Google Webfonts Endgame

Jeremy Dooley's picture

What does Google stand to gain from web-fonts? Their business MO seems to be "build it and they will come, then find a way to suck money from it." They seem to have sunk some significant resources into the web-fonts project, and bandwidth/server load (although practically free for Google) has to be fairly substantial. Mostly to drive adoption of Chrome? Or do you believe this is a genuinely altruistic move? What are the benefits/detriment to the type design community? Any speculation/comments?

John Hudson's picture

The other half is to ensure that society as a whole benefits from the inventiveness of mankind by not allowing said rights to be possessed in perpetuity.

Yes, although one shouldn't give the impression that the social benefits are postponed until copyright expires. We benefit in all sorts of ways from works that are still protected and whose creators are still receiving income from the sale, rent, licensing etc. of their work. Also, in many cases the copyright status of a work has little bearing on its cost to the public: a concert ticket costs pretty much the same whether the works performed are by long dead composers or by living ones; classic movies on television are interrupted by just as many commercials as modern ones.

Richard Fink's picture

@jh

"tend to obscure our memory of what copyright has done and should do: protect the right of creative individuals to commercially exploit their work and to limit the unremunerated exploitation of that work by others, including or especially exploitation by companies whose resources could not otherwise be opposed by individual creators."

Oy vey. So much misunderstanding in so few words. Uh, you got anything empirical, to demonstrate that copyright does what you say it does, or are you just making it up?

Copyright as welfare for "creative individuals". Copyright queens?

And there is no "right" in copyright. Never was. I'll come back and with some quotes, and set you straight.

Where do you get this stuff?

John Hudson's picture

Go read up on 19th century literary piracy, which provided the direct context for modern copyright law.

butterick's picture

And there is no "right" in copyright. Never was.

"The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries".

— U.S. Constitution, Article I, § 8

Richard Fink's picture

En garde!

@butterick

I don't know what John is referring to. I've seen all three Pirates Of The Carribean movies and Johnny Depp didn't download a song once, not once.

With that out of the way, I want to thank you for buttressing my point!

Judge Benjamin Kaplan wrote, in his book An Unhurried View Of Copyright:

"To say that copyright is "property", although a fundamentally unhistorical statement, would not be badly misdescriptive if one were prepared to acknowledge that there is property and property."

Similarly, there are rights and there are rights. The fiction is that the "right" in copyright is a "right" on a par with, say, freedom of speech as it is written in the First Amendment. This, of course, is how the music, movie, and publishing industries frame it and spend a fortune getting the general public to believe.
But factually it's crap, to put it bluntly. The copy "right" itself is not in the Constitution and could be revoked instantly by a single act of Congress.
What kind of "right" worthy of the name can be revoked instantly by a single act of Congress?

In 1909, in passing a new copyright act, Congress addressed the basis for copyright in the United States:

"The enactment of copyright legislation by Congress under the terms of the Constitution is not based on any natural right that the author has in his writing, for the Supreme Court [in Wheaton v. Peter] has held that such rights as he has are purely statutory rights, but upon the ground that the welfare of the public will be served and progress of science and useful arts will be promoted by securing to authors for limited periods the exclusive right to their writings. The Consititution does not establish copyrights, but provides that Congress shall have the power to grant such rights if it thinks best. Not primarily for the benefit af the author, but primarily for the benefit of the public such rights are given. Not that any particular class of citizens, however worthy, may benefit, but because the policy is believed to be for the benefit of the great body of people, in that it will stimulate writing and invention, to give some bonus to authors and inventors."

I'll be back with more about this so-called "right".

John Hudson's picture

The fact that one 'right' is granted by the state in its foundational document and another 'right' is granted by the state in its legislative function doesn't much impress me one way or the other. I hold that there are indeed natural property rights associated with creation -- indeed, that creation is a stronger basis for property and rights than purchase, grant, etc. -- and I don't recognise the authority of any state to abrogate those rights.

aluminum's picture

"Also, in many cases the copyright status of a work has little bearing on its cost to the public"

Minor nitpick in that we're not paying for the movie nor music in those examples...we're merely paying for TV or a Concert.

The TV Station and Artist are the ones involved in the purchase (and typically, unlike property, they don't actually own the material...they're merely renting a copy).

