Arcane font licensing questions

Hi. First time caller

I have some font-embedding/licensing questions and I hope to learn some answers or at least get some leads.

First some quick background: In a nutshell, I’m a designer at a design, design research, and development company that creates UI/UX for new applications in addition to fixing/redesigning existing applications. We’ve been around for about 12-13 years and many of our engagements have been for web-based business applications.

Anyway, it’s really just within last few years that fonts outside stock OS libraries have been realistically viable for mainstream use (also much of our work has been for business/enterprise applications) so specifying non-standard fonts wasn’t even really an option — it was more like “Sigh. Well, are we using Arial, Verdana, or Trebuchet?” because everything else looked terrible on crappy corporate bulk-purchased monitors.

As we all know, thanks to Typekit et al, using non-system fonts in client work is easier, affordable and looks great blah blah blah. It’s no longer a compromise to design a cohesive suite of websites, web apps, print materials, and mobile apps that all respect the client's brand/style guide.

But then there’s an area that is much more mysterious — Desktop applications. Almost all of the respectable foundries offer webfont as well as mobile app and e-reader licenses but I’ve yet to find any public information concerning the licensing costs of embedding fonts in Mac OS X and/or Windows desktop applications. We had a client not too long ago for whom expenses were not an issue (this is a very rare animal) and we had sold them on using some lovely [Highly-Respected-Foundry] type. After an inability to choose an appropriate format/license from HRF’s website we had a follow-up email conversation where they explained that they don’t offer fonts for desktop embedding because Windows does not offer a reliable way to protect fonts from being extracted (and then pirated). Unfortunately, I wasn’t personally in that email exchange so I don’t know all of the details but believe that was the spirit of the exchange and I totally respect their concerns. We did use something else, BTW.

So this was a really long way of getting to the question portion of this post. (sorry)
  1. Were you aware of the security/piracy risk of embedding fonts in desktop applications? (Is the threat real or just paranoia?)
  2. Are there differences between OS X and Windows for securing embedded fonts?
  3. Do you know of any foundries with font offerings for desktop applications?
Thanks for reading this far and I look forward to y’all’s insights.

Comments

  • A lot of fonts available on Fontspring have app licenses available. The standard app license allows what you described. If you throw one of my fonts in the shopping cart, you can check out the license.

    There's certainly a piracy risk when fonts are embedded in desktop apps. Picture a Venn diagram where one circle represents the people who want to pirate the font and the other represents the people who've installed the desktop application. I don't think there'd be much overlap.
  • Were you aware of the security/piracy risk of embedding fonts in desktop applications? (Is the threat real or just paranoia?)
    It’s just paranoia. You’re not the first person who’s run into the “Highly-Respected-Foundry” with deranged notions about piracy. If people want to pirate Highly-Respected-Foundry’s catalog they’ll just download it. No need to extract it from software.

    Are there differences between OS X and Windows for securing embedded fonts?

    No. Either way the files have to be loaded on the system to work, so it’s trivial to find them.

    Do you know of any foundries with font offerings for desktop applications?

    Most foundries do. Fontspring makes it easy—for many fonts you can just buy an application embedding license right from the web site. And their staff will be happy to help you with any questions.

  • No. Either way the files have to be loaded on the system to work, so it’s trivial to find them.
    Not true. While the 'standard' way of bundling fonts with application is to store the font somewhere as a file, then instruct the OS to load it and draw with it, it does not have to be.

    You can insert the font as an encrypted stream and have your own font rendering library to decrypt on the fly and render the stream as bitmap. As far as the OS is concerned, it is just "paint these pixels". Then, others really have to break into the memory of your own customized version of the font library to intercept the font data.

    In particular, freetype supports loading font data entirely from a block of memory, instead of from disk. This is how the Microsoft Font Validator since leaving Microsoft *should* interact with freetype, although it does not work that way at the moment (it currently occasionally re-read the font file from disk mid-operation). It is a rather low priority enhancement on my todo list.

  • We do offer our fonts for all kinds of embedding, including for desktop applications. One of the best exampes is our typeface Nitti that is embedded in iA Writer for OS X, iOS, and Android.

    Every type of embedding has its security risks, and from my experience embedding in desktop applications is not much (un)safer than embedding in mobile apps, or websites. For all these scenarios there are just better or worse ways to do it. For instance, the developers of iA Writer found ways to encrypt the fontdata in an app, hence making it less trivial to hack.

    Feel free to drop me an email if you like to know more!
  • Just as an FYI, our standard App license at Grilli Type also allows embedding in desktop app—basically any kind of app, except when it has to be embedded into the device itself.
  • Derek, I'm curious, did that respectable foundry offer WOFF files for web use?
  • Dave, respectable foundry™ does offer web fonts as a service but would not permit embedded fonts in a Windows desktop executable.
  • While the 'standard' way of bundling fonts with application is to store the font somewhere as a file, then instruct the OS to load it and draw with it, it does not have to be.

    That’s great, but I was writing how the operating systems work, not what they could do if they were more like Freetype.
  • Simon CozensSimon Cozens Posts: 179
    edited February 2016

    That’s great, but I was writing how the operating systems work, not what they could do if they were more like Freetype.

    iOS and OS X are not very much like Freetype, but you can quite easily embed the font file inside the Resources directory in your application bundle, and then make it available to your application from there, without installing the font into the system:

      NSString *fontPath = [bundle pathForResource:@myfont ofType:@otf];
      NSData *inData = [NSData dataWithContentsOfFile:fontPath];
      CGDataProviderRef provider = CGDataProviderCreateWithCFData((__bridge CFDataRef)inData);
      CGFontRef font = CGFontCreateWithDataProvider(provider);
      CTFontManagerRegisterGraphicsFont(font, &error);
    

  • Look for a file called "libCGFreetype.dylib" under your CoreGraphics framework in iOS or OS X. Apple uses Freetype in CoreGraphics - the only question is to what extent.
  • There is a lot of simple obfuscation you can do as a developer that is computationally cheap but deters simple file stealing – you’d have to watch the memory and all that. If you’re really paranoid, it’s the best method. But I suspect the same as
    @Ray Larabie: the overlap between font crooks and specific software users, unless it’s a design or development tool, is probably very very low.
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