An Ethical Question: Is it Kosher to look at OpenType feature code of existing fonts?

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Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Simon: what should we take away from that?

Chris, coming back to your original post:
> I have seen nothing in the EULAs about it

So are "Tiffany's 15" and your set entirely exclusive in this regard?

And let's get a bit picky and hypothetical: let's say you misread a EULA that contains a "no-look" clause (partly because you're not a lawyer) and/or you did one of the things Simon listed (because you're not a software guru). Now let's say you realize it, and decide it was wrong. You would have to contact the font house and report yourself. They should sue you, right? We're doing everything by the Book, remember. So do you think that in the US legal system, the party with more/better/more-expensive lawyers has better chances? So is your honest mistake likely to be commensurate with a punishment that the courts and the prosecuting lawyers determine?

But really, I'm not concerned about too much hypothetical stuff, what I mostly would like to know is: do you think a font house should count on such conscientious behavior from an individual when writing a EULA?

hhp

Dan Reynolds's picture
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They should sue you, right?

When a cop pulls you over for speeding, and you apologize nicely, and have no traffic record under your driver's license number, some cops will let you off with a warning. Before they leave, they will say, "drive a little slower next time."

Similarly, the foundry will say, "thank you for being such an honest customer. Now you know the meaning of the EULA. In the future, please adhere to it."

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Hmmmm... This is a tough one for me personally. I learned a lot about OpenType coding from poking around in existing fonts, and I had a ton of help and advice from colleagues, notably Jeremy Tankard. So I think that there is a lot to be learned from how others have programmed their features.

On the other hand... Our colleague Tal Leming has written some superb and (dare we say it) intelligent OpenType code which I would not dream of borrowing. Tal (and John Butler of Eccentrifuge) are pushing the limits of the technology, and it behooves us to collaborate with them, and pay them for their good work, rather than simply nicking it.

I guess that I see levels to OpenType; Basic OpenType coding is like basic HTML coding; it's pretty clear and out in the open, and there are ressources out there for working with it. But there are really complex bits of HTML and OpenType coding which are "special", and which have been developed by really talented people.

Thomas Phinney's picture
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I respect anybody's desire to keep their OpenType feature code private. I recall at least one case with a font I have been using in a demo where the maker was happy for me to demo it, as long as I didn't show the source code. With regards to Adobe's own fonts and EULA, our EULA has a clause like the one cited by Tiffany.

That being said, I have posted (with management permission) the following chunks of Adobe OpenType feature code for other developers to reference:
- Minion Pro (2004 rev)
- Bickham Script Pro (2004)
- arbitrary fraction support
- contextual feature code samples

If there's something else you need in terms of OpenType code examples from Adobe OT fonts, let me know and I should be able to post it.

See: http://www.adobe.com/support/forums/main.html, then click on the "Adobe OpenType FDK Forum" link - the source code stuff is pinned to the top of the forum.

Regards,

T

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> When a cop pulls you over for speeding, and you ...

Around here, that's like a blue moon.
Because they're basically fundraising.

That said, the traffic law analogy is very good. But it's better to look at the situation that leads to getting pulled over, not after. :-) For example: running a yellow light is illegal (which most people don't realize). This gives the police a useful leeway: they won't pull you over for going through a yellow light if you were like 3 feet away from the line when it changed, but if you really push the limit of the lights, they can stop you (although it's rare). Another example is that hanging anything from the rear-view mirror is illegal; but it really has to be massive for them to actually enforce the law (and they have to be pretty bored or desperate - not so rare though). Not surprisingly, I've been pulled over a lot (including by a drunk cop, who only wanted somebody to yell at, and stormed off afterwards without giving me a ticket) so I know.

Another way it's a nice analogy is that people pick and choose which laws to follow or break, i suspect generally in a quasi-systematic way. In my case I drive very fast, but I virtually never run red lights, and when I'm racing I don't abuse the carpool lane. I haven't hit anything in many years (knock on wood).