No particular point in that other than direct comparisons to physical property in the legal sense isn't clear cut.

John Hudson's picture

My point was that the copyright status of the works that we enjoy in those examples makes no difference to the price we pay for that enjoyment. So, for instance, the price of the concert ticket is the same regardless of whether the works performed are in copyright or not. Now, if the composer is alive, he presumably gets some cut of the ticket price as a performance royalty; if the composer is dead and the work is out of copyright, then someone else gets that portion of the price: the savings isn't passed on to the ticket buyer. This is what I meant when I said that the copyright status of a work may have little bearing on its cost to the public.

butterick's picture

I want to thank you for buttressing my point

Respectfully Richard, I'm not buttressing your point. I'm suggesting that whatever your point is, it rests on deep misrepresentations (or perhaps misunderstandings) about how U.S. law works.

Anyone is allowed to argue — and many do — that contemporary copyright policy has drifted from its original purpose, and has been influenced by corporate interests. For instance, Disney lobbied heavily for the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act. That's a fact.

But it's incorrect to make generalizations like "there is no right in copyright" or "there are rights and there are rights" or "what kind of right worthy of the name can be revoked by a single act of Congress." The answer: all of them, to one degree or another. The judicial and legislative branches can revoke your rights too. No legal right is absolute, not even freedom of speech. And if one right seems "stronger" than another, it's only because government has made more of a habit of respecting that right.

butterick's picture

The judicial and legislative branches can revoke your rights too

Meant to say: The judicial and executive branches can revoke your rights too.

aluminum's picture

"My point was that the copyright status of the works that we enjoy in those examples makes no difference to the price we pay for that enjoyment."

And my point is that it makes a huge different the price fellow artists, businesses, distributors, libraries, schools, etc. pay.

The end-user comparison is valid too, but not the whole picture.

John Hudson's picture

Fair enough.

Richard Fink's picture

Attorney For John Hudson: Your Honor, if it pleases the court, my client is unimpressed by legal precedent and considers it his "natural" right to control his creations.

Judge Judy: Well, maybe on the little island of Gabriola they recognize such a right, but here in the United States no court ever has and I'm not about to be the first judge in 250 years to try. Infringement is a Statutory Tort, that's all. And tell your client to watch his attitude. If Mr. Hudson wants to be impressed in Rikers for few days with real criminals, not the college kids whose supposed lack of morals has him in a snit, I'd be happy to oblige him.
And he's not trying to pee on my leg, is he?

Attorney For John Hudson: Oh, no, Your Honor. My client would never dream of such a thing.

Judge Judy Alright then. Here's my ruling:
Mr. Hudson's talk of a 'natural' right is sometimes called "The Agrarian Metaphor". In other words, the right to reap what you sow. It just doesn't exist in US black letter law or jurisprudence, so please tell your client he's up a creek without a paddle.
The agrarian argument is baloney. But for a more ritzy rebuttal, nothing beats what my colleague Judge Benjy Kaplan has to say about the 'right' to copy:

"If any person has any 'natural rights', not the least must be a right to imitate his fellow, and thus to reap what he has not sown. Education, after all, proceeds from a kind of mimicry, and 'progress', if it is not entirely an illusion, depends on generous indulgence of copying."

In light of this, I sentence your client to twelve years in Leavenworth, eleven years in Twelveworth, and five to ten in Woolworth, time to be served consecutively.
[Strikes gavel.]

Next case.

In my next installment, I'll toss some red meat to Berkson, and talk about the agrarian metaphor in the context of the Torah. I first learned about it in religious school too many years ago to admit to. But since farming was not a big activity for nice Jewish boys in Brooklyn, I'm delighted by the newfound relevance to copyright law, at least.

(Sorry to skip other comments for now, time for a commercial break. I'll be back.)

paragraph's picture

I'll be back.

I, for one, wish you didn't. You certainly get carried away by the exuberance of your own verbosity. No more sugary drinks for you.

John Hudson's picture

College kids? Imitation? I'm talking about people deriving commercial gain from the unpaid exploitation of other people's creative works.

Agrarian? Don't get me started on agriculture. Worst idea human beings ever came up with.

