How do you protect your fonts from being stolen?

Question:

I'm about to try to sell my first font and introduce it to the world, but...

How do you protect your fonts from being stolen by someone who could take them and rename them, and claim that they were the original creator and sell them themselves or whatever they want to do with them?

What measures do you take to protect your fonts from this kind of thing?

Thanks in advance.

blank's picture

You can't protect your fonts from that happening. All you can do is wait for it to happen and then send a notice to the site hosting the font and hope that they take it down. If you're lucky the font will be posted to a site whose administrator will take the font down, or whose hosting company will yank the entire site. But if it's a pirate site in Vladivostok there's just nothing you can do about it. In some countries you can formally copyright the font to weight the legal morass in your favor; talk to a local lawyer to find out how it works in your country.

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture

You can't do anything against that.
The best thing to do is to be paid upfront, BEFORE releasing the font.
Copyright, restrictive licences are good for lawyers, but you won't earn money with that, unless you have plenty of cash to suit all copyright infringers.

Alternatively, just like me & my foundry VTF (www.vtf.fadebiaye.com), you set your typefaces free, and then, you don't care.

BlueStreak's picture

You're relatively new here Ryan and I'm not sure if you've seen the LetterHead Fonts cautionary tale discussion that's been playing out here for a long time:

http://typophile.com/node/30452

I bought a LHF a long time ago, but am now leery about them as a source. I'm sure that's an overwhelming sentiment based on the many comments of others. Their product is great, but they've focused so much on thwarting piracy that they have in fact thwarted their paying customers to a greater degree. The net sum seems to be an overall loss even though LHF seems to dispute that.

How much effort and expense do you want to invest in preventing piracy versus investing that expense and effort into font design? I wouldn't advocate what Frank Adebiaye suggest above to just give them away, but I do think it's best to focus more on generating sales to paying customers rather than putting your efforts into preventing freeloaders from grabbing a pirated font. From what I've read it seems that preventing font piracy is like shoveling sand, a lot of effort with little gain.

fontdesigner2's picture

First of all, thanks guys for your responses.

Dunwhich - Nice fonts! I'm in the U.S. - a bad place to be if you design fonts. Other countries allow you to copyright fonts.

Frank - I really love your font Rupture. Why do you not sell it? It's very original and I think it would make you money. So could your other fonts in my opinion. Of course I'm new to the font creation business.

BlueStreak - That's interesting. The first thing I said aloud when reading this was that there's no way I would buy a font from them if I have to deal with those restrictions. I agree with you. I have heard a few times before that you shouldn't do anything to the actual font file to make it inaccessible to anyone - even if it helps to protect it. I wasn't going to try anything like that.

I wanted to rephrase my question/s I posted earlier.

What I am wondering is if I can find an affordable way to prove it's my design if I have to? For example, I may print it and mail it to myself, in case I needed to prove it in court, but I can't afford to take anyone to court, so… I'm trying to find something like this that would totally prove unequivocally forever that I was the one who originally created the font.

I want to protect my fonts from being renamed and stolen from me. I'm in the U.S. - a bad place to be if you design fonts. Other countries allow you to copyright fonts. I have read an article saying that it is not possible to copyright a typeface through the U.S. Copyright Office, even if I wanted to pay for it. The article goes on to say that Adobe and Emigre have sued and won against a company that copied their fonts. "…you cannot copyright the design of the font, but you CAN copyright the PostScript program or TrueType data that draws it … So you can make your own fonts that look the same as another font without infringing copyright, but you can't copy another program or dataset that draws the font…" I guess that means in that America that it's totally legal to copy another font designer's design and there isn't anything they can do about it. How could this be?

I hope that I can go through a good foundry to sell my fonts for me and also protect my fonts.

I heard that companies like MyFonts can tell when a font designer has copied another font's data or point data or whatever, but how do you prove that you were the one who created this data in the first place? The font stealer could claim that you are the one who stole it from them, right?

