possibly violate laws in those countries (and other European ones), as they are copyrighted there. So in any case, for that reason they are definitely not in the public domain (because then they need to be copyright free everywhere).

Uli's picture

Quincunx:

> as the typefaces in question were designed in Germany and Switzerland, you'd possibly violate laws in those countries (and other European ones), as they are copyrighted there.

Forget the word "copyright" in connection with German fonts.

Except a few Nazi era fonts mentioned here

www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/kunstwerk.pdf

no other German fonts were ever granted copyright.

Quincunx's picture

Uli: perhaps not granted copyright, but as you are surely aware, whenever you write, draw, paint, sketch, etc. something, you automatically have copyrights. Unless somekind of law explicitly states where this doesn't apply, you always have copyrights on whatever original work you make. At least in most European countries. Peraps not in the US, as they seem to do these kinds of things differently for some reason.

And then there is the Berne Convention, under which every country that agrees to this has to respect the copyright laws of other signatory countries. I.e. the US has to respect copyrights on type designs from other countries, but not those designed inside its own borders. In other words, as far as I know, if a type design is copyrighted in a country that signed the Berne Convention, that copyright is valid in the US. But I'm sure someone has found a loophole in that.

But I think it is safe to say - unless I'm horribly mistaken - that Futura and Helvetica are not in the public domain, as that was the original purpose of this thread.

Uli's picture

Quincunx:

> perhaps not granted copyright

The Nazi Supreme Court (= Reichsgericht)

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichsgericht

was a criminal organisation, whose judges adored the criminal Adolf Hitler.

This criminal organisation of German Supreme Court judges "granted", as a special Nazi privilege, "art work copyright" (= Kunsturheberrecht) to the font "Stefan George", although this poet

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan_george

who was offered presidency of the academy for the German arts by the mass murderer Joseph Goebbels, refused to collaborate with this killer.

Nevertheless, the criminal judges of the Reichsgericht, who admired the "German" font "Stefan George", granted "copyright" as a "work of art" to this font depicted on the first page of my documentation

www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/kunstwerk.pdf

"Stefan George" was the only font in the history of the German law that was ever declared a copyrightable work of art by a German Supreme Court.

Uli's picture

Incidentally, this "Stefan George" font has been digitized a few years ago and is available at a Heidelberg website here:

www.textkritik.de/technik/stefan_george_schrift.htm

maxgraphic's picture

I'm not a lawyer, but "public domain" is simply intellectual property that isn't controlled by anyone. Since copyright doesn't apply to typeface designs in the US, I'm not sure the term "public domain" can be applied to them in any meaningful way in the US.

And given the long and storied history of typeface cloning in this country, I don't think a font copyright in Europe means anything in the US. Speaking of Futura, there are a number Futura clones from the period and since. See Fotura, Spartan, Tempo, Twentieth Century, etc.

We have to distinguish here between what we believe should be right and what the law actually states, and again, and I don't know how else I can phrase this: US copyright law does not protect typefaces.

So, back to the original question. By all means consult a lawyer, but based on everything I've read, my understanding is that tracing the original Futura drawings, or indeed any typeface that catches your eye, is legal in the US.

It's a double-edged sword. Imagine being a one-person foundry and getting a legal notice from Megafont, Inc that they believe your typeface infringes their copyright, dragging you into an expensive lawsuit. In the same way that patent law has been perverted to stifle innovation by companies that exist only to hold and enforce patents, typeface copyright could be used to strongarm the little guys out of the business.

Here's more:

http://nwalsh.com/comp.fonts/FAQ/cf_14.htm#SEC40

Uli's picture

maxgraphic:

> Here's more:
> http://nwalsh.com/comp.fonts/FAQ/cf_14.htm#SEC40

This Norman Walsh stuff is entirely out of date. For instance, he writes:

"Members of ATypI agree to abide by a moral code that restricts plagiarism and other forms of depraved behavior (pertaining to typography)."