John Hudson's picture

Since we're relating courtroom exchanges -- fictional or otherwise --, here's one of my favourites, as told by the late great Utah Phillips:

Oh so many times [Ammon Hennacy] stood up in front of Federal District Judge Ritter, that old fart, and he'd be picked up for picketing illegally, and he'd never plead innocent or guilty — he'd plead anarchy.

And Ritter'd say, "What's an anarchist, Hennacy?" and Ammon would say, "Why an anarchist is anybody who doesn't need a cop to tell him what to do." Kind of a fundamentalist anarchist, huh?

And Ritter'd say, "But Ammon, you broke the law, what about that?" and Ammon'd say, "Oh, Judge, your damn laws: the good people don't need 'em and the bad people don't obey 'em so what use are they?"

quadibloc's picture

@butterick:
And there is no "right" in copyright. Never was.

"The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries".

— U.S. Constitution, Article I, § 8

Even so, he did have a point.

Copyright is not a natural law right of authors. This means that if no copyright laws existed, or if copyright laws are weak and only provide an inadequate term of protection for authors, and so on, there is no grounds to legitimately complain that the situation is fundamentally unjust.

Having a copyright law is a choice that a society makes. A community chooses to make a bargain with authors in order to receive the blessings of more of their production.

This means that violating copyright law is still morally wrong, because it's failing to fulfill a bargain made on one's behalf by one's democratically-elected government. Like not paying your taxes.

But there is still an important distinction that referring to copyright violation as "stealing" (appropriate in some contexts) tends to obscure. The distinction is that copyright owners, when they go to Congress asking for the copyright laws to be extended and toughened, cannot demand such changes as a matter of right, a matter of simple justice, but must instead face having their request considered on the basis of whether granting it is in the interests of society as a whole.

mjkerpan's picture

@quadibloc:
The last couple times that copyright laws have been lengthened and strengthened, the pubic was pointedly excluded from the discussion. Instead, Congresscritters who receive massive "donations" from the movie and record industries have repeatedly passed laws that benif those industries rather than society as a whole. Thus, the deal has already been broken and NOT by the "pirates"

With that said, people DO deserve to get paid for the work they do AND copyrights, as perverted as their modern form is, are still the law of the land. Thus, while I don't pirate, that's a course of action I take for reasons entirely different from not wanting to break an already-broken social contract.

Richard Fink's picture

@jh

"I'm talking about people deriving commercial gain from the unpaid exploitation of other people's creative works."

You've been doing this your whole life. Me too. So?

Richard Fink's picture

@quadribloc

While I mostly agree with what you wrote...

"This means that violating copyright law is still morally wrong, because it's failing to fulfill a bargain made on one's behalf by one's democratically-elected government. Like not paying your taxes."

This is way too goody-two-shoes for me. While driving, I'm sure you never, ever go over the speed limit. That would be morally wrong. And the people occupying the parks, are they morally wrong? The USA was founded on an act that was against the law. And the expected violence ensued. Was that, too, morally wrong? Or is the democratically-elected government thing the dividing line? Too much lumping together. Which, thankfully, you didn't do in your following paragraph.

Richard Fink
Blog: Readable Web
Type Director: Kernest/Konstellations

Richard Fink's picture

@butterball

But it's incorrect to make generalizations like "there is no right in copyright" or "there are rights and there are rights" or "what kind of right worthy of the name can be revoked by a single act of Congress."

No, it's not incorrect and the statment is disingenuous, are you a liar, Butterick?

As you're perfectly aware, a statement such as "there is no right in copyright" is, first and foremost, a rhetorical device. Advocates in court use such rhetorical devices, judges use them, legal scholars use them. People of high reputation. It's a quite correct and even moral thing, that is, when the rhetorical device is being used to illuminate.

You, however, choose another rhetorical tack - one which obfuscates. Instead of dealing with the substance and clear purpose of my statements, you simply label them as 'incorrect' thus paving the way for the incredibly unhelpful statement: "The answer: all of them, to one degree or another."

The right in copyright does not exist - to the extent claimed - until after litigation. That's a very odd "right" in contrast to the right of free speech.
To dismiss it, as you do, with the phrase "to one degree or another", such a profound difference, is more than incorrect, it's deceptive.

