Who owns DIN typeface? (Type questions about rights and public domain)

Fernando DíazFernando Díaz Posts: 133
edited November 2019 in History of Typography

A student asked me a question about legal rights of DIN, and that I wanted to know for sure:

1) Is it legal to grab a vector drawing of DIN from the 90's, change minor details and sell it on the market with another name?

2) Is it legal to grab a print of DIN from the 1931, digitise it, change minor details and sell it on the market with another name?

I know that the original version was designed in 1931, so the rights should be public domain, right? 
Maybe a company let say... Monotype, owns the legal rights of the font's drawing and naming. Is it still public domain?

It's not entirely clear at least to me.
Any help will be welcome! 
Thank you


  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,511
    edited November 2019
    Thanks @Aaron Bell for all those details about Bahnschrift! Nothing surprising, but good to know.

    (Huh. That was NOT supposed to be a sunglasses emoji in my previous post. I can't remember what it was that I typed, but... not that.)

    This discussion reminds me, when I was working on Hypatia Sans, I made a deliberate choice to avoid looking much at other geometric sans typefaces. Especially during the caps work, when I looked really hard at ... Trajan. Then afterwards I compared and was shocked by how much some of my caps looked like Futura.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,050
    edited November 2019
    Of course, Futura, Lydian, and Optima are three examples of typefaces that follow the classic Trajan column proportions for their caps, so perhaps that is not as surprising as it might seem.

    Not that I'm telling you (or most of the others here) anything you don't know.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,511
    edited November 2019
    Right. I had previously thought of Futura as just “geometric” and never realized that it too had followed the Trajan proportions so closely. I was hoping marrying Trajan-sans caps + geometric lowercase was a new idea, when in fact it was entirely unoriginal. (Lydian and Optima are more humanist in their lowercase forms than Futura.)

    “All the old fellows stole our best ideas.”—Frederic Goudy
    “The ancients stole all our ideas from us.”—Mark Twain

    erm, apologies for thread drift.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,050
    edited November 2019
    Also, to simplify what you and others have said here (and put the thread back on track): FF DIN is a typeface designed by Font Font, and of course (one should expect that) it is proprietary and so are the computer fonts that implement it. However, DIN is the name of the German standards agency, and FF DIN was made in imitation of a recommended style of lettering for drafting. Of course one can design one's own font, and even sell it commercially, based on the DIN standard for lettering, but don't copy anything directly from FF DIN.
    However, I thought the DIN name would be not only protected, but heavily protected, by trademark law, to prevent companies from packaging products so as to convey a misleading impression that they conform to safety standards. Sort of like Underwriters Laboratories, CSA, ETL and other such bodies.
  • @John Savard There is a DIN logomark (https://trademarks.justia.com/owners/din-deutsches-institut-fur-normung-e-v-1727214/) that the institute has a trademark over that indicates if something conforms to the DIN standards. So one cannot display that mark on a product without approval from the DIN institute. 

    I sort of thought that as long as one doesn't display that logomark, one would be OK to use the word "DIN", but apparently that application in a font scenario is also protected.
  • It's a little bit more complicated.

    First is to look which local law applies. This depends on international agreements between countries, private international law or if applicable international trade law, and criminal law.

    The term copyright in US is very broad. One aspect is the protection of creative work regulated by the Bern convention 
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berne_Convention accepted by 177 countries of the world, valid in the US since March 1st 1989. The protection period is 70 years after the death of the author.

    Then there is trademark protection (must be registered like a patent, and an annual fee per country must be payed). Also if a font does not apply as creative enough for Bern convention it can be registered as a product pattern (German: Musterschutz = "pattern protection"), similar to trademark--regions, annual fee.

    For fonts there was a prominent case in Germany--Linotype against MicroSoft. MS wanted to register Arial as a pattern, and Linotype won the case, because the court decided that Arial is just plagiarism of Helvetica. Helvetica is only a protected trademark. The design is not protectable. "Bread-and-butter-types" without individual creativity or character are not protectable under the "big" copyright. Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee how a court would decide in a single case.

    Then there exist sui generis protection rights in the EU e.g. for databases or simple reproductions (a scan of a page from a book qualifies for this). The protection period for this sort of works is 20 years since creation or publication. 

    For fonts there was an EU draft, but only Germany  (and a few countries) made national laws for sui generis protections of fonts for 2 years.

    Maybe "big" copyright as software can apply for fonts as they contain "rules". Most jurists deny that the tables and rules in fonts qualify for protection. Again, I cannot guarantee if courts will follow this opinion.

    Against DIN it is hard to say. There is one decision of a German court (Germany has a sort of caselaw binding other courts) DIN against an US non-profit organization, which copied and distributed printed DIN standards. DIN won the case. But this was not a font. It was a printed standard where the text and drawings in it qualified for copyright.

    Hard to estimate. DIN Normschrift exists in many textbooks for technical education, in CAD software etc. IMHO it is a sort of bread-and-butter.

    You can get it as free font here in 4 versions based on old designs:

  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 716
    edited January 2020
    An insightful look into the legal matters, thank you.

    You can get it as free font here in 4 versions based on old designs:
    In the Cyrillic, some letters, particularly the K and Ж, could use some refinement.
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