But it was Typophile Moderator Tiffany Wardle herself, who counted the votes, when the ATypI decided no longer to abide by this moral code that restricts plagiarism for the members of this "International Type Forgers Association".

see www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/atypi.htm

Quincunx's picture

> I don't think a font copyright in Europe means anything in the US.

Well, that would be quite odd. As I said, under the Berne Convention - which the US signed - copyrights of all signatory countries are valid in every signatory country. And I think both Futura and Helvetica's designs are still copyrighted in Germany and Switzerland. Then again, I guess the USA doesn't really care about that; I'm sure some scumbag lawyer found a loophole in this so some major American corporations can abuse it.

And Uli, what has Nazi Germany got to do with it? As I already said, copyright doesn't need to be granted or declared, you automatically have it when you create an original work. Trademarks need to be registered, copyrights do not. And it's irrelevant if some Nazi font was copyrighted or not, because it doesn't change anything about the fact that every German type designer has copyrights on every type design he makes (the same goes for every type designer in a EU country, as far as I know).

maxgraphic's picture

Well, maybe someone can explain that, because if selling a Helvetica or Futura clone were lawsuit-worthy, we'd be seeing a lot of lawsuits.

Quincunx's picture

> Well, maybe someone can explain that, because if selling a Helvetica or Futura clone were lawsuit-worthy, we'd be seeing a lot of lawsuits.

Yeah, true. Either I don't understand what they agreed on in the Berne Convention, which is possible because I'm not a lawyer, or there is a loophole that they can use to sell Helvetica or Futura clones. :)

Uli's picture

> Yeah, true. Either I don't understand what they agreed on in the Berne Convention

In the thread

http://www.typophile.com/node/64824
(Knock off Fonts for Web Use?)

I clarified that the USA was not a Berne Convention member formerly. I suggest that you read a book on copyright including its history to better understand these things.

Nick Shinn's picture

I can recommend The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period by William St Clair.

Uli's picture

Do you mean Chapter 16 ?

:-)

maxgraphic's picture

As John Hudson mentioned in the thread Uli cites, "signatory nations to Berne Convention on copyright agree to extend to works of foreign origin the same protection that they grant to domestic works."

So it's not that the US has to enforce German law for German typefaces, it's that German typeface designs are protected by copyright in the US the same way domestic designs are. That is, not at all.

James Deux's picture

Wait if you can't copyright typefaces then what exactly do EULAs do?

Si_Daniels's picture

A EULA is an agreement between you (the person forking over cash for a font) and the creator of that font. Not sure how that relates to the question of copyright?

Uli's picture

sii:

> A EULA is an agreement between you (the person forking over cash for a font) and the creator of that font. Not sure how that relates to the question of copyright?

A font EULA is not a purchase agreement, but it is a copyight license agreement granting to the licensee (against payment of a stipulated license fee) the non-exclusive copyright usage right to use a given copyrighted font in a particular manner.

However, if a country's copyright law does not provide for the copyright protection of fonts at all, then such font EULAs are null and void, because a foundry cannot grant to you copyright licenses to non-copyrighted fonts. Foundries which (by means of font EULAs) offer to you copyright licenses to non-copyrighted fonts commit the crime of fraud.

maxgraphic's picture

I realize you don't accept that fonts are software, Uli, and I largely agree with you. But I don't know that it follows that font licenses are therefore null and void. They at least are binding to the licensor: if you buy a 5-device font license and install the font on fifty computers, the licensee has a pretty good case against you. You violated the agreement.

We all view this issue through our personal lenses, and for me the frustration is finding type I'd like to use on my website (one rendering device but many users), then reading through a license that seems to allow my use, and then contacting the vendor and being told either that my use is not allowable at all or only allowable for breathtaking stacks of cash.

At least fonts don't have DRM ... yet?

Quincunx's picture

> I clarified that the USA was not a Berne Convention member formerly. I suggest that you read a book on copyright including its history to better understand these things.

