Copying Metrics OK?

hrant's picture

http://typophile.com/node/90337#comment-496059

This is something I've long wondered about: is it
OK or is it not OK to copy metrics off of a font?

hhp

riccard0's picture

I don’t know about it being OK or not. Surely it is a widespread practice, probably since Gutenberg,
Anyway, there is a recent thread about the legitimacy of copying them directly from the font file.

hrant's picture

> Surely it is a widespread practice

Really? I mean verbatim copying.
I can only think of Helvetica/Arial.

So where's that thread?

hhp

riccard0's picture

Other examples would be a number of alternatives to Microsoft’s fonts (among others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_fonts#Characteristics).
As for the thread, not the one I remember, but about the same issue: http://typophile.com/node/57973

Si_Daniels's picture

What do you mean by metrics? Just the basic advance widths of base characters, or kerning, and the widths of OpenType alternates, mark positioning etc.,

hrant's picture

Thanks Riccardo - I'll get to reading that thread.
If you remember more please do let me know. I need
to figure out exactly where to stand on the issue.

Simon: I mean that switching the font doesn't
affect text-flow. So ideally total conformity,
although I guess there could be "levels" to that
that can be switched on/off?

And since you're here:
Do you know if MS and/or Monotype mind the metric
"compatibility" of Liberation, officially or otherwise?
Although now that Monotype owns ascender... :-/
BTW, the wiki ways "closely match" - might that just be
sloppy/hedgy writing or are there in fact discrepancies?

hhp

dezcom's picture

I guess I would wonder why a person would assume that font metrics from one font would work well for any font? Even if they were similar in style and proportion, I don't think I could trust the data to be correct.
I can understand looking at a few basic relationships of sidebearings to try to get a certain fit and color as a starting point but a wholesale lift from someone else just makes me very uncomfortable. Not just for the property rights and honesty issues but just for the assumption that it would work to my liking. Even if Frutiger or Carter had come up with the original, I just could not assume that the outcome would be as good with some other set of outlines.

hrant's picture

It "works well" because it lets you swap out
one for the other, sort of like a coup d'état. :-)
From that wiki: "The Liberation fonts are
intended as free, open-source replacements
of the aforementioned encumbered fonts."

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

The metrics and stem widths of Brown Gothic weren’t copied from, just based on FG.
The goal was to match the word count and general impression of size and weight.

1996type's picture

A font has to be terribly close to an existing font to be able to use the same metrics, kerning, etc. However, I can see the point of temporarily using another font's metrics (and all the rest) when testing it during the design process, instead of constantly having to adjust the spacing and kerning as you change the glyphs. Furthermore, if the fonts are similar, I wouldn't mind at all if someone just took another fonts metrics and changed them a bit to fit his/her own font. It's more efficient in some cases and you can hardly call metrics intellectual property, right?

Nick, just out of curiosity, does Brown Gothic have a double story /g/ as well?

hrant's picture

Jasper, that doesn't make any sense. I could easily
modify Patria to make it space just like Times, but
it would still look nothing like it.

Again: the central point of copying metrics
is to replace the other font in typesetting.

hhp

Jens Kutilek's picture

Again: the central point of copying metrics is to replace the other font in typesetting.

But how far do you go?

If you have a specific target, it sounds viable. For example, replacing Arial with a custom font in a company's Word templates. (I believe there is a set of fonts in the DBType family that does exactly that.) You could be pretty sure that kerning isn't used, so keeping the horizontal glyph metrics (and vertical font metrics!) should be enough.

If you're targeting InDesign, you need to take into account kerning and other OpenType features that are on by default (ligatures, contextual alternates).

There can be some glyphs that severely limit your choices when you want to stay compatible. For example, an uppercase I with serifs in a sans face (e.g. Verdana). You just can't make it sans-serif and keep the advance width the same.

On a side note, in the IBM Selectric Composer the characters were proportionally spaced, but every letter had to have the exact same width in all fonts! Frutiger notes in his big book that he had to compromise on his Univers adaptation because the engineers had chosen a Renaissance face as their model for the character widths. E.g. the s in the Composer Univers looks much too narrow.

hrant's picture

DBType: Heh, what goes around comes around! :-)

> If you're targeting InDesign, you need to take
> into account kerning and other OpenType features

Indeed - and that's what Simon was alluding to.
So, is that an extra legal barrier? An extra ethical
barrier it's not (I mean in terms of already being
OK with copying metrics).

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Nick, just out of curiosity, does Brown Gothic have a double story /g/ as well?

No.
That makes me wonder, what would a binocular g for Helvetica or Univers look like?

JamesT's picture

That makes me wonder, what would a binocular g for Helvetica or Univers look like?

Ugly (this statement is based on personal tastes only)

Bendy's picture

>you can hardly call metrics intellectual property, right?

Hm, what's your rationale for this? It's a lengthy process to settle on really good metrics. Also, as many have observed, a well-spaced font with some bad curves is more useable than a poorly-spaced font with amazing curves. I see metrics as an integral part of the design process, requiring just as much skill as the actual drawing, if not more.

Even if there's no legal copyright infringement, I would personally consider it bad practice that raises ethical issues.

eliason's picture

That makes me wonder, what would a binocular g for Helvetica or Univers look like?

Would be a good Type Battle if we still did those.

Jens Kutilek's picture

So, is that an extra legal barrier?

