I've been purchasing the font licenses for a large ad agency for 16+ years. We have over 600 users in 20 locations around the world. This past year, font license compliance has become a much larger part of my job , so I now have time to see where we might be lacking in coverage. We have a font server, so I know we're in compliance with desktop licenses. My main concerns now are PDF, mobile app, and eBook embedding licenses that might be required, depending on the foundry.
For the sake of trying to keep this long post from getting even more out of control, I'll focus on PDF embedding. All PDFs are secure, view and print only. Editable embedding is not a requirement.
Many foundries require a special license if the PDF will be distributed, such as placing it on a website. We create the PDF and send it to the client, who then distributes it. After talking to several foundries, and buying a number of PDF embedding licenses, I'm finding most of them require the client be the licensee, since they are the owner of the content or publisher. This has the added benefit of covering all agencies working on their behalf, they just need to buy their own desktop license.
My questions are mostly in regard to legal responsibility. If the foundry says the client needs to be the licensee, is it only the client who would be held legally responsible for NOT having the embedding license? Or would we be liable, as well? I ask this because telling the client they need this additional license, in some cases years after we began using a particular font, is not going over well. Many of these licenses are very expensive. The most expensive so far, Akzidenz Grotesk, is $2500 per font weight per client, just to use it in PDFs. This license is required by the foundry regardless of whether the fonts are embedded, rasterized or outlined, so no getting around it. If we were to use all 30 weights in PDFs, that would be $75,000 per client! I picked the most extreme example, but quotes from other foundries have been in the $10-$20k range, as well.
I believe we have an ethical responsibility to let the client know these specialty licenses are required to help them avoid potential legal action. For one, we're usually the entity that selected the font, and two, it's not on any clients' radar that when we send them a PDF, they need to look into font licensing of all things! How would they know this?
I just want to be reasonable about this, and not come across to my co-workers and clients like I'm out on a witch hunt to make them pay. I've already been called the "Font Nazi", and don't want to come across that way. I simply want to do my job and help everyone avoid any trouble. Obviously, there are some people within my company who believe this is important, or they would not be paying me to do this, but no one has a clue about my legal concerns.
I'm now putting processes into place to provide complete quotes for all potential font uses up front so the artists and clients can make more informed decisions when selecting fonts. This doesn't help with the hundreds of font families already in use, however, so I'm making my way through 160+ different EULAs to find out which ones require more licensing. What may start out as a $500 desktop font family for 5 users can snowball into tens of thousands if the scope of work includes distributing PDFs, eBooks, mobile apps, and using web fonts, all of which are becoming the norm.
I just don't know what to do when I'm told "the client won't pay for this" or "the client is going to be pretty upset about this news". If the client is unwilling to secure the required license, do we ask them to put in writing that they are knowingly taking their chances with legal action, so we cover our butts? Should we just not worry about it, and take the position "we told them, that's the best we can do"? Can we be held liable since we create the PDFs and send them to the client? I understand the answers could vary by foundry. Does anyone really care? It almost seems like we're the only agency who even knows these licenses exist.
I try to keep up on the latest font related lawsuits, and I have never seen one concerning an embedding license, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened or won't in the future, and I would never recommend to a client to take that risk. I use this info more to convince them that lawsuits do happen, and they should take them seriously. The foundries obviously believe these licenses protect their investment and provide revenue so they can design more fonts. Whether we realized these additional licenses were required at the time we purchased the desktop license or not, I realize that's the situation now, and I'm trying to make it right. I just don't know how to respond to the clients and co-workers who just don't get it.
I have also recommended changing fonts in some cases, but that is almost impossible for some of these multi-million dollar brands with agencies all over the world, and files everywhere. You would never get to the bottom of it.
I realize I'm in a unique situation to have a job dedicated to this endeavor. I'm both excited and overwhelmed at the amount of work yet to be done, although I think we're way ahead of most agencies. Groups 10 times our size don't seem to have a dedicated font buyer. I've been told repeatedly by other agencies working for a mutual client that they took care of all of the required font licensing, only to find out they only purchased a desktop license, but have been embedding the fonts in iPad apps, eBooks, PDFs, the web, you name it, all without a clue!! And these are big agencies doing this. If most agencies don't know or care about embedding licenses, how are the clients to know or care?
I would appreciate any insight, or examples of how you have handled these situations. Even our corporate attorneys don't have any answers, so I'm on my own here.
Thank you. Sorry this is so long! My first post, so I've been holding a lot in!! :)