Do You Consider Font Licensing Questions an Annoyance?

As both a user and designer (okay, only one font so far) of type, I am curious as to how the typical font foundry expects that their fonts will be used.  I've seen both permissive licenses (do whatever you want except redistribute the font) to restrictive licenses (please buy our font but absolutely do not use it for anything) and then I've seen different font companies have similar (or even the same) apparently boiler plate licenses but, if you inquire, you find out they mean entirely different things by them.  And, I wonder if some even pay attention to the license they offer.  Just today, I looked at a font on FontSpring, checked the license, and the license read "this is an agreement between you and MyFonts.com".  Copy and paste gone wrong?

I license fonts for use in producing printed materials, engraved goods, personalized items and custom rubber stamps.  Years ago, font licenses seemed rather vague, so it was best to ask.  These days, more and more font licenses are clearer with some specifically stating whether or not they can be used for producing personalized items.  They are, however, not always clear regarding rubber stamps.  To clarify, we don't make alphabet sets.  We make custom stamps like return address stamps.  Some foundries allow either; some don't allow alphabet sets but do allow stuff like personalized stamps.

So, in order to be compliant with the font license, I have made a habit of contacting the foundry to verify that my usage is acceptable, except in cases where the license is clear that it's not acceptable or would require a custom license.  Sometimes, I feel like I'm stupid for even having to ask the question but I'd rather not take the chance of misinterpreting the license agreement.

But, sometimes it's not easy figuring out who to contact.  I prefer to contact the actual foundry that released the font.  Go straight to the source, you know?  But some have licenses that vary based on the place where you buy it, which is fine except when you contact the site selling the font licenses and they say to check with the foundry and the foundry tells you to check the license with the site selling the font.

More commonly, I don't get a response at all.  Taking a rough guess, I'd say somewhere between 30-50% of the foundries never respond.  I don't assume that a lack of a response means that it's okay.

So, I have to wonder, is asking for clarification of the license agreement considered an annoyance?  Is it just not worth the bother?  Do they just think I'm stupid and unable to understand the license?
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Comments

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,329
    Licensing questions are rarely a bother for me. I probably get one utterly inane question a year, but all the rest are fine.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 550
    The only one that annoys me is "it says your font is free for commercial use, but what about non-commercial use?"
  • Licensing questions are never an annoyance to me. They usually mean a potential sale! I had licences drawn up in legalese and as much as I tried to make keep them simple to understand, sometimes the jargon can throw people off. There is never any harm in asking for clarification.
  • There are cases where you know that giving support will take longer than any potential profit from the one style, one seat license they’ll (potentially) purchase, and that can feel annoying. But I would never let the person feel that.

    For the most part (except where it simply doesn’t make sense), we try to treat everyone the same in support, whether it’s about $50 or $5000 worth of licensing.

    You can help us by formatting your email well and by getting to the point quickly. The amount of extremely long emails we receive when the same could have been said in a single paragraph is astounding, but I think that’s mostly about people not caring to take the time to think their emails through when they are talking to a company.
  • D. Epar tedD. Epar ted Posts: 669
    I think annoyance is inexcusable, but depends on the precise question, how many times it is asked and who is asking who, when.

    Most of us licensing fonts, are doing so to people who either want to include the fonts in digital publications, in which case the end user ends up with the font, or in digital
    publishing processes that end in custom stamping of some kind or another, like print.

    So if your primary licensing need is to make rubber stamps, the kind of foundry who wants to limit your ability to do that in any way, is who?
  • Someone recently asked me to sign and return a license agreement allowing them to use one of my old, cruddy, I-was-young-and-didn't-know-better, FREE fonts available on several free font outlets. I told them they were free and that he didn't have to worry about the license, but he insisted several times. I didn't do it, though — I feel weird handing out my signature when it's clearly not needed.

    Is that a normal thing to happen to type designers...?
  • Katy MawhoodKaty Mawhood Posts: 119
    @Christian Thalmann In these instances, a quick email from the IP holder, with a few defined terms, should be sufficient for most company audit requirements.

    Signature seems wholly unnecessary.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,030
    The licensing side of the font business is a necessary evil for those independents who would rather spend their time designing typefaces than manufacturing and marketing them. The complexity of font licensing has increased considerably since the arrival of the internet, but it’s worth remembering that this complexity, along with that of font formats, has opened up a lot of dynamic business space. If there are distinctions to be made in purchasing decisions, based on licensing and formats (technical, linguistic and features), that translates into more opportunities for resourceful buyers and sellers, and more money in the pot, overall. At least, that’s my theory; no doubt it has been formalized by an economist.

    I’m always flattered whenever someone contacts me about my work, no matter how seemingly inane their requests. 
  • Great question Dan! I think the reason you don't get responses is because it simply takes too much time for most foundries to figure out how to respond and then determine a price for your use. If you were making a mobile App or eBook, something more can-of-corn, there is a quick and easy mechanism at several distributor sites that address this. Because you're asking for something seemingly more complex, it becomes a cost/reward scenario for many designers who simply would rather lose the license than spend time thinking about it.

