Font Licensing 101

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A few months ago, our own Jim Kidwell’s excellent post, Font Licensing and the Freelance Web Designer covered a lot of ground on this timely topic. Since then, the SOPA and PIPA legislation controversy—which Google has helped squash (at least for the time being)—makes the topic of intellectual property and licensing even more relevant. With regard to fonts and their usage, no matter how large or small your work, if your work is public, you need to pay attention to font compliance.

NBC Universal, NBC (…again. Oops!), and most recently GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum have all gotten in hot water for their respective font fiascos. In fact, these entities were all sued for amounts in the millions, underscoring how important it is to maintain a licensed font collection for both yourself and your clients, since misuse distributes to them as well. If you don’t secure sufficient rights, or you just paid for one copy and the font is copied to many computers, or the font is not licensed at all, you could get sued.

So how can you manage your own licenses and protect yourself, your organization and your clients?

Font Licensing Infringement

Some of the fonts NBC Universal, NBC and Rick Santorum were sued for using

Did you know…?

Fonts are licensed, not purchased, with licensing terms by the End-User License Agreement, or EULA. What’s important to keep in mind is that there is no “standard” EULA; each foundry has different licenses, and licenses can change over time. There are also several different types of licenses, with different allowances and conditions. Some licenses are per user, some per computer.

So the common answer to questions like, Can I use this font in a logo with my current license? or Can I use this purchased font for use on the web? the answer is often “It depends.” When in doubt, contact your font supplier. Whether you’re a freelancer, mid-sized agency or big corporation, any company is liable for improperly using or distributing fonts without a license.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

You could avoid worrying about font licensing by burying your head in the proverbial sand, but we don’t recommend it.

A better approach is to:

  • Make sure you own and track all of your font licenses
  • Have partners acknowledge they have rights to use and distribute the fonts
  • Abstain from licensing or using fonts that don’t allow the uses you need

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to understand your fonts’ EULAs, which will tell you in sometimes very long-winded and confusing terms how many licenses you need. Once you understand the terms, you can purchase the appropriate number of licenses.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. But don’t worry: a server-based font manager such as Universal Type Server, and using WebINK for web fonts, can help you on both counts.

Universal Type Server

Universal Type Server lets you track all licenses across your organization's font collection

Universal Type Server can help ensure that you’ve purchased enough licenses for your workgroup, and keep unlicensed fonts from entering your workflow. All creative users are given access to the organization’s font collection through the server, and can be confident that the fonts they’re using are fully licensed for use.

Web fonts are also subject to the same EULAs as graphic fonts, although the terms can be slightly different. It’s a little known fact that most fonts aren’t even licensed for use on the web, not even the “open source” ones.

Using a web font service like WebINK solves for this by hosting web fonts on our cloud and making sure, on your behalf, that all of your fonts are legally cleared for use on the web. Extensis has worked with a growing number of foundries on these permissions, so you only have to deal with one entity to help you manage all of your web font licenses—us. Our own Suitcase Fusion 3 has WebINK support built in as well.

Still confused? You’re not alone.

We know, EULAs can be very long and complicated (thanks, lawyers), especially when you have dozens or more likely hundreds of fonts to manage. If you need help with your font management strategy, please contact us at at 503-274-4492, or email us. Whether you’re a solo designer or developer or part of a larger organization, we’ve got answers and potential solutions for you.

Resources and related articles:

Font Licensing webinar with Thomas Phinney, Extensis Senior Product Manager for Fonts and Typography

Font Licensing and the Freelance Web Designer by Jim Kidwell, Extensis Product Marketing Manager

Font Lawsuits and Keeping Your Group in Compliance by Jim Kidwell, Extensis Product Marketing Manager

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