So the application of traffic laws is nicely fuzzy. And everybody knows that - it's an unwritten thing. In our field though there seems to be entirely too much denialism, not to mention a brandishing of the Official Party Line. And I further wonder if it might actually be useful to make our unwritten stuff written (just not in a binding way). This, because unlike drivers and cops, font buyers and foundries should be friends.

> pay them for their good work

Looking does not preclude paying. In the same way that being able to
pirate a font does not prevent some people from paying for them anyway.

The key thing is basically that it can't be stopped, and using scare tactics
against individuals backfires (although it's "normal" against companies).

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am
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>I see levels to OpenType; (chester)

Dan, Eben,

Is my nutty little invention intellectual property? Yes, but I have no idea at what level. Probably not very high, if for no other reason than it's not something there's much call for. I don't mind publicizing it, because I've already benefited immensely from the feature-sharing generosity of others.

Tom, Adobe would be quite upset if someone were to "pixel-pirate" Bickham's glyphs, but you seem to be encouraging other foundries to swipe its feature code -- what's the difference?

paul d hunt's picture
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Our colleague Tal Leming has written some superb and (dare we say it) intelligent OpenType code which I would not dream of borrowing.

what are you referring to? i'd like to know the distinciton between so called "intelligent code" and basic code.

Thomas Phinney's picture
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I don't know about pixel-piracy, but point-piracy of the outlines would certainly call for action. The difference is, we're explicitly letting people use the feature code. A copyright owner can decide to allow certain kinds of copying or usage, no?

BTW, I don't think actually swiping the feature code for Bickham Script Pro would be of any use whatsoever, as it is very specific to the set of glyphs and alternates in Bickham. It is, however, useful as an example of how to do complex contextual programming in the FDK/FontLab feature language.

On the other hand, a lot of the feature code for Minion Pro is pretty widely useful as-is. But then again, it is not as difficult to come up with the right solutions for that stuff.

Regards,

T

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Paul, I was referring to the work which tal did on Ed Interlock (for House Industries) and Local Gothic (for Orange Italic). Those two fonts have got some very deep and groovy substitution features programmed.

paul d hunt's picture
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nice. i thought you were referring to Ed Interlock. I wasn't aware of Local Gothic.

Nick Shinn's picture
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Karsten Luecke's picture
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Let's leave the ethical/legal aspect aside for a moment.

(1) Users may expect that standard features behave in a certain way. Which means, at least these ones have to do the same or similar things -- as regards their effect at least.
This may mean, a fraction feature is expected to act like Adobe's somehow. So the code may be the same or similar, or may be different but deliver the same result (then, to my understanding, it is the same code).
Discussing ethical/legal aspects with regard to standard features seems idle and waste of time.

(2) The practical side.
Mr Phinney wrote, "I don’t think actually swiping the feature code for Bickham Script Pro would be of any use whatsoever, as it is very specific to the set of glyphs and alternates in Bickham."* This is a crucial point. One cannot just copy some lines of code from one font to another. Different character sets, different classes, different glyph names, &c. Musing about ethics/law is one thing -- there are practical limits to that too.
However, I would be irritated if one font would resemble another one in all these aspects.

(3) I wonder which effect it would have if someone declared certain feature behavior to be protected. In fact it's a play with very few rules. Reserving only few of them would cut off further refinements or novel things that may emerge here and there.

(4) In the end the question is not feature code but type (not font) design. Every typeface requires its own substitution behavior.
As sophisticated as Caflisch Script, Bickham Script, Zapfino, Ed Interlock may be -- they must be damned sophisticated** -- it is just contextual substitution. It's the actual design of each of these typefaces which asks for certain feature behavior. Which is not reproducible in another type design.
This is about calt & ssXX features mainly which are by their nature type design centric.

(5) And, the fun is not in repeating something but in adding to it.

