Public domain pros and cons

What are the disadvantages of releasing a typeface as public domain as opposed to creative commons? Assume in this case I don't care about controlling the project after it's been released, don't expect monetary compensation and I'm fully comfortable with the idea of it being in the public domain.


  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 128
    Mostly that “public domain” differs from a jurisdiction and might even not exist at all:
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,363
    To expand​ on what Khaled wrote: public domain is going to result in email. From all the people who don't know what it means. They're going to want you, a Canadian living in Nagoya, to try adjusting it to their locale. But Creative Commons is already explained in simple terms in just about any language that exists on the web. So a CC license probably means fewer support emails for free font.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 581
    "fewer support emails"

  • @James Puckett What about CC0? Isn't is basically equivalent to public domain, but phrased unambiguously?
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 17
    I like the SIL Open Font License ( which says just about the same as the GNU GPL but in a lot fewer words.

  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 198
    CC-0 is the preferred license if you want to release something as "public domain". It's basically "public domain or as close as possible".
  • Or, offer the font under the user's choice of several highly permissive licenses.
  • None of the cc licenses, including cc zero, are good for fonts. All except cc zero have attribution terms which may require eg a business card to have attribution text about the typeface. Cc zero says you can't assert any other rights in the work, even if you later want to on some situation. 

    If you want to allow unrestricted use, the spirit of public domain, use the sil ofl. 
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,026
    edited April 17
    If you want to allow unrestricted use, the spirit of public domain, use the sil ofl. 

    Or the fantastically simple and unrestrictive MIT license: the 'do-whatever-the-fuck-you-want' license.
  • The OFL is a copyleft license, so while it's a license that is specifically tailored to fonts, it's definitely not similar to releasing a font into the public domain.

    A good "public domain" license would allow the licensee to use, study, copy, merge, embed, modify, redistribute, and sell your font without any compensation or obligation to mention your name or obligation to release the derivative work under any specific license, plus the usual warranty disclaimer ("THE FONT SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND," etc).

    I still feel that CC0 is the best option if you want nothing from your font or glyph or whatever.
  • Copyleft keeps things in the public domain, so it's a great choice if that's your intent :)
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,026
    Perhaps we need to clarify whether we're talking here about a typeface design or a font? Ray's original post spoke of 'releasing a typeface as public domain', but some of the follow-up comments refer to fonts.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 581
    @John Hudson
    It's a family of 6 fonts. I'm probably going with CC0 and anyone making variations or derivative fonts will be free to release it themselves under whatever license they want. OFL doesn't seem to fit because there's a unique symbol set that I want to make available for inclusion in other fonts with no attribution requirements. I checked all the OFL licenses and they seem too restrictive for this particular project but perhaps useful for projects where I want to retain some rights.
  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 198
    Ray, that sounds like a healthy conclusion. :) 

    One thing that we hadn't mentioned here is multiple licensing: much software (e.g. the FreeType rasterizer) is released under dual licenses, while some fonts are released under multiple licenses. 

    It is possible to release a font under two concurrent licenses, e.g. "OFL and CC0" or "MIT and OFL", or even "OFL and commercial EULA". 

    With multi-licensed software, the user can choose which license is more suitable to their needs and use just that one.

    The tricky thing is that if they modify/extend your font, they math release the changes under just one license, or several. So with a "CC0 and OFL" licensed font, another user could add some glyphs, and release there modified version under "OFL", "OFL and CC0", "just CC0" and, since CC0 is de facto public domain, also under any other license, commercial or opensource, or a combination of licenses. 

    The "OFL and CC0" combo may not be very suitable for your project, but I'm mentioning this mechanism for the sake of completeness. Sometimes, multi-licensing is useful, especially when creating code or fonts which is of interest for various communities, each of them being invested into a particular license or licensing model (e.g. one group wants copyleft code like GPL or OFL, another wants a liberal license like BSD, MIT, Apache 2 or CC0). 
  • Katy MawhoodKaty Mawhood Posts: 122
    @Adam Twardoch

    End user's perspective – so someone could release the same font under a commercial EULA on one website, and OFL on another website…?
  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 198
    John, indeed that is a good point. Contracts do overrule the general regulations of course. 
  • (This is not legal advice, nor the view of my employer, but merely my own personal chat on this forum.)

    Adam, first, cc0 and ofl are not opposite of each other at all, their joint opposite is restricted licenses. It's naughty of you to conflate up and down in that way ;)

    Both respect the public's right to make derivatives, and ofl keeps the public's right intact and cc0 doesn't. If someone's goal is to dedicate a typeface to the public domain, ofl makes more sense to me at achieving that goal. 

    Second, as you well know, the ofl requires downstream distribution to be under the ofl "and only this license." Or words to that effect. So while your observation is true that someone who is a copyright holder for 100% of the work can distribute under several licenses, it's only true in a narrow sense with that qualifier; when the work has a second copyright holder, it seems to me that they are bound to only distribute under ofl, or only under the other license​, because the ofl forbids distribution under non-ofl licenses. 

    And this your proposed dual license scheme fails at the first redistribution. 

    Its OFL or bust ;)
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,026
    Dave, the OFL requirement of downstream distribution being under the same OFL license is exactly what makes OFL distinct from public domain. I mean, there's nothing in the public domain status of the plays of Shakespeare that requires a publisher to distribute books for free or to allow another publisher to rip off the covers and distribute them under another cover.

    Now, it may simply be the case that software and other digital media works don't really have an equivalence of public domain as properly understood. The fact that we're debating what font software license is most like public domain indicates that this might be so: that software never escapes from licensing, whereas true public domain is the absence of any license (the earliest forms of legal copyright were licensed monopolies granted by the state: absence of license was absence of copyright).

    Maybe our categories are confused, and it only makes sense to talk in terms of public domain with respect to typeface designs, not fonts?
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