How do type designers handle typeface copyright and infringement?

AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
edited December 2016 in Type Business

So I was just wondering, if lets say I redrew a typeface I saw somewhere and decided to use it commercially in say a tshirt or for a branding package where only a select few glyphs are used in the design, and made a ton of money from it too. Does the original designer of the typeface have a case at all if they argued that this was their font actually and their typeface? I know in the US they don't allow you to copyright typefaces and some other countries do, but if this happened in the US, how will the typedesigner tackle this in their favour? Toughluck? or they have a case? 



  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,456
    What do you mean by "saw" and "redrew"? Part of the answer depends upon what the EULA states about usage. If you really redrew a few letters without copying the outlines is different than you "acquired" the outlines and used them.  As to whether you might have a case if someone used your typeface, contact a lawyer who knows type.
  • @Chris Lozos I'm not looking for a lawyer or anything, it's just something I'm curious about to see how it's handled because I've seen people bring this up before and there's never a concrete answer. When I mean "saw" and "redrew", I mean I could've actually used the font file and then claimed I redrew it or I could've redrawn it from scratch using a specimen sheet I saw online. EULAs generally don't get into the details of what happens after the text is outlined or anything about imitation, do they? If they don't, why would a EULA matter? But if for some odd reason they do mention about imitation, then how are they gonna prove this if I claimed I redrew it? What I'm getting at is, if you can't copyright the typeface, then what actually protects the typeface and if it cant be protected then can't all fonts be pirated to the point you can't do nothing about it irrespective of what the EULA states? 
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,456
    Some EULAs cover it, some don't.  You don't see definitive  answers because you have to state the facts of the case specifically first and then you need a lawyer to give you advice on those facts.  Getting a layman's best guess does not help you get an answer that is actionable.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,584
    edited December 2016
    @AbiRasheed In the USA, the general understanding of most people in the font business is that under US law, point placement of outline fonts is covered by copyright—I can show you US copyright registrations for digital fonts—but the abstract shapes are not. That’s why the questions Chris was asking are relevant.

    Additionally, the abstract shape of fonts can be protected by design patent in the USA, and by other forms of design protection in other countries.

    And anybody who posts online saying “I could've actually used the font file and then claimed I redrew it” is practically asking to get sued down the road when their font looks a lot like somebody else’s.
  • @Thomas Phinney Ah okay thanks for clarifying that up. I figured as much that it has something to do with point placement but then I thought if someone nudged the nodes a smidgen to the left or right, etc, or say they adjusted the handles a bit so it looked different, then how can one prove if it's from the same typeface? I can understand if the font file is modified even with a different point placement,  I'm guessing there may be code in there that can still authenticate the original author (I don't know how but I'm hoping there's something in there atleast that can't be modified by an external party), can there be information like that stored in the font file that can't be modified?  However if say someone has an unauthorised copy of the font file and decides to outline the font, make changes to a few glyphs by nudging the nodes a smidgen here or there and then claim its their own redrawn version inspite of it being similar to the original typeface, can this still be proven by law? In this case unless the typeface is patented there's no way to prove it, correct?  

    And anybody who posts online saying “I could've actually used the font file and then claimed I redrew it” is practically asking to get sued down the road when their font looks a lot like somebody else’s.
     Not sure what you meant there but I was giving a scenario of the possible ways one might try to get around to doing something like that. 
  • It is possible to move enough points around or otherwise mess with the outlines enough that it would be hard to prove they were originally from whatever the original source was, but doing that well enough to avoid detection would be an awful lot of work. Most people who are eager to “borrow” outlines from another font are trying to avoid doing lots of work.
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited December 2016
    @thomas right, that makes sense but can't be ruled out. So if someone redraws it as an outline based off the original typeface, then point placement, etc comes into the picture only if the original typeface is patented, correct? 
  • No, point placement does not “only come into the picture if the original typeface is patented.”

    Design patent is all about appearance and independent of point placement. Copyright on the font file, as most of us understand it, applies to the point placement (which is what Judge Whyte determined in the Adobe vs SSi lawsuit, which may be informative even if not a precedent).

    I don't know what you mean by “based off” and “redraws” in that sentence.

    If somebody draws something from scratch inspired by the appearance of something else? Then copyright on the font file is not relevant, but design patent and other design protections are still in play.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,456
    @AbiRasheed, Can you tell us what prompted you to  ask?  Is there a case in point you are looking at? It seems as though this is more than idle curiosity.
  • @THomas Ah okay. @Chris Lozos oh just curious, for my own information. I've seen people ask about piracy and infringement on typefaces before but I never knew how issues like that were addressed in more detail besides the obvious answers you hear all the time..."oh you can copyright the font file". I thought it was pointless people asked about it because I assumed there was always a way around it until yesterday some random dude asked what they could do if a company was using an unauthorised copy of their typeface on a tshirt and profiting from it. I gave it some thought and realised I didn't have an answer for them but I figured I might as well find out too what one can do in such a situation. Picked the best place to ask where people do this for a living and likely run into issues like this all the time. Google wasn't much help.
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