Thanks in advance

Tags: font, fonts, design, protection, steal

John Hudson's picture

You can register a design patent for a typeface design in the USA, through the US Patent Office. This costs money (I don't know how much), and is for a period of 15 years only, but it is the only legal means to protect the design in the USA.

A patent filing requires a disclosure of prior work, i.e. other designs that you might have referred to for inspiration; such disclosure doesn't prejudice the application, i.e. a design can still be patented even if it is based in part on prior art; failure to disclose prior art may cause problems later though, if you ever need to defend the patent in court. You should also keep the design private before it is patented, showing it only to other people under NDA. If someone does steal your design and you take them to court, their lawyers will almost certainly try to challenge your patent, so you really want to make the application as solid as possible.

I strongly recommend discussing this with a lawyer.

fontdesigner2's picture

John,

I have a couple problems with the idea of filing a patent.

For one thing, doesn't it take a while for the patent to go through? I always see "patent pending" on products and I think that means the patent hasn't really been approved yet. If it takes a long time, I can't release the typeface design for a long time, (like you said, I should wait and not show it to anyone until it's been patented) and I would hate it if I had to wait a long time to release my typeface designs.

Another thing I wonder about is, would your U.S. patent protect you if a company in say, North Korea or Pakistan stole your design? I doubt it.

Thanks for the advice. I wasn't aware that a patent could protect a typeface design.

John Hudson's picture

There are different kinds of patents, and a design patent seems to be less hassle than an industrial or product patent. As I say, these are questions you should really be discussing with a lawyer, or you could contact the US Patent Office directly and ask them what the process is for obtaining a design patent and how long it usually takes.

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture

@fontdesigner2: thx for your comment ; vtf rupture is by jeremy landes-nones actually, not me ; we are studying a voluntary payment policy ; but we focus on the user's freedom to use ; if users want to pay, of course, we will accept money ; free does not always means gratuitous

@bluestreak: interesting lhf story ; some type designers are really paranoid and confused ; typefaces are bound to convoy information ; information flows at high speed in the hyperspace ; so it's delusional to think we could prevent typefaces to flow likewise

type designers have to rethink their business, because people are already heading to free fonts (free and/or gratuitous)

jabez's picture

I don't know how useful this is, but it's an additional option you might wanna look at.

http://myows.com/

fontdesigner2's picture

I don't suppose anyone reading this would know the cost of filing a design patent on your own without a lawyer?

fontdesigner2's picture

jabez -

Thanks!

This site looks promising. Almost too good to be true? I'm gonna check this out and report back.

kentlew's picture

> I don't suppose anyone reading this would know the cost of filing a design patent on your own without a lawyer?

Looks like the basic filing fee is $220. Can’t say what else might be involved (e.g., examination fees, maintenance fees, etc.). You can research for yourself here:

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/qs/ope/fee2009september15.htm

jabez's picture

In addition, the filing fee, search fee, and examination fee are also required. If applicant is a small entity, (an independent inventor, a small business concern, or a non-profit organization), these fees are reduced by half.

Design Patent Application Guide

If this applies to you, you're probably looking at a minimum of $110 (filing fee) + $50 (search fee) + $70 (examination fee) at the point of submission.

Mark Simonson's picture

If you think you'll lose sleep over the thought of users stealing your fonts, you should probably pick a different business.

As to the issue of other type designers stealing your designs, it happens, but not very often. The type design community is small and you just don't that sort of thing if you want to be part of it.

Nick Shinn's picture

But how do you really feel about Gotham, Mark? :-)

Nick Job's picture

>>>But how do you really feel about Gotham, Mark? :-)

There's a huge difference between (a) opening up a font, calling it something else, at selling it unchanged (or tweaked in a very minor way) and (b) designing a font that is similar in genre/letterform (with or without the significant influence of another font that it eventually evokes). When does it become stealing? Scenario (a) is stealing (in my head anyway). Scenario (b) is much less clear-cut.

