Legal Issues with using fonts in creating and selling word art


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Olga McCluskie's picture
Joined: 21 Mar 2011 - 9:50pm
Legal Issues with using fonts in creating and selling word art

I found another thread that discussed legal issues with fonts but it didn't quite deal with my specific question and since I was still confused, I decided to just go ahead and ask the experts!!

Can fonts be legally used to create word art that would be sold as either bmp. files or .png files for digital scrapbooking? Or are you crossing the copyright laws? In particularly with regards to free fonts?

Also, if you do happen to purchase a commercial license of a font, does that give you freedom to create word art?

Is this even an issue since the image is raterized and from what I read on the other post it is only the font software that would be the issue?

Thanks so much!!

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture
Joined: 24 May 2005 - 7:36am

Almost every EULA (End User License Agreement) permit to do that. But you should always check the EULA for every font you want to use. Normally you can read the EULA before you purchase a license or when you download the font (free fonts).

Dan Hall's picture
Joined: 13 Oct 2005 - 2:40pm

Great question.

Note: These discussions require strict recognition of the semantic distinction between the words font and typeface.

Dealing with U.S. law, there is virtually no protection of typefaces. Once the font leaves a computer it becomes just a typeface and it also leaves legal protections, i.e., there is legal font protection, but no typeface protection. There is certainly room to argue a dispute of that, but only in theory. I don’t think there’s a single legal precedent in the U.S. that counters that statement. The legal protections that have been enforced are very circuitous, weak and strictly related to fonts not typefaces. Plus even the potential monetary rewards from pursuing a case of violation are, in almost every case, trivial. The cost to pursue legal action would cost far more than any reward, except when the offender has seen a significant gain from the violation or has a lot of wealth.

I feel for font designers having a bad deal in the U.S. It’s not fair at all that other intellectual property is given some strong protection, and type designs aren’t. As it is now, EULAs offer very limited legal protection of the typeface. It can restrict what you do on the computer, but that’s as far as it goes. I think even EULA restrictions against using a font in a logo are easily trumped by making a few modifications to the typeface. In that case it’s no longer even derivative of the font, but is an original work as a new typeface. It sucks for the type designer, but that’s not just the way it is, that’s that way it’s always been.

Regarding your specific question, if your word is a BMP or PNG, then it’s a typeface and not a font. There is no copyright protection in the U.S. for typefaces and never has been. The only legal protection, which as I’ve stated above is at best very, very weak, is to say that the digital font was integrally used and essential in the creation of the BMP or PNG and therefore it is restricted to the EULA. That would be a very hard, and relatively expensive, case for someone to prosecute.