Is it copyright infringement to manually 'distort' a typeface design?

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umily's picture
Joined: 23 Feb 2008 - 5:18am
Is it copyright infringement to manually 'distort' a typeface design?

If somebody manually copies by hand the design of an existing font, and then distorts it so that, for example, some of the corners are rounded instead of sharp and the baseline is uneven instead of straight....

Would this constitute copyright infringement or do you think it would be safe to do? The idea is to draw up the existing font manually, and then employ a fontographer programmer to turn the distortion into an active/working font. They will not be using any software from the source font.

Ken Messenger's picture
Joined: 23 Feb 2006 - 11:05am

License agreements can only apply to the software although some EULAs do allow modifications for personal use. Read your EULA and find out what you're allowed to do with the software.

Simon Daniels's picture
Joined: 11 Apr 2002 - 6:37pm
0 ?

What you describe may pass the bar re. (C) but would likely get a FAIL on ethical, and PR grounds, and depending on the name you give the font may raise TM issues.

Marcelo Soler's picture
Joined: 8 Jun 2008 - 9:38am

Copyright infringement —in any field— is a dynamic question that may vary upon the matter.
Within some scopes as musical compositions or literary works, it is quite defined since early intellectual property laws were written.
Nevertheless, copyright extends only to expressions, not to ideas, procedures, methods or concepts; which is to say: copyright protects only the appearance or, more widely, the 'art'.
In the other hand, it safeguards a work from its reproduction in any form, such as printing or recording, from its public performance, broadcasting, and even translation into other languages or encodings, or its adaptation into different media.
It is not against the law to make copies for self usage (i.e.: backups) or testing purposes, if they remain within the personal and private scope of the legitimate user for the copyrighted work, let's say, the owner of a musical album; even more: it is permissible to use limited portions of a work (typically, 'quotes'), mostly by clearly mentioning the source.
I guess that if you copy by hand and then modify an existing design, there are only two thing to state:

  1. How much your work looks like or resembles the original protected one
  2. What are you going to do with it

The first question is controversial, so as, when you decide to publish and/or protect your work (and here you are answering the latter), there is a period in which anyone is allowed to contest it by arguing his/her own right on the IP of its expression, and a legal arbitrator will decide who's right and who's not.
There is an optional previous instance which is to contact the owner of the copyrighted work to require his/her opinion about your work, and eventually the permission to publish your work under an explicit agreement (that doesn't need to be public).
Anyway, before all that stuff, be sure the work you are intended to replicate and distort is actually protected (a friend of mine designed quirky a sans-serif version of Garamond based on an old metal cut printing and he did not infringe any law).
In my opinion, you'd must be first aware you conscience is clear.


Dave Crossland's picture
Joined: 14 Feb 2007 - 1:47pm

I was suprised to learn about Bitstream's founding period, http://Monotype's copies of ITC fonts, which they were sued over - https://David Lemon's explanation of the history of the lawsuit is great - and, more recently, http://Microsoft's copy of another font.

All very curious.

Tiffany Wardle's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2001 - 11:00am

Very few foundries allow for this kind of modification. And even fewer would allow for this kind of modification to be sold as a derivative work. Those foundries that allow modification are generally only allow format change and even then that modified font counts as one of the seats licensed. It is only allowed to be used in-house.

And I agree with the others that it isn't ethical.

Which foundry?