You may want to strike me down for this but is there such a massive difference between reviving a font and designing a font that is similar to another recently released font? What timescale is acceptable? Why is a 200 year interval more acceptable than 2 years? Why shouldn't Carol have a slice of the pie that Adrian eating (I almost called it Adrian's pie but I'm not sure it is)?

Yes, it's bad luck that G is similar to P but is it any more sinister than that? Or has G just made a better fist of it than P (and its designer was quite entitled to have a crack at doing so)? Or are you saying that because Coca-Cola makes nice fizzy pop, Pepsi isn't allowed to try and do the same?

Mark Simonson's picture

I wasn't implying anything about Gotham in my comment above. As far as I know, its similarity to Proxima Sans was just a case of two designers coming up with similar solutions from different starting points.

riccard0's picture

After all, anyone knows Gotham is a knock-off of Avenir! ;-)

(please note smiley)

apetickler's picture

I have the impression that type people are a fairly hip crowd, all things considered, so it always surprises me to see type people twisting their brains around about these sorts of IP issues, as if completely oblivious to the lessons that have been made apparent by related struggles in pretty much every other creative industry since the Internet started shaking things up.

It's also worth remembering that strict IP provisions, as they exist in our society, are often not very helpful to creators. History is full of casualties like Johannes Gutenberg, Max Miedinger, and poor, poor TLC, whose work made much more money for other people than for themselves.

fontdesigner2's picture

I think I'm finally starting to find solutions to my dilemma.

Here are some things that I've decided that font/typeface designers should probably do to have proof that they were the original creator, based on what I've been hearing from you other font designers:

First off, I wanted to say that filing a design patent would help, but I believe the cost of this would be a lot. I'm seeing figures of $200 - $1100 (on some websites I've seen when you add in all the fees), maybe $2,000, and that's if you file it yourself and don't also pay an attorney, so I think that's unrealistic for me. And it also takes about a year.

1. Trademark the name of the typeface (protects it's name anyway and isn't expensive)

2. Before introducing the font to the world, prepare and launch the best press release possible. If an article about it can appear somewhere, it solidifies and documents the fact that you created the font, and the date that you introduced it to the world. Maybe even create and place an ad about the font somewhere in print.

3. Upload your design to http://myows.com/. This looks like a pretty good free solution to me right now. I could explain what it is, but I recommend to any graphic designer or type designer or photographer to check this out. I don't know much about it yet, and I haven't started using it yet, and it may be too good to be true. I'm looking for opinions about it.

There may be something else too that I've forgotten suddenly, but here's three I have found so far.

phrostbyte64's picture

1. Trademark the name of the typeface (protects it's name anyway and isn't expensive)

Be careful of the name. Do not use the name of another trademarked font as a whole or even in part. Others might take offense and seek legal recourse against you.

Nick Shinn's picture

Why is a 200 year interval more acceptable than 2 years?

1. Digital recontextualizations of metal types necessarily involve a lot of interpretation, given the disparity of the media.
2. The idea of copyright protection for a fixed period of time relating to the holder's life is a long established principle, since the 18th century (displacing perpetual copyright).

…it always surprises me to see type people twisting their brains around about these sorts of IP issues, as if completely oblivious to the lessons that have been made apparent by related struggles in pretty much every other creative industry since the Internet started shaking things up.

The type person in question is a neophyte who would no doubt ask the same questions if he were venturing into ecommerce in music, photography, literature, whatever.

The issues are different in different industries, and the font business is unique and continually evolving—hence the brain twisting. Other creative industries could perhaps learn some lessons from the font business. We've been doing digital for a while, since fonts on floppies, long before the Internet.

butterick's picture

Upload your design to http://myows.com/. This looks like a pretty good free solution to me right now.

Under US law, Myows is a misguided idea.

