What Can I Steal?

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Troy McCallister's picture
Joined: 18 Dec 2002 - 9:53am
What Can I Steal?

This question may seem naive to the more experienced among you, but I am trying to find a source (or sources) for older typefaces that are no longer available commercially / digitally. I discovered a new book with great listings but the actual font displays were possibly too small… what I’d like to do is find some books to have on hand to be able to re-create / digitize old fonts that seem appropriate for jobs — or just re-draw nice faces for fun. I’m mainly interested in late Victorian through 1940s faces, and I would need the whole alphabet displayed.

My questions are:

1. This isn’t illegal is it?

2. Does anyone have suggestions for new / old books for me to check out?

3. Can you find actual antique type specimen books for sale somewhere? Ebay?

4. Are some of you already doing this, and if so does it take forever to redraw a font from a good visual reference — and do you end up with good results? (I would be working in Illustrator.)


Paul Davidson's picture
Joined: 25 Nov 2002 - 6:44pm

In answer to number 1, as far as I know:

1. Typefaces do not receive copyright protection in the United States.

2. Copyrights beyond a few decades would be expired anyway. Certainly nothing from the Victorian era, when copyright was 14 years and limited to book publishing!

Another issue is plagiarism; selling a digitized typeface without acknowledging the original designer might be considered unethical (but not illegal).

90% of type design is revival or reinterpretation anyway. Go for it!


Anonymous's picture
Joined: 6 Mar 2002 - 1:06pm

1 You’d have to check out the legal status for yourself: in the US type can be protected by design patent (and has been since the 1870s), elsewhere (including the entire European Union) it’s protected by a range of laws including copyright.

I would say that, probably, everything during the era you are considering is out of copyright and/or any other protection (except trademark).

2 Old ATF catalogues?

3 Yes, on eBay.

4 Yes, it pretty much takes forever to do a good job — not only do you have to get the outlines right but there will be few clues as to the kerning and spacing of such samples. If you really want to do this properly you should buy a type digitising application, ie Fontographer or FontLab (you may be able to buy either from eBay too — I’d recommend the latter because at least it is still being developed: www.fontlab.com).