    Font Bros has been a thought leader regarding font licensing for over a decade since our inception and in fact we invented a new type of licensing specific to your needs called Impressions licensing which makes what you want to do easier.

    I'm not posting this to sell you on our model, but to bring awareness to the fact that as users needs change, licensing must be made more accessible in order for folks to use the fonts they want in the way they want them and all parties walk away happy.

    FWIW, EVERY font we sell at Font Bros comes with an Impressions licensing option and you'll never need to send another unresponded e-mail to a foundry again!
  • Thanks.  I feel a bit better that at least I'm not being an annoyance.  Or too much of an annoyance anyway.

    Now if only more foundries would actually respond.  ;)
    Licensing questions are never an annoyance to me. They usually mean a potential sale!
    That's true.  I'm not a huge buyer by any means but when I get an answer that "Yes, you can do that!" there's probably at least one font going in the shopping cart.  Then, when I look for new fonts, I have a list of foundries that are my first choice because I already know my usage is allowed.
    You can help us by formatting your email well and by getting to the point quickly. The amount of extremely long emails we receive when the same could have been said in a single paragraph is astounding, but I think that’s mostly about people not caring to take the time to think their emails through when they are talking to a company.
    Mine are probably long but I want to try to be clear about my intended uses so they don't come back with "oh, you didn't say you were going to do that!"
    So if your primary licensing need is to make rubber stamps, the kind of foundry who wants to limit your ability to do that in any way, is who?
    I'm really not sure.  I had one where, from my reading of the license agreement, my usage should have been fine but, when I wanted to verify, they came back with, yes, it's allowed, but it requires a license fee of $1000 per font per year.  In that case, I'm like, okay, I won't be getting fonts from you.

    There was another that wanted an annual fee based on a percentage of the sales on products in which their font(s) would be used and the right to look through all of my sales to verify.  That's another case where I decide to look for fonts elsewhere.  Plus, what if someone wants their name in ABCFoundry_FancyScript and their address XYZFoundry_BlockType, how do I calculate the percentage on that?  Count the letters?  I want to be compliant but I'm also in favor of keeping things simple.
    Someone recently asked me to sign and return a license agreement allowing them to use one of my old, cruddy, I-was-young-and-didn't-know-better, FREE fonts available on several free font outlets. I told them they were free and that he didn't have to worry about the license, but he insisted several times. I didn't do it, though — I feel weird handing out my signature when it's clearly not needed.

    Is that a normal thing to happen to type designers...?
    Could be acting on the advise of a lawyer.  Some like everything to be signed and dotted and so forth.

    Most of us licensing fonts, are doing so to people who either want to include the fonts in digital publications, in which case the end user ends up with the font, or in digital
    publishing processes that end in custom stamping of some kind or another, like print.
    Oh, yes.  Embedding is a whole other can of worms.  Unrelated to the rubber stamps and engraving, I also do a newsletter which I distribute as both print and PDF.  Print isn't generally a problem, but the PDF is where it gets tricky.  For example, with one license I checked on, I could embed the font in a PDF as long as the PDF was a newsletter and not an eBook which is confusing because whose definition of "eBook" would apply?  It's easier to not use that font.
  • The amount of extremely long emails we receive when the same could have been said in a single paragraph is astounding, but I think that’s mostly about people not caring to take the time to think their emails through when they are talking to a company.
    This reminds me of that old quote (which I've seen attributed to various people): "I apologize for the length of this letter, but I didn't have time to make it shorter."
  • I’m always flattered whenever someone contacts me about my work, no matter how seemingly inane their requests. 
    I'm sure there's no shortage of people that consider me inane.  ;)

    Font Bros has been a thought leader regarding font licensing for over a decade since our inception and in fact we invented a new type of licensing specific to your needs called Impressions licensing which makes what you want to do easier.

    Have you considered (and I don't know if it would be feasible) an unlimited Impressions license?  I looked at the option and, on the one hand, we might never need 1000 impressions (which, from my reading, is more akin to the number of designs rather than the actual number of impressions, is that right?), but an unlimited option keeps things simpler because no need to keep count.

    Also, no favicon on your site?
  • edited May 2016
    So, correct me if I’m wrong. Never mind, I was wrong.
  • Hi Dan, indeed we do offer an unlimited option, but it generally is more than folks want to pay historically unless they're a larger outfit, so we offered a tiered option so they only needed what they wanted and weren't overpaying for licensing they would never use. We also have a smaller 500 Impressions tier but it's not listed at the site.

