Font copyright law changes coming to U.S.



  • The thing is, typefaces aren't vital for national security. So it's unlikely to be useful as a precedent.
    Or are they?
    I hate to break this to them, but Sir Francis Bacon had that idea quite a long time ago...
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,640
    Heh. I remember Terrence Carroll's paper from comp.fonts discussions on this topic in the mid-90s.
  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    I hate to make a remedial argument or go back to square-one but I'll start by preaching to the choir just to put it out there...

    No one is trying to copyright the letter A. No font developer is ever trying to lay claim to the alphabet. The notion is ridiculous on its face. No one is or was ever trying to lay claim to any of these fundamental concepts.

    When we file for copyright protection. We are laying claim to the the exact vector drawings we have drafted, the unique logical systems that we program, within which they function & to the collective software & data we have authored to assemble the characters into working typefaces that anyone can use. What we do is no simpler than CAD design & no less artistic than painting. 

    Type design is a highly technical, highly creative, multi-disciplinary pursuit that takes many years to master. The product of this discipline facilitates critical portions of numerous vital industries yet those industries do not employ us. They do not provide us security. Most of us work independently, every development is 100% risk. We already struggle with tenuous legal protection against the rampant piracy & infringement often promoted & sponsored by tech giants. Removing the already weak protections we have will destroy the entire industry & thousands of livelihoods along with it. It will cost our country money & lead to endless contract disputes where the the bigger fish will always win. The most powerful companies online will inevitably end up possessing & controlling all fonts including the ones we have all worked so hard to develop. We will be cut entirely out of the equation while our life's work is made public domain against our will.
  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    While my personal belief is that the FontLab team is on the right track by making full source code accessible, editable on the fly & exportable I also believe the vector drawings of glyphs within font software should be eligible for copyright protection.

    From the Compendium:

    Chapter 300 - Section 313.3 (D) 
    Typeface and Mere Variations of Typographic Ornamentation

    "...For the same reasons, the Office cannot register a claim that is based solely on calligraphy because calligraphy is a stylized form of handwriting that is a mere variation of typographic ornamentation."


    typographic: of or relating to typography.

    typography: the art or process of printing with type.
    the work of setting and arranging types and of printing from them.
    the general character or appearance of printed matter.

    Handwriting: writing done with a pen or pencil in the hand; script.
    a style or manner of writing by hand, especially that which characterizes a particular person; penmanship:
    an eccentric handwriting.
    a handwritten document; manuscript.

    ** Here the USCO has conflated writing & type & instantiated that conflation in policy. By claiming that "calligraphy" is "handwriting" & that "handwriting" is " a mere variation of typographic ornamentation" they have demonstrated further a bizarre understanding and/or interpretation of the entire broader subject of lettering, print, fonts etc.. 

    I don't think anyone believes that copyright protection can or should stop someone from developing a similar typeface. It seems all we are asking is that our specific work is protected from infringement & derivative works. It's virtually impossible that any 2 designers would draft the same glyph. If the exact curves are present in a font or piece of design work it would be clear that one work was derived from the other.

    No part of that equation suggests that anyone is trying to claim ownership of the underlying "useful articles" otherwise known as the alphabet. 
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,554

    My reading of that same section of chapter 300 is predicated on the understanding that US copyright law already tells us that fonts (at least in the old metal sense) are not subject to copyright. The copyright office is then interpreting how far that extends. Maybe you can critique it in ways that will reduce that scope, but no matter what you do, fonts (at least in the original sense) would still be within that scope of this-is-not-covered-sorry.

    This conflation and bizarre understanding that you are concerned with is broadening out from fonts to handwriting and then to calligraphy. But it starts with fonts.

    Now, I happen to think that original scope was wrong-headed, but I gather that is an issue to take up with congress, who made that decision.

    It seems we are in the position of the copyright office having decided that they were wrong to treat digital fonts like software, and thinking they should have treated them like metal fonts.

    I don’t know if pro-font-copyright forces can win that argument, but even if so, it seems like a precarious situation for the long term.

    However, having the copyright office treat digital fonts as subject to copyright for the past couple of decades has pretty conclusively demonstrated that allowing copyright on the digital instantiation of fonts does not significantly hinder competition or development and deployment of new fonts. Font prices have not increased as a result, and new fonts continue to become available at an ever-faster pace.