First, they imply that anything you can upload is protectable by copyright. Not true at all. Not every original work (or every part of every original work) is copyrightable. And if it's not, uploading it to Myows won't make it copyrightable.

Second, while you don't need to register your work to get copyright protection, there are certain extra benefits under copyright law for people who do register their works. But you have to register with the only place that matters — the US Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov). Registering with Myows won't trigger those benefits.

Third, Myows doesn't point out that not every unauthorized use of a copyrighted work is necessarily infringing. If someone is making "fair use" of your work under copyright law, it's legal, and sending them a threatening letter is silly.

"But using Myows can't hurt, so what's the problem?" The headline of the Myows site says "Protect your copyrights, online and for free." Myows creates a fear that without their service, your copyrights are somehow at risk. But if people see Myows as an alternative to the US Copyright Office, that's a detriment.

butterick's picture

By the way, I'm not even clear how Myows helps you "prove that you are the creator" of a particular work, which they claim as one of the major benefits of their service. Nothing prevents me from taking someone else's work, uploading it to Myows, and claiming it as my own. So Myows is not an independent source of credibility. True, you can falsely register a work with the US Copyright Office too, but that's a federal crime, so false registrations are rare.

johnbutler's picture

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fontdesigner2's picture

"Be careful of the name. Do not use the name of another trademarked font as a whole or even in part."

That makes me think of something. I'm thinking about starting a font design company/studio that has the same name as a font. I don't have a font by that name, but the studio would have the same name as someone else's font. Would the owner of the font be able to execute legal recourse against me and my company?

butterick - good points. So what do we font designers do to protect ourselves? I'm leaning towards doing the myvows thing just for the hell of it if I can't find something better. One thing I will argue with in your points is that someone else can't upload your stuff to myvows if you upload it to them first.

I came up with another potential solution today. Digital signatures. Anyone know anything about these?

butterick's picture

the studio would have the same name as someone else's font. Would the owner of the font be able to execute legal recourse against me and my company?

There may or may not be legal recourse, but either way, it's not a way to make friends in the type industry.

I'm leaning toward doing the myvows thing just for the hell of it if I can't find something better

Indeed, it would've been helpful if I had suggested "something better" in my previous post.

someone else can't upload your stuff to myvows if you upload it to them first

Sure they can. Myows doesn't check each new file against every existing file in its database to see if it's similar. It's completely relying on your word that what you're uploading is your own work.

ChrisJHuman's picture

Hey Fontdesigner2 (and everybody else),

There's a lot of mis-information floating around about Myows and its applicability to US users. A lot of this I addressed a while back in a blog article on that topic: http://myows.com/blog/using-myows-in-the-united-states/. To put your mind at rest though Fontdesigner 2, putting your work up on Myows really does help you protect it by creating evidence and helping you chase up and deal with infringements. Like most evidence it's not indisputable - in fact, in this case, it's what we in the legal world call 'Prima Facie' evidence (meaning as claimed or 'on the face of it') - but it really does count. It is the digital equivalent of posting the work to yourself in a sealed envelope - old school style. Unlike posting the stuff to yourself though - there have been a number of successful takedowns using Myows' process and a decent proportion of these have been in the good old U S of A too. We started Myows precisely because of the kinds of concerns you raised above and we've seen it really make a difference to Freelancers and creative guys on the street who can't afford a full time lawyer. Also, while most of Myows' services are free for the community, paid up members on Myows also get really reasonable assistance in registering their copyrights formally with USCO. Just some thoughts, I really hope these help. There are other services out there such as Numly and Safecreative which are also worth looking at but services like these really do provide a decent first line of defence and are worth using as they are free and have a proven track record of success. By way of disclosure, I'm one of the guys that started Myows. I'd love to tell you that I'm here to self-promote but Myows is really more of a movement than a business (I'm not quitting my day job just yet).

butterick's picture

putting your work up on Myows really does help you protect it by creating evidence and helping you chase up and deal with infringements. Like most evidence it's not indisputable - in fact, in this case, it's what we in the legal world call 'Prima Facie' evidence (meaning as claimed or 'on the face of it') - but it really does count.