    Also, I wanted to respond to something Dave Berlow mentioned in his response about foundries who exclude rubber stamp uses from their licensing. It's disingenuous to say it's wrongheaded restrict use as part of physical items when Font Bureau already restricts this use for digital ones (http://www.myfonts.com/viewlicense?lid=259 - Section 6e)

    Just because a foundry doesn't derive its primary income from publishing industry doesn't make it less important for it to justify licensing that protects the value of the font when its being used to create customized or personalized physical products that are inherently enhanced by the fonts being used. I'm sure any foundry would be unahppy to see their work used uncompensated when it results in a loss of desktop licenses.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 550
    Someone recently asked me to sign and return a license agreement...
    Christian Thalmann There are some companies whose legal departments insist on standard release forms or custom agreements for free fonts. When I get these, they're almost always for television pilots. ABC Television and BBC Television are the ones I usually see but I've gotten them from other American networks. ABC started asking for release forms around the time of the 2009 NBC font lawsuit. Even if they're for free fonts and I have nothing to gain, I always read and sign them. I get a kick out of seeing my fonts on TV and I often wish I was a showrunner.

    Sometimes you can point people to an off-the-shelf agreement and that does the trick. I've gotten some game companies to switch to off-the-shelf app licenses.
  • D. Epar tedD. Epar ted Posts: 669
    Frode: "It's disingenuous to say it's wrongheaded [to] restrict use as part of physical items when Font Bureau already restricts this use for digital ones (http://www.myfonts.com/viewlicense?lid=259 - Section 6e)"

    Well, I didn't say it was wrongheaded. This thread, in my opinion, is the result of foundries gouging users for successful practice of what most foundries and all major software developers consider to be fair licensed font use. 

    And I think it entirely genuous, 6e, and consistent with my post.

    Physical items like rubber stamps, and other such documents and graphics Do Not contain copies of the font software embedded. Font Bureau and most commercial font software developers restrict "digital ones", because they Do contain copies of the font software. 




  • edited May 2016
    yes, it's allowed, but it requires a license fee of $1000 per font per year.  In that case, I'm like, okay, I won't be getting fonts from you

    I got the impression that threadstarter was dismissive of foundries wanting to charge more than a desktop license fee for something not covered by said license, but I think the original post indicates that this is not the case:

    To clarify, we don't make alphabet sets.  We make custom stamps like return address stamps.  Some foundries allow either; some don't allow alphabet sets but do allow stuff like personalized stamps.
    Could you elaborate on how these custom stamps are produced?

    In my understanding, the “alphabet product” category concerns reselling the font in a physical format. Rubber stamps sold as individual letters that can be combined to form words would be a clear example. I think some projects where the letterform constitutes the sole creative element sometimes border on “alphabet products” (an example would be IKEA selling type specimen posters). This is a grey zone. Composing a vector file on a computer, and later printing the file (3d or 2d) is most likely desktop usage. Setting up an online tool or an app that generates vector files from user input text would fall under an embeddable app or web license.

    Coop — mind explaining why you directed your post in my direction?

  • To clarify, we don't make alphabet sets.  We make custom stamps like return address stamps.  Some foundries allow either; some don't allow alphabet sets but do allow stuff like personalized stamps.
    Could you elaborate on how these custom stamps are produced?

    In my understanding, the “alphabet product” category concerns reselling the font in a physical format. Rubber stamps sold as individual letters that can be combined to form words would be a clear example. I think some projects where the letterform constitutes the sole creative element sometimes border on “alphabet products” (an example would be IKEA selling type specimen posters). This is a grey zone. Composing a vector file on a computer, and later printing the file (3d or 2d) is most likely desktop usage. Setting up an online tool or an app that generates vector files from user input text would fall under an embeddable app or web license.
    First, I'll define what I mean by "alphabet set."  That would typically be a set of 26 stamps, one for each letter of the alphabet, where the user could then use the individual stamps to stamp their own messages.  We do not make those.

    As for how the custom stamps are produced, the customer would go to our website.  They would choose the size and type of stamp they want and then fill out an order form with what they want on it.  They can choose the typefaces they want used.  For example, if they are buying a return address stamp, they might want their name in a script typeface and their address in a text typeface.

    They make selections, but they don't design it themselves.  The fonts are not installed or available on the server.  There's no online design tool or app.  We have GIFs/JPEGs that show what the typefaces look like (Aa-Zz, 0-9 and a couple special characters).  They cannot preview the stamp itself on the website itself because the fonts aren't there.  If they want to see what their stamp looks like prior to it being made, we send them a proof after we've composed it.  The proof is usually either a JPEG or a PDF.  In the case of a PDF, vector art is converted to bitmap so no fonts or font outlines are embedded in the PDF.

    Once composed, the file is either printed to a laser printer from which a negative will be made for stamp production or the file is sent to the laser engraver for output.
  • @Dan C. Rinnert I can see how this would be a tricky one for a lot of foundries.  I doubt there is a way for this to be simple for you.

    For our part I can tell you that so long as the fonts are being typeset manually by you for one off printing (not embedded anywhere for the end customer to fiddle with and view themselves) - such that the fonts aren't embedding in software which facilitates the printing - we'd cover your use with a basic desktop license for all your internal computers that use the fonts.  Sorry for the run on sentence




  • D. Epar tedD. Epar ted Posts: 669
     Are there any founders in competition with what Dan is offering?
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