But then again, you've lied before: Where in black letter law does it say that fonts are copyrightable software? Please show me. And yet you say that such is so.
Saying something is so with no basis in law is a lie, don't you think?

Irrespectfully, because you don't deserve it,

Richard Fink
Blog: Readable Web
Type Director: Kernest/Konstellations

quadibloc's picture

@Richard Fink:
This is way too goody-two-shoes for me. While driving, I'm sure you never, ever go over the speed limit. That would be morally wrong. And the people occupying the parks, are they morally wrong?

I wasn't trying to get into details. Of course it's wrong to subject other motorists or pedestrians to a hazard by driving a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner. But then, they also set speed limits for purposes like energy conservation, and even limits intended for safety are set on a blanket basis.

Generally speaking, the public is not being particularly inconvenienced by most of the protests connected with Occupy Wall Street. Other types of protest, that block traffic and so on, are violating the rights of others; but that has to be balanced against the validity of the protest.

I'm just saying that I don't reject having a copyright law simply because I don't believe that we were under an obligation to have one.

@mjkerpan:
The last couple times that copyright laws have been lengthened and strengthened, the pubic was pointedly excluded from the discussion. Instead, Congresscritters who receive massive "donations" from the movie and record industries have repeatedly passed laws that benif those industries rather than society as a whole. Thus, the deal has already been broken and NOT by the "pirates".

That weakens the social contract argument concerning the most recent copyright laws, but I wouldn't say that it breaks it.

There is a problem with the balance between popular control of democracies and the restraining influence of elites. It seems most countries have erred too much on the side of being "a republic and not a democracy".

Khaled Hosny's picture

... morally wrong ... like not paying your taxes.

Not paying my taxes might be illegal, but it have never been "morally wrong" around here.

William Berkson's picture

Whether illegal is immoral often depends on whether you have a highly corrupt or relatively honest government, and whether you have just or unjust laws.

Richard Fink's picture

@berkson

Whether illegal is immoral often depends on whether you have a highly corrupt or relatively honest government, and whether you have just or unjust laws.

Thank you Bill. Now, I MUST read your book on the Ethics of Our Fathers. My grade school hebrew teacher used to read a passage every friday afternoon - before everyone had to skedaddle off for Shabbos or, at least, appear to be doing so. Hah!

Clue, if you read my post: the reason I got riled up over butterball disingenuously lumping all the things we refer to as "rights" goes back, once again, for me, to the picture of Chris Lozos in Vietnam posted on Facebook.

Yes, kids, there was a time when you got a letter in the mail from the US Government that told you to report for your pre-induction physical. If you did a no-show, and kept it up, ultimately a warrant was issued for your arrest.

People have fought and died for the rights we enjoy. Are we really going to say to the people in our armed forces that they are fighting for our right to life, to liberty, to freedom of assembly, to freedom of speech, and to the right of Universal Studios to a perpetual income stream?

The idea rates a hearty, "**** you, asshole".

And as a matter of law, luckily, it's nonsense.

Gonna go buy your book. You'll autograph it for me, I'm sure.

Richard Fink
Blog: Readable Web
Type Director: Kernest/Konstellations

bowerbird's picture

copyright is a mickey-mouse law...

sing it with me! m-i-c... k-e-y...

i plead anarchy. i bleed anarchy.

but hey, the solution is _simple_.

1. find someone stealing a font.
2. have them arrested.
3. take them to court.
4. win in court.
5. collect the judgment.
6. (you know it's coming!)
7. profit! whooppee!

this will scare everyone _so_much_
they will never steal a font again.

hey, it worked for the music biz...

-bowerbird

Richard Fink's picture

@bb

Why? Because we're greedy!.... M o u s eeeeeeeeeeh!

dberlow's picture

Chased off de intellect by caffeinated consussionists? try finkbegone and any kind of bird shot.

jdaggett's picture

I don't have any great insight into the inner workings at Google but I think I should point out that the people working on Google Web Fonts work within the Google Apps group, so one of their prime objectives has been to allow the use of a richer fonts in Google spreadsheets, presentations, and other documents. Conspiracy theories are a fun topic but I doubt Google has a grand strategy of world domination based on fonts.

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