    Nor do we see a “problem” in Europe, where copyright is applicable to the shapes rather than the code instantiating them. Same general situation, font prices have not kept up with inflation, and the stream of new fonts shows no sign of slowing—both from individual designers and large foundries.

    What the current understandings of copyright have prevented, however, is a race-to-the-bottom where prices plummet and it becomes absurdly difficult to make money on fonts at all. The KeyFonts and SSi approach of ripping off other people’s digital fonts and after minor automated adjustment selling them for a hundredth of the price is not viable if there is legal protection for the digital fonts. So, that is essentially what we are debating with the copyright office and/or Congress.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 421
    This conflation and bizarre understanding that you are concerned with is broadening out from fonts to handwriting and then to calligraphy. But it starts with fonts.
    I do vaguely remember reading something that the whole reason that the United States was reluctant to give legal protection to font designs was that, in the first instance, they did not want to give legal protectioin to styles of handwriting, and they viewed a typeface as equivalent to that.

    So it may have started with handwriting.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,554
    That seems like nearly the opposite of what I have read about it. What I read was that Congress saw printing (with type) as a critical utilitarian function, and did not want to impair it.

    If you find any information that supports some other explanation, that would be good to have.
  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    @Thomas Phinney

    Yes, & it seems we are debating HOW exactly to protect them.

    I think you and I (and many others) might agree that the wrongheaded idea that the glyphs themselves should never be protected is the real core of the problem or at least a big part of it. It may not be the argument to have but it is a valid thought experiment.
    The copyright office is then interpreting how far that extends. 
    My point exactly. Handwriting (IMO) does not "extend" into type at all. They are two related but entirely separate things. It speaks to the idea that these policies are far from perfect without even starting on how they fail to account for modern digital fonts.
     I gather that is an issue to take up with congress
    Having seen congress when faced with Google, Facebook etc. multiple times I certainly hope it does not get to that point... but it might.
    thinking they should have treated them like metal fonts.
    They may not be entirely wrong about that. They may have mistreated metal fonts. I think a reasonable case can be made for reasonable protection of the actual glyphs.

    As for copyright protection bringing about some monopolistic font cartel that imposes font tyranny on the world... The idea would be that (like any other similar item) not much stops anyone from independently developing almost the same exact font but you can't use a protected font in that process. You can't steal my outlines, you can modify my work & call it your own. You could however if you felt put out by the high price of Adobe Garamond develop your own Garamond from scratch & sell it cheaper. Established ideas of minimum difference & enforceable prohibition on derivatives seems to be all anyone is asking for.

    As to earlier cases of cheap knockoffs being made via automated modification... It would be pretty difficult to develop automated modification of paths that could not be easily detected & proven. The more unique & elaborate the font the more difficult it would be. If such an algorithm were used on a font the same algorithm in reverse would return it to the original state from which it was derived. This would be a pain to prove but I would imagine the pain could be reduced by clever scripting not too far from scripting that exists already in FontLab software, in variable fonts and elsewhere.

    Just some thoughts. I actually have a totally different, more doable like of reasoning that I'm working on. I'll post it here if it seems to have any chance of working out.

    As a side note: I'd love to watch congress insist that the illegible glyphs in my graffiti fonts counts as "useful articles" of a "utilitarian" nature so important to humanity that it would be wrong to limit them by copyright protection.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 421
    edited April 4
    RaseOne said:
    No one is trying to copyright the letter A. No font developer is ever trying to lay claim to the alphabet. The notion is ridiculous on its face. No one is or was ever trying to lay claim to any of these fundamental concepts.
    That would be clearly impossible. Just because a very old Superman comic book had the Prankster attempting to blackmail the United States by doing that doesn't mean it would ever be possible in real life. (Superman #22, May/June 1943 issue.)
  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    That Superman story sounds amazing! I'm definitely gonna look that up. 

    Earlier in my long-winded post I said "You can modify my work & call it your own..." I meant "can't" but that was probably obvious. The point is mainly that designers are mainly trying to protect their actual, original, creative work, not the broader concepts and certainly not the basic alphabet & not public domain concepts of lettering styles.