I didn't consider the legality of reproducing OT features, I was more thinking that it would be a design barrier ;) The more restrictions you have, the less you can diverge from the »original« design. For example, if OpenType substitutions occur that replace glyphs by other glyphs which have different metrics. You would have to emulate this behaviour exactly to avoid reflow.

hrant's picture

Ben, just because something requires time to make
doesn't of itself make it worth protecting, at least
not in a practical sense. Personally I haven't made
a decision yet of where to stand, but being a devout
pragmatist, this is how I might approach it:

Could a font that copies the metrics of another reduce
sales of the original? I can't see how, since it assumes
the original is already in possession. In fact if anything
it might -rarely- increase sales of the original!

Now, I can imagine hypothetical cases where it could
affect the finances of the designer of the original. But
part of being pragmatic is exactly the willingness to
address things case-by-case.

hhp

Bendy's picture

>Ben, just because something requires time to make
doesn't of itself make it worth protecting, at least
not in a practical sense.

That makes sense to a fellow pragmatist ;) I guess what I'd like to see recognised is the skill required — it's not trivial.

kentlew's picture

> Could a font that copies the metrics of another reduce sales of the original? I can't see how, since it assumes the original is already in possession.

I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Often the impetus to provide an alternative that fits/flows exactly as another is to allow document sharing between one party who possesses the font and another who does not, thereby relieving the second party of having to license the original.

hrant's picture

Hmmm. Is that common? What kinds of fonts does that happen with?
(Those are bona fide questions, not rhetorical ones.)

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

Here is one not-yet-touched-upon scenario: A magazine wants to outsource some text entry or layout but does not want to (or can not) let loose their Mongo Eckspensif Sekrit Fonte.

hrant's picture

Well, that's a good thing: it reduces piracy of the original.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

Mind: I have no idea if this is a hypothetical or a real scenario, but it is one possible reason for making a face metrics-compatible with another face. Plus, it does not require conspiracies or foul play.

And, yes, @kentlew, this is the other side of the coin; where the havenot can not get That Typeface, not even in exchange for a genuine Gauguin.

quadibloc's picture

Since the question of two typefaces different in style, but designed to have the same metrics, has come up, I thought I might remind people of the IBM Selectric Composer, where faces designed to resemble Bembo, Times Roman, Optima, Century Schoolbook and Garamond, among others, all used exactly the same metrics.

Oh, and here's a link to a page from which you can download a book of the typestyles:

http://ibmcomposer.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54&Itemid=56

abattis's picture

Richard Fink has been promoting the idea that fonts are not really subject to copyright.

While I'm personally view open to his ideas on that, my understanding of those who say copyright in the USA does apply to font data is that its based on the Adobe vs SSI case, in which the placement of bezier points was held to be a copyrightable expression, since different people will place the points differently around the same shape, when digitizing an existing design that is scanned into the computer as a bitmap and traced by hand with a bezier tool.

Following that logic, I can see how the metrics would not be subject to copyright, because anyone would copy the metrics of the original in the same way.

However, that court case is years later than the classic Bitstream/URW/ScanGraphic/etc clone fonts.

The Liberation fonts aren't a good example, because even before the buyout Ascender had a close relationship with Monotype. Is there any other fonts made in the last 5 years that are well known to have cloned metrics?

Richard Fink's picture

>Richard Fink has been promoting the idea that
>fonts are not really subject to copyright.

The word "promoting" is off the mark and incorrect. I have no interest in "promoting" the idea and have not done so. Discuss it on occasion? Yes. Research it? Yes. Promote it, no. I have no interest in creating bandwagons.

Si_Daniels's picture

Dave, at ATypI Roger and Cyrus showed a number of display faces compatible with Impact. These were for Web use. Monotype itself has Albany, Thorndale and Cumberland. And you might be aware of Arimo, Tinos and Cousine. :-)

I for one would love to see an objective talk at TypeCon or ATypI that explores the history of "compatible" fonts (as distinct from straight clones) especially in an age of OpenType, class kerning and hinted widths. That talk could be followed by a more subjective panel discussion featuring say John Downer, Richard Fink and a high profile designer who has made compatible fonts.

hrant's picture

... and two bodyguards.

hhp

Si_Daniels's picture

Maybe, are you picturing a scene out of the Jerry Springer show? :-)

dezcom's picture

Si, you know damn well what he means ;-)

dberlow's picture

"...OK or is it not OK to copy metrics off of a font?"

Legally, morally, technically a non-issue, or less.

hrant's picture

I think we found our third contestant!
So, counting the moderator, we'd need three bodyguards...

Seriously: Thank you David for putting forth your opinion.

--

See also: http://typophile.com/node/90369

hhp

hrant's picture

Oh, I just remembered:
What about that Adobe-Serif and Adobe-Sans
morphing-to-match stuff? Is that OK or not?

hhp

Theunis de Jong's picture

Hrant, that works the other way around. The purpose of it is to exactly match the original font metrics as a temporary workaround until the original font shows up again.

The glyphs themselves get expanded and compressed beyond recognition--but they are in this case less important than keeping the correct spacing and word count.

Adobe pulls off this trick by requiring that if a font is not allowed to be embedded, at least its metrics should.

hrant's picture

Right, I do know it works like that.
Is everybody OK with it?

hhp

dezcom's picture

That was part of the original PDF technology which allowed for portable documents regardless of originating software and fonts. As Theunis said, it was purely a copyfitting process that used the then new Multiple Master technology.

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