Font Piracy, Design Security, Copyright etc

sirius black's picture

You know that feeling? Your submission has been rejected by the font foundry then some months later the same foundry release a font based on your designs...

What is the very best way to protect against this type of piracy? Are there standard ways to prevent it? What is the best approach to archiving/protecting/etc digital font files and/or printed type specimens?

Alex Kaczun's picture

The best way to protect your property, and new font design, is to document everything carefully.

If you still have your email (or registered snail mail) to the 'foundry' in question, then, I believe you have legal grounds to stand on.

Hire yourself a lawyer and go after them for damages.

However, that being said, the courts in the U.S. are not sympathetic or understanding of font development and type design work in general.

It would be a costly and difficult battle. But, if you feel that strongly and you have the proof in hand, go for it.

In the future, unless you have an established relationship with that person, I would recommend not sending samples of your new type design to any foundry directly. Instead, post your ideas and solicit help from this 'Type Forum' to document your work and get help. if needed, to complete the overall design process. Once completed, sign a contract with a reputable font distribution site, like 'myfonts.com', upload your design, test and go live. This is probably the best way to proceed.

It may be that the 'foundry' in question, was working on a similar idea as yours. But, they should of said that in the correspondence. If not, they may have stolen your design idea.

In any case, I sympathize with your predicament. I'm sorry this has happened to you.

If you give this 'Type Forum' more specific information, we may be able to help you resolve the matter further.

All in all, good luck going forward. Remember, be careful and take the necessary steps to safeguard your work.

That's all any of us can do.

Stefan H's picture

Sirius!

What kind of ugly foundry would treat a type designer like that?! I mean, I've slowly come to live with the fact that a few people out there rip your typefaces and upload them on Dafont and other non-serious places. But do you mean that a commercial foundry actually stole your ideas and then released a very similar design under a different name acting like it is there own design??? Sounds very rude indeed.

Anyway good luck with the legal action

sirius black's picture

That's right - the 2 designs are 'highly co-incidental', given the circumstances. At this level it's real money and people's livelihoods at stake, so i am thinking that there must be best ways that designers protect against this type of situation. Very curious what others do to protect themselves. I'm also left wondering, how big a problem is this in our field of work?

"I've slowly come to live with the fact that a few people out there rip your typefaces and upload them on Dafont and other non-serious places. But do you mean that a commercial foundry actually stole your ideas and then released a very similar design under a different name acting like it is there own design?"

ralf h.'s picture

This discussion will be pointless as long you want to stay anonymous and don't give the name of the foundry and fonts in question. A design of mine was also ripped-off a while ago and announcing this case here on Typophile solved it in just a few days.

sirius black's picture

Ralf - to be honest, my main concern is how to not fall into the same trap again, and ask how other designers protect their property in the situation where you need to hand over designs to potential clients. I learnt a hard lesson and would advise, especially starting up designers, to be security conscious in this area. Put together an unobtrusive yet secure system, just in case. I am wondering what such a system would be.

I'm not keen on the name and shame idea, though it is very tempting on this forum ;) and i see it worked in your case.

Stefan H's picture

I'm getting curious if the foundry is well known and have a clean record up until now, or if it a less known foundry with even somebody behind it with a rather soaked reputation from the past. I wonder if I would be surprised or not? My experience is that the vast majority in this business are friendly "good guys", with a few exceptions of "bastards" who often shift from one foundry to another. there's always a chance they can fool new customers under a new name. the more I think of this, the more curious I get ;-)

blank's picture

I second what Stefan said. It’s a tiny industry and most of us know each other. Take advantage of that before sending an unreleased design to a vendor.

dezcom's picture

There have been cases where I have shown work to a foundry and they have politely said that they would not accept my font because they had one similar enough to it in the works that they would compete with each other. They were upfront about it and I take them at their word. I don't know what happened in your case. But what has been said is correct. In this business, everyone knows eachother and this sort of thing is quite rare. Pirates and font thieves are not legitimate foundries. Foundries are more often the victims. If you do have such a case, you should first confront the foundry in question and hear their side. If this is not satisfactory, stating your case here in an honest and fair manner without assumption of guilt would allow an airing of both sides of the story. If there is such a beast out there in this business, the world has a right to know the situation and the foundry has the right to have its say on the matter.

Si_Daniels's picture

I’m calling “shenanigans” on this whole thread. Easy solution, put the font up for sale on myfonts while you’re shopping it around. Might make some coin along with the collection of rejection letters.

aluminum's picture

"Put together an unobtrusive yet secure system"

The person that invents that will be rich (and possibly a magician).

sirius black's picture

Bit sad when 'myfonts' is the solution even to font designers protecting their work

8-|

sim's picture

This discussion is quite interesting.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I am quite willing to believe that this can happen, but I've also witnessed some people seeing “based on” in an independently developed design. If your perceptions are accurate, then that sucks, and I'm sorry. Without a lot more details it's really hard to give any useful advice....

As for protecting your work up front, your #1 move should be to consult a lawyer who knows this area. My NON legal thoughts are that if you were based in the USA you could register your copyright prior to submitting it to anyone. That would seem to be a useful protection, but only on the font software, not on the abstract design (for which you'd need a design patent, which is more expensive and more time-limited). In the Netherlands I expect you could register copyright on the design, which would be even better, but people more familiar with Dutch law could comment more.

Cheers,

T

blokland's picture

Thomas: In the Netherlands I expect you could register copyright on the design

In the Netherlands the copyrights on the type design and the digital data are covered by the ‘auteursrecht’, i.e., the right of the author, which is automatically assigned to the author and does not require any special registration (but it makes sense to document everything well, of course).