In the US, that's just not true. US copyright law (specifically, 17 USC § 410(c)) gives special weight to registration certificates from the US Copyright Office. It doesn't give any special weight to Myows "registrations."

It is the digital equivalent of posting the work to yourself in a sealed envelope - old school style.

In the US, sending a work to yourself has no validity as a "poor man's copyright." That's an urban legend.

http://www.snopes.com/legal/postmark.asp

A lot of this I addressed a while back in a blog article on that topic: http://myows.com/blog/using-myows-in-the-united-states/.

I can see numerous misstatements in this posting. For instance, that not registering through the US Copyright Office is only relevant in litigation. Not true. Or that registering multiple blog entries or photos with the US Copyright Office will cost "serious time and money." Not true.

People in the US who want full protection for their copyrights need to go through the US Copyright Office.

oldnick's picture

How do you protect your fonts from being stolen?

Bottom line: you can't. Period. The Conventional Wisdom says that Prostitution is the world's oldest profession. Well, it's not; Thief is. As long as people have had stuff worth stealing, thieves have been stealing it. Get used to it or, as Mark Simonson has suggested, find a new profession...

ChrisJHuman's picture

At the risk of turning this into a debate, I'd like to end with this and then bow out of this discussion. First up 3rd party non-repudiation tools such as Myows have led to successful takedowns (Myows included). They are also great tools for people who cannot afford to register every single work (some photographers for instance may need to register 160 works at the end of one day). The first of my statements cited above was that your Myows registration still counts as evidence. This is true. My statement was not that this evidence is as compelling as registration with USCO. For more on this visit USCO's FAQ page: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#mywork . Here you'll find this statement amongst others... Q. When is my work protected? A. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. You'll also find: Q. Do I have to register with your office to be protected? A. No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. Bear in mind also that most infringement happens online and outside the US too and USCO has ne relevance in other Berne Convention countries. As per the blog article i cited originally - if you want to sue for damages, you'll need USCO registration, but you don't need this to have infringing work removed. Re the statement on poor man's copyrights. I did in my original posting follow this up immediately with the sentence: "Unlike posting the stuff to yourself though - there have been a number of successful takedowns" - this alludes to the fact that the old school 'poor man's copyright' was not effective so you're agreeing with me there. On the final point, if there are any points which you would like to discuss further, please contact me directly and we will happily address these - it is not in our interests to have incorrect information on our site and while we always consult with US or international lawyers and copyright expert, we are happy to admit to and correct any genuine faults in our information.

fontdesigner2's picture

I still don't see a downside to using myvows if it only takes 5 minutes. They claim that they will help you prove that a font is yours if someone is uploading it to a free site and you want it taken down and you have to threaten the site owner that they have to take it down. However, if they don't help me protect my fonts I will spread the word about it, believe me.

What I'm trying to do is build enough evidence that the font is mine to have it removed from these sites that post it up without my permission. Obviously I can't afford to sue anyone in court. My feeling is that along with a decent press release (and a print ad if affordable) this could work in conjunction with other things to build a case that it's yours. Often a case is not built solely upon one type of proof, but several, and the more types you have, the more solid it looks.

BTW - everyone - if there is one thing in the world that I am sure of, it is that it's impossible to copyright a typeface design in the U.S. So I don't know why anyone in this forum thinks that that is somehow possible.

butterick's picture

if there is one thing in the world that I am sure of, it is that it's impossible to copyright a typeface design in the U.S. So I don't know why anyone in this forum thinks that that is somehow possible.

Nobody is arguing that point. In the US, the design of a font is not copyrightable. (A font design can be patented, but that seldom happens.)

But the instantiation of the font design as a digital file, including the placement of the points, and hinting, is copyrightable software. Therefore, copyright law and copyright registration are relevant to font designers.

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