* Thanks! I haven't paid much attention to the OTFDK forum yet.
** Have only seen features of Caflisch Script so far, and presentations for Zapfino and Bickham Script.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Nick,
Scroll way down:

ChrisL

paul d hunt's picture
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This may mean, a fraction feature is expected to act like Adobe’s somehow.

But even if you test several Adobe Pro fonts, not all the featues work the same across the board. In particular the frac feature.

As sophisticated as Caflisch Script, Bickham Script, Zapfino, Ed Interlock may be — they must be damned sophisticated** — it is just contextual substitution.

Exactly, I wanted to say this last night, but i was too tired to write anything too coherent. Which ties into:

the fun is not in repeating something but in adding to it.

Call me a masochist, but i loved geometry. solving all those proofs was fun! i think OT coding is a lot like solving geometry proofs. you have a problem, you think through it, break it down into steps, and come up with a solution. I haven't used Ed Interlock, but from reading materials about it, the code wouldn't be that tough to write, it's just innovative and appropriate for the design. Randomness a la Local Gothic isn't such a bug either. We got Mystic Font to spit out fairly random answers. Maybe the solution was not as elegant as it could be, but the effect is similar. But if Tal didn't want me to look at his code and learn from it, i'd respect that. I'd just come up with my own solutions. I thank people on here that have helped me so much, esp Adam Twardoch, Thomas Phinney, John Hudson, Christian Robertson and others who have shared code, helped me solve problems and get a grasp on OT coding. I hope I can be just as helpful to others as they have been to me.

Tiffany Wardle's picture
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--> Simon said: "...boiler plate text..."

I was just making a point. That wording isn't foreign to EULAs and we should respect those who have it as part of their EULAs.

Which is something I brought up, sort of, in my EULA discussion. Using phrases that do keep us from even using the font...basically.

The driving analogy is a good one, I agree.

Chris Lozos's picture
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"Call me a masochist, but i loved geometry"

I loved Geometry as a kid too. It was the only math that I thought was fun.
However, imagine trying to do Geometry problems without knowing axioms, postulates, and definitions though? This is what I liken OTF feature code building blocks to. Everyone chooses from the same set of axioms, postulates, and definitions to do their proofs but they are solving different problems. Should not everyone have access to the same set of OTF feature building blocks to design their own but unique typefaces? To me, that is axiomatic :-)
QED

I will add that Adobe (particularly kudos to Thomas) has done the type design community a GREAT service by making so much of their hard work available to us all. This is also smart business by Adobe. I think their customers appreciate it.
None of us on this discussion has any desire to pirate other peoples work. Basically, I think pirates are lazy. If there is work involved, they are not interested.
Adobe does ask people to log in and identify themselves before they download the items Thomas mentioned. This is a good thing. At least they can keep track of the interested parties. Crooks don't like to leave a calling card but honest people don't mind.

ChrisL

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> if Tal didn’t want me to look at his code and learn from it, i’d respect that.

That's entirely normal between people who feel a kinship - sort of like an extended family. But realism dictates that you can't build a EULA on the expectation of such camaraderie. Where such a thing does have a place however is in the parallel document I favor.

> I was just making a point.

You guys are persistently avoiding the hard questions...

> This is also smart business by Adobe.

Exactly. As opposed to control-freak paranoia.

hhp

John Butler's picture
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I write OpenType feature code for hire. I have always considered it a work product for them to do with what they please (keep it to themselves, post it publicly) because each font is different. Any font designer can repurpose existing feature code to make their font do just about anything possible in OpenType. I don't think of it as their paying for an algorithm or a particularly novel approach. I think of it as their paying for me to do something they don't want to do themselves.

Since OT feature code is *mostly* decompilable to an extent that a third party can figure out, if after some tedium, a type designer would be foolish to count on feature code confidentiality as a critical part of his business model. And I don't think any of them do. That said, a few type designers have some interesting ideas about what esoteric details should be jealously guarded. If they're paying me to do it, I of course abide by their wishes. Personally, I'm too lazy to be paranoid about most things not having to do with my credit rating and bank account.