Acutally, the USA is a Berne Convention signatory country from 1989. They also signed UCC Geneva, UCC paris, TRIPS and WIPO-CT. Perhaps you're the one who must read some more?

> However, if a country's copyright law does not provide for the copyright protection of fonts at all, then such font EULAs are null and void

Actually, nearly every EULA is a license to software, not a license to the typeface design itself. So the EULA is not void or null at all. That is, this goes for the USA; as typeface designs are subject to copyrights in most European countries.

Uli's picture

Quincunx :

> Acutally, the USA is a Berne Convention signatory country from 1989.

How clever you are!

And now tell me the year, when Paul Renner designed Futura!

Quincunx's picture

> And now tell me the year, when Paul Renner designed Futura!

That has nothing to do with the question if Futura is in the public domain?!

As it was designed in Germany, and copyrights apply to typeface there: it only enters into public domain usually like 70 years after the author died (the amount of years can differ per law/country). And Renner hasn't been dead for 70 years yet, but only for 50+ years, i.e. the copyrights are still on Futura.

If I am correct - and I think I am - I have no idea why knock-offs were produced in the US. Probably a loophole in the law, or perhaps they just didn't care about the copyrights?

maxgraphic's picture

Quicunx, I think you may have missed my response that explains why the Berne Convention likely doesn't protect foreign typefaces:

As John Hudson mentioned in the thread Uli cites, "signatory nations to Berne Convention on copyright agree to extend to works of foreign origin the same protection that they grant to domestic works."

So it's not that the US has to enforce German law for German typefaces, it's that German typeface designs are protected by copyright in the US the same way domestic designs are. That is, not at all.

Quincunx's picture

> I think you may have missed my response that explains why the Berne Convention likely doesn't protect foreign typefaces

Ah, it seems I did indeed miss your response! It seems John is right, and I misuderstood the Berne Convention. My apologies.

So in short, all typefaces (including Futura and Helvetica) are basically in the public domain in the USA, but not in the EU. If they are in the public domain in Brazil (where the thread starter comes from), I don't know.

Uli's picture

> So in short, all typefaces (including Futura and Helvetica) are basically in the public domain in the USA, but not in the EU

Germany and Switzerland and the EU (European Union) are not the same!

And what is more: The EU did not exist when Paul Renner designed Futura!

For Futura as a font by a German designer the legal situation is this:

Germany has two laws:

- Copyright law (no protection for fonts)
- Design law (protection for fonts)

The German design law protects fonts for a short period, provided they are registered in the year of publication and provided the registration fee is paid for the period of protection.

When Paul Renner designed the font Futura (circa in the year 1928), the period of protection for fonts by the German design law was a maximum period of 15 years. This means, that by the end of World War II, the font Futura was already in public domain.

The German design law protects all technical forms of fonts including the outline data, which are called in EULAs "font software". Since fonts are protectable by the German design law, protection of fonts by the German copyright law is practically impossible and was never confirmed by the German Supreme Court, because there is no need to protect a font by two different laws.

The Berne Convention, to which Germany is a signatory, relates to the copyright law, not to the design law. Therefore it does not make much sense to discuss the Berne Convention in the context of German fonts, e.g. in the context of the public domain font Futura.

For the public domain font Helvetica, which was designed by the Swiss designer Max Miedinger, the legal situation is similar.

Acreo Aeneas's picture

Apologies if I'm breaking the interesting but heated discussion here, but I would like to see some clear or semi-clear answer to the OP's question.

Particularly, I'm interested since I would like to use Futura LT Light on a book cover for a book I'm currently writing and will eventually publish. Would it be legal for me to use Futura LT Light in the cover? Or will I have to revert to some clone or alternative font?

Additionally, because I already own a copy of each of the two fonts (and several "strengths" - whatever you call "italic", "bold", "light", etc), does that mean I can automatically use it in commercial works (including embedding).