    You could make a movie like Star Wars or even a direct parody of Star Wars but you would not be allowed to steal the sound effects or portions of video directly from Star Wars to do so. To me it seems logical that the glyphs themselves could be protected under that basic logic.

    If two fonts were very similar & a designer wanted to say that his font was used in the process of creating an unauthorized derivative the designer would have to prove it & could if it were true.

    It doesn't seem that derivative fonts are the main problem though. It seems the real problem is piracy & enforcement of licensing. If we don't have copyright protection then the entire system will probably collapse & designers won't be able to make a living practicing their craft.

    For the most part, people can't put this kind of time, effort & expense into things if they can't make a job of it.  

    I agree with earlier posters that there may not be any good reason not to sign the affidavit swearing that they "authored" the code. They did. Even more true in the FL6 Java format. 

    In my letters to congress & others I'll be stressing both the need to protect the glyph drawings as well as the utility of accepting the FL6 Java source code.

    I also filed a non-traditional registration attempt that has a small chance of providing another alternative. I'll post results here when I have them.
  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    If anyone is interested the above mentioned Superman story from issue #22, May/June 1943 is called "The Great ABC Panic" and is reprinted in: Superman Archives (DC, 1989 series) #6 which is available for about $25. A decent copy of the original comic can be had for about $400.

    Here's a link to info on the original comic:

    If you're interested in challenging or have no choice but to deal with the current state of affairs with copyright protection for fonts...

    Here's a link to the USCO compendium:

  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    Assertions have been made that type designers are "merely choosing points on a grid" when designing the glyphs in the fonts they produce. This reductive absurdity seems designed specifically to devalue both the process & the result & thus the concerns of those whose livelihoods depend on it. Let's torture ourselves for a moment & follow this logic through to the end.

    In Shorthand...

    1,000,000 - possible positions on a 1,000 by 1,000 grid

    20,000,000 - possible positions for average of 20 points per glyph.

    40,000,000 - when accounting for glyph placement

    10,240,000,000 - for 256 characters

    30,720,000,000 - for a family of 3 fonts

    A type designer chooses between nearly 31 billion possibilities when placing the points within a simple font family.

    If we include the defining of the curves joining those points the number triples to over 90 billion.

    I may have screwed this math up but clearly, any dummy can mash the keyboard & drag some sliders to choose the right points. 

    I figured I would start a paper to help collect my thoughts. Here's a link to a draft of the expanded version.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 421
    But people will say your example is misleading! After all, the Hell Digiset had its designers use a 100 by 200 grid, and that was adequate to get the distinctions between typefaces!
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 395
    edited April 16
    RaseOne said:
    1,000,000 - possible positions on a 1,000 by 1,000 grid

    20,000,000 - possible positions for average of 20 points per glyph.
    The possible positions of 20 points would be 1,000,000²⁰, not 1,000,000 × 20 (well, technically it would be 1,000,000!/999,980! if you prohibit co-extensive points, but let's not quibble).

    This, of course, just strengthens your point.
  • RaseOneRaseOne Posts: 15
    @André G. Isaak 
    Yes. For sure. If we consider all possible combinations of point locations within an individual glyph (of 20 points) then we would get 1,000,000²⁰, not counting the the 2 handles on each curve (if there is a curve). I guess I was making a simpler point but as you said this only strengthens the argument. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around how to express the factorials. You wouldn't have a glyph with a point in every possible position...  I'll include both concepts in some manner. Thank you.

    @John Savard
    I often use grids of only 10x10, 16x16 or 20x20 to create rough placements & general structural rules. I will often use a 1,000px grids with snapping at 10px intervals to place points and draw consistent curves so what they did there may not be as terribly limiting as it seems. In the end most everything in my work is freed up to the full 1,000px resolution if not more. It's a valid point & an important example though. I'll further clarify the context of the 1,000px grid so I don't leave a gaping hole in the argument.

    I assume most of us agree that thinking of glyph designs as existing on a grid at all is pretty reductive but I don't think it's entirely ridiculous. It seems relevant to any discussion of coordinates & other data as expressed in plain text since we are, at the moment forced to argue in the context that fonts are code.
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