Widespread misunderstanding of AdobeType's license causing foundries to loose revenue.

Miles NewlynMiles Newlyn Posts: 198
edited January 11 in Type Business
Most of my fonts are available via AdobeFonts through the AdobeCC.
Over that past six months I have discovered that widespread misunderstanding of the AdobeType license is causing me to loose a very large amount of income.

There are two main misunderstandings of the Adobe license:

• Many AdobeType users believe their subscription allows them to host the font files on their websites. It does not. The fonts must be loaded via the Adobe embed code.

• Many designers believe their AdobeCC subscription allows them to use fonts from AdobeType on their client's websites. It does not and this practice is called Reselling.


Using FontRadar's excellent service, we contact many hundreds of website owners (many large international businesses, some household names) who are hosting our font files without a license.
More often than not, we receive a reply, often very righteously written, that because they or their designer/design agency has an AdobeCC subscription, their use of the font files is entirely legitimate. It is very difficult to persuade them that this is not so, that they are violating their AdobeCC license, and that they need to buy a font license from us if they wish to self host. 

The result of this is a large amount of lost income because:

• Not using the Adobe embed code means that Adobe is not able to account the use and so no royalty is paid.
• Website owners are not buying licenses from us.
• It takes a lot of time to write to and attempt to educate website owners.
• We need to employ lawyers when cases become too difficult.

In some cases we find that not only are the font files hosted on a website, but desktop font files are freely distributed throughout the businesses, on the misunderstanding that because they have an AdobeCC license, it's ok.

I don't know where these font files come from. They are often anonymised with names like font.woff or 7ascn328gfh.woff. 
I wonder if Adobe’s narrative makes people think that if the fonts are on AdobeCC, all is allowed, no matter where these fonts originate from. I think the users attitude is influenced by the appearance of all-permissiveness, but I do not put any blame on Adobe. However I do think that the current situation needs improving. Camille Sibucao of Adobe put Adobe's intentions very nicely when she said:

"We do not intend for the Adobe Fonts service to cover every use scenario, and we encourage customers to go directly to the foundry for various licenses that are not possible through our service. We want all of our foundry partners to have multiple sources of income and to be successful with their own retail stores."

We are essentially taking on the the job of compliance for Adobe, and sometimes we are perceived as phishing by the web site owners we contact. Some of them even report us to Adobe, but as far as I'm aware, Adobe does not respond.


The Adobe page we point people to is:

https://helpx.adobe.com/fonts/using/font-licensing.html

I don't think there's an easy solution to this problem. Our agreement with Adobe says that if their customers violate their license with Adobe, THEY (Adobe) can terminate the violator's license. Adobe's support here would be extremely useful, but probably unlikely.

An improved licensing page, or better still, a page specifically about the consequences of hosting font files on a website and Reselling would be helpful. 

It would also be useful if we had some accreditation from Adobe when we contact website owners, since as I mentioned previously, we're often perceived as phishers.

I'm writing this here to alert other foundries that may not be aware of how much revenue they may be loosing, and to seek the support of those that are encountering this problem in persuading Adobe to take some action, and suggestions as to what that action could be.
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Comments

  • I don't know where these font files come from. They are often anonymised with names like font.woff or 7ascn328gfh.woff.
    Per TypeDrawers’ rules, without going into too much detail on methods: you can spend $0 on the tools to download a web embedded font and convert it into OTF or TTF in less than 30 seconds. I open WOFFs myself from time to time out of pure curiosity about who designed it. I don’t use it unless I buy a license, though.

    I can’t remember the last time I opened a WOFF see the glyphs having been subsetted. Typically it’s all there, and I thought the whole point of WOFF was to cripple commercial reuse via subsetting, but I think whoever makes website design software these days doesn’t even bother with offering subsetting. Just including the entire font is much simpler.

    A typical user will download hundreds of complete commercial and even custom proprietary fonts (NYT Imperial and Vanity Fair Didot come to mind) a week in WOFF format right into their browser’s temp directory. It’s not lost revenue if the person browsing never reuses the file, but the ease of doing so is the predictable result of web font embedding, predicted in fact over two decades ago. Ditto for PDF font embedding, and the process for extracting those is only slightly more tedious.
  • Hi John,
    I know it's super easy to get hold of font files on the web, I just didn't want to imply that they were coming from Adobe directly.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,552
    Historical aside:
    I thought the whole point of WOFF was to cripple commercial reuse via subsetting
    No, the intent was to introduce a format distinction between desktop and web fonts, so that there was a minimal protective wrapper to limit cross-use of the same font file. The context of this was the Opera browser introducing embedding of TTFs in the late 2000s, and concern about how this would open the floodgates of unlicensed use of existing desktop fonts on the web without any opportunity for font foundries to put webfont licensing in place. We—Erik, Tal, Jonathan, and me—I think always recognised that tools would be developed that enabled easy unwrapping of WOFF-to