Again, I've been lurking around for a few days and have tried my best to get a straight answer from various people and searches for weeks and have gotten nowhere. Just my luck I found this topic.

Uli's picture

Acreo Aeneas:

> Would it be legal for me to use Futura LT Light?

You can easily find the answer for yourself:

LT means Linotype:

- Linotype never acquired the rights to Futura.
- Would it be legal for Linotype to use Futura?

What is legal for Linotype, is legal for you.

It is as simple as that.

Acreo Aeneas's picture

>LT means Linotype:
>
>- Linotype never acquired the rights to Futura.
>- Would it be legal for Linotype to use Futura?
>
>What is legal for Linotype, is legal for you.
>
>It is as simple as that.

I didn't know that LT stood for Linotype and that Linotype never acquired rights to Futura.

I'm guessing it's gray-area legal? My conscious says the answer to the second question is "no". But then Linotype sells Futura and it's various weights. So then the contradiction somehow makes it legal?

It sounds like: Futura LT is legal for Linotype and so it's legal for anyone who owns Futura LT type to use it in commercial works. God, this is even more unclear. I'll just use Cicle Semi instead.

Quincunx's picture

Why would Linotype have to acquire rights for Futura, if typeface designs do not have copyright on them? It is not particularly moral for a company to snatch a design and make their own release, but this seems to be legal. However, font software is usually protected by copyright, so that would also apply to Linotype's version of Futura as well. So yes, if you have bought a license to use their software, you can use it commercially. Otherwise you can't use it at all.

Uli's picture

Quincunx:

If I were in a mad house, I would repeat your echolalias:

www.sanskritweb.net/forgers/interstate.pdf

creamdonut's picture

Uli:
>>LT means Linotype:

>>- Linotype never acquired the rights to Futura.
>>- Would it be legal for Linotype to use Futura?

>>What is legal for Linotype, is legal for you.

>>It is as simple as that.

Uli, your response makes sense except for one small thing: Futura LT is NOT Futura. That is, it isn't the same type that was designed more than 70 years ago, but a version of it, design much later. Therefore, if they have rights to sell it, you don't have rights to use it by free will. As a specific type, Futura LT is subjectable to copyright as software. Another thing that I find really interesting in your judgement is the fact that you defent type is copyright-free, however people pay really big cash to get a font designed by Adobe or ITC. Why? Because they are specific variants, designed, and subjected to copyright. And even if not, Creative Commons definitely apply. Don't know the specific terms of USA law, but by what was said here, my conclusion is that a typeface designed and unaltered for more that 70 years since it's designers death is public domain. However, that does not seem to apply to digital typefaces, does it? Even more, digital typefaces ARE software. Specifically because software does not mean program. A word file is software, and abides by the terms of software copyright. Its encriptation is copyprotected, as well as it's content. You can go check it out, you'll see I don't lie. ;) But then again, I COULD be wrong.

Uli's picture

creamdonut:

> Digital typefaces ARE software. Specifically because software does not mean program. A word file is software, and abides by the terms of software copyright.

The US Copyright Law does not use and does not define the term "software", but this law does use and does define the term "computer program".

So, how do you define the term "software copyright", which is not used and is not defined by the US Copyright Law?

creamdonut's picture

If I interpret the law correctly, software = computer program. "A “computer program” is a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result." And what is a digital typeface if not a set of statements or instructions? EVERY file digitally generated is a set of statements or intructions! That is why every software is copyrighted! Read section 101 and 117 correctly.

xo's picture

@leoboiko

There's the previously mentioned LuzSans for Futura, and the beautiful Helvetiker for Helvetica. Keep in mind that the copy is never the same as the original. Although, Helvetiker does draw some slight inspiration from the Frutiger typeface, which I personally see as a minor improvement over Helvetica.

[Hmm, stating I prefer something over Helvetica as a neutral typeface. Hopefully that's not going to get me a flame or two.]

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