I agree with Hrant that Adobe is doing both the right thing and the smart thing when it comes to sharing OT feature code. I also agree that most of traffic law enforcement is nothing more than a revenue source. Most departments don't even bother maintaining the charade anymore. And I'm waiting for those stupid Gatso Buggertron cameras to show up where I live.

John Hudson's picture
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I'm in two minds about sharing OTL lookup data. I'm quite happy to explain to people what needs to be done to make something work, but I'm not always keen to share my actual sources, since these sometimes represent a significant investment of time. Often, a decision about whether to share something depends on who is asking. Am I going to share my sources with e.g. Monotype or Linotype without asking to be paid something? Probably not. But I'm likely to be more generous with students or with someone doing work for a non-profit organisation whose goals I support.

Adobe have a sound business interest in sharing OT feature code because they are not primarily a type foundry. It benefits their application market for there to be lots of well made and clever OpenType fonts available. If their primary or sole business was selling font licenses, I suspect they might be less generous. It is in their role as a major application platform that it is good business for them to share OT technology, just as it is good business for Microsoft to make free tools available to font developers.

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You put that well John (Hudson).
I had written several posts along those lines but didn't hit the send button, as it always seemed like I was trashing MS and Adobe, biting the hand that feeds, so to speak.

I'm ambivalent about the issue. On the one hand I think it's great that I, as an independent, am able to make fonts with all these amazing features developed by MS and Adobe, and market them around the world. On the other hand, I'm critical of how the way that font formats have been developed by the software giants has left content creators with little protection, and the creative work involved -- whether by code warriors or bezier wranglers -- has been devalued by being given away (by font bundling, and now by feature dissemination).

To muddy the waters further, there is an altruistic dimension to Unicode/OpenType, if you still believe that technology can save the world. So it's not just the self-interest of trans-national corporations at work, but a bunch of typographers across society, on a mission.

Rather than becoming completely standardized and wiki-available, I think that feature code will in future become more diverse and typeface specific, with a creativity that intertwines code and typographic concepts in new kinds of OpenType fonts, and you can see this open-minded approach in Karsten's work, especially his new Tiptoes.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Thanks to all of you, I have found some very good sources for code now. I certainly have enough to learn what I need for typical features common to most faces. After I digest this material, I may be ready to venture into more atypical uses.

THANKS TO ALL OF YOU!!!
Mark, Paul, Si, Nick, Tiff, Randy, John, Thomas, Tim, Hrant, Dan, Chester, and Karsten

ChrisL

Thomas Phinney's picture
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You're welcome.

I am glad that Adobe's situation does indeed give me a business case for behaving in a communal fashion. I think my only alternatives would be to be self-employed or run my own independent foundry, if I wanted to behave in this fashion.

Cheers,

T

Chris Lozos's picture
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"I am glad that Adobe’s situation does indeed give me a business case for behaving in a communal fashion. "

I am sure you are a driving force in voicing the need for "behaving in a communal fashion". When business becomes people oriented, it is always do to the integrity and vision of the people in the business. We all owe you big time Thomas!

ChrisL

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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In fact Adobe is typographically culturally valuable in spite of
being a public company solely due to the quality of its type people.

hhp

carl's picture
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I say screw ethics. If any of the EULA is enforcable, let 'em try to enforce it. Otherwise, I say look in any font you want. Steal code, outlines, whatver. People have been doing it since Gutenberg. If you don't do it someone else will. Survival of the fittest. See you all in court!!! (It's a good thing i dont' actually distribute fonts.)

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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See you in court? No, more like look down to see you in the gutter.

hhp

carl's picture
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I'm prone to devil's advocacy. But it is usefull, I think, to distinguish between what people do, and what they say they do.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Hrant,
I think Carl was being facetious.

ChrisL

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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It's no secret that my humor is defficient. :-/

And yes: "Do as I say, not as I do."

hhp