The ‘auteursrecht’ can be transferred via a document signed by the parties involved. However, recently I read that there are ideas at governmental level to make the transfer of the ‘auteursrecht’ impossible by definition. In that case only the ‘gebruiksrecht’, i.e., the user right, could be transferred.

FEB

Bert Vanderveen's picture

AFAIK Dutch law says that there is an aspect of copyright (auteursrecht) that is nontransferable and bound to the author/creator — called ‘persoonlijkheidsrecht’ (roughly: personality right), that covers the absolute protection of the product against mutilation and other actions that change the product in a more or less negative way.

It has been used in procedures by architects (or their heirs) in cases where buildings were to be altered or even torn down. (A lot of these claims have been thrown out by judges, mostly because of a lack of expertise…)

In the case of graphic design (and typographic design, I guess) this could mean that an original design may never be changed without the consent of the creator, even if all rights of use (license) have been transferred.

Example: I have done an Identity Programme for a council and licensed the use of the logo I created (and the design for an unlimited amount of designs in the sphere of a CI) to them for a period of 10 years. In principle the client can do whatever they want with it, but I have a legal recourse in case of usage that would be adverse to my rights as the creator. Although this is largely hypothetical, I could imagine cases where an intervention could be necessary, eg the combination of my logo with fascist symbols and such. Or adding ugly pay-offs to the logo…

TypeSETit's picture

This is an interesting thread.

I actual WON a legal battle with a company that had stolen my work.

Font piracy is one issue that I have had problems with. I've lost thousands of dollars in potential sales because of font piracy. One website alone had distributed what would have been over $750,000.00 in sales had they been sold instead of shared. I make nowhere near that on my designs. I contacted the website and offered to them to either settle the matter by paying me 10% (about $75,000) or they could immediately remove my fonts from their site. They removed them in less than three hours.

But stealing font designs is another matter.

Just last month, I settled a legal dispute with a company (more a scrap booking company than a Type Foundry) that had taken one of my font designs and literally used the font software to create their own font that they then began selling. I first saw their design a couple of years ago on MyFonts. They had taken my work and created a font of "word art" glyphs instead of individual characters of my font. Not really knowing how to handle it at the time, I let it go and did nothing about it until this past summer. In July, I decided I would contact MyFonts and inquire as to whether they believed this was ethical, appropriate or a legitimate violation of my license agreement. MyFonts agreed that it appeared they had used my work as a base, but since it wasn't an actual "duplication" of my font design and since sales on the design this company was offering were low, it probably wouldn't be worth pursuing on a legal level.

Less than a week later, the same company released on MyFonts another version of the font with the individual characters. Each character had been slightly altered, but it was obvious they had used my work to create theirs. The font I had designed was selling for $24.95 and their unauthourized version was selling for about $3.00. Now, I was annoyed to say the least. In preparing for the legal battle that I assumed would be coming, I purchased their version of the font at MyFonts and began doing some comparisons and research.

Sure enough... After doing some research, I found the date that they had purchased MY font from MyFONTS. The creation date of the font I purchased was just three days later. I then took their font, and superimposed it onto mine. With a few minor manipulations (like skewing, and scaling) specific vector points matched perfectly. In addition, some of their metrics and kerning were identical to my original. There was absolutely no question that they had used my software to manipulate and create their font.

I contacted MyFonts again, and in detail described how my digital font work had been manipulated and released under a new name by another vendor without my permission. At the same time, I contacted a copyright attorney. MyFonts responded quickly by removing BOTH fonts that had used my design. Meanwhile, my attorney drafted a letter to the company that had violated my intellectual property. Now the negotiations would begin.

After just a few short months we came to a settlement. They agreed to pay me damages for using my intellectual property and we both avoided a court battle—which frankly, would have been very expensive (probably in the tens of thousands of dollars). Believe me, the font isn't that popular and certainly hasn't generated that kind of income. The victory was one of principal and not one of monetary gain.

In our settlement negotiations, the company explained that they do their best to insure that their font developers (freelance artists) are not using other people's work to create fonts they submit. I took them at their word, and they apologized for this embarrassing situation.

So, there is legal recourse that can be taken and can be resolved amicably, but one must be absolutely sure to have their ducks in a row before going down the path of legal action.

My personal opinion... a legitimate foundry won't steal your work. There is too much at stake. Mainly, their reputation. If your work is quality, don't bother with smaller or unknown foundries. If someone steals your work... get an attorney immediately.

TypeSETit's picture

I apologize for the previous long winded story... but it might be helpful to someone dealing with a similar situation.

Rob

vernon adams's picture

I also believe this can happen. My own experience ;
Top image is my own Mako typeface, started whilst on Reading Uni type design MA. Bottom image is a custom font for Lurpak butter, aka 'Lurpak Sans'. Similarities?



You may say conicidence or synchronicity, but bear in mind that the people that created 'Lurpak Sans' had my Mako files for some months whilst they decided whether to publish my typeface or not. To my eyes, and others, it looks like they may have finished Mako themselves ;) The foundry denies any similarity to my designs or use of my files.

How to protect your designs. I have spoken to a number of other type designers on this protection issue. Interestingly many of us do similar things. Kind of an open secret. Whilst you can not practically stop theft, you can leave 'traces' within files themselves, to aid identification of authorship at a later date if necessary. These traces can be embedded in glyphs or within font tables, in the source files and the font files. The chances are that someone too lazy to do all their own design work may also be too lazy to scour the files for all your hidden breadcrumbs ;)

Arno Enslin's picture

@ Vernon

I can comprehend, that you are angry about that. It is obvious, that Mako Light was the base – not primary because of the similarities, but because the creators of Lurpark Sans had access to your files. Nevertheless there are many differences between the two typefaces. I see more differences than similarities. Without your extra information I could not comprehend, why you are angry.

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