Copying: Opinions & Analysis (for a book)

hrant's picture

A long-time friend and colleague (Gunnar Swanson*) is writing a
book about copies/copying, and for the chapter on typeface design
is looking for coherent and well-articulated opinions. I've already
pointed him to the pieces by Downer** and Hische*** but I also
suggested getting broader and deeper with this via Typophile.

* Among other things:



Below are two passages from his emails to me
that should hopefully guide your contributions.

Obvious issues include deciding when a typeface is too derivative
of another face, when tracing or electronic reproduction is kosher
and why. Type designers' statements about copyright and legal
issues would be of help, too but how people make personal ethical
decisions is my main focus.

It would be interesting to see if anyone has any vaguely objective
descriptions of what is right/honorable/acceptable regarding
influence in type design. I know that there's no unanimity about
any given judgement but I'm not sure that there's even a consistent
logic on the part of any given individual.

Fire at will!


hrant's picture

Hmmm, you guys are being embarrassingly quiet...
Maybe you're worried about getting engaged in
a touchy topic. Hey, no guts, no glory. In fact,
no guts, no progress.

For one thing, I wonder what the Google webfont
anarchists (I got that term from a private email :-)
think about how far one should go in "liberating"
established designs from their commercial homes.

BTW, somebody recommended I bring up this:
I've only read part of it myself, but it seems to be
possible to extract at least some wisdom from it.


My own stance can be -partially- illustrated
by rephrasing something I wrote very recently
in another thread: How much does what kind of
"copy" affect the original, and shouldn't we care
about more than just money?


J Weltin's picture

Apart from designing type i do love bicycles. The most common shape for racing bicycles is called a diamond shape. Because the UCI (Union Cycliste International) forbids other frame shapes to keep the sportive competition equal (it would be far better to be that strict concerning doping, but that’s a completely different story), there is only the diamond shape around.
You could compare this diamond frame to the small letter a. For hundreds of years (not as long in cycling frames building) the skeleton of these two entirely different shapes (or glyphs) remain the same. I have never discovered similar forums of bicycle manufacturers hitting at each other because another manufacturer has copied design features for giving his diamond shape something that he believes would be unique.
This is certainly not enlightening this thread here, but when i was reading through this weird discussion ( i had to think of this bicycle example. There are many many more in whatever industry. Just my two cents.

hrant's picture

So what do you guys think of Starling?


Nick Shinn's picture

… how people make personal ethical decisions …

… I'm not sure that there's even a consistent logic on the part of any given individual.

How much originality one applies to different aspects of a type design is a complex issue, and related to the project in hand.
In many ways, it’s implicit in the creative concept underlying a type design.

hrant's picture

But isn't "inspiration" also implicit?


Nick Shinn's picture

Yes, derivativeness (“inspiration”) and originality are poles of the same spectrum, which is an aspect of authorship.

Authorship is an evolving cultural concept, like money (I have just been reading The Ascent of Money, which is why I thought of that).

It is impacted by developments in technology, law, economics, cultural theory, politics (e.g. the role of professional bodies), &c. &c.

froo's picture

"Inspiration" doesn't always mean derivativeness, which is negative. It can also mean encouragement.

BeauW's picture

>>"Inspiration" doesn't always mean derivativeness
Like how I was inspired by seeing Fertigo to try and make a text font. My font looks nothing like Fertigo, but before Jos put out his font, I was unable to envision anything new being said in a text font.

When I am designing fonts, I try really hard not to retread old ground. I would never copy outlines, or even retrace from a scan, but when I am using fonts for a project, I feel that I have a right to modify them in any way that my vision demands. As a designer, I keep in mind the maxim of Wally Wood: "Never draw what you can copy, never copy what you can trace, never trace what you can cut and paste." That philosophy goes so against my natural inclinations that it dazzles me. Still, it amazes me that I have often had bosses who were willing to pay me fifty or sixty bucks worth of salary to hand letter a title to look like a font they could have licensed for 19$ (except font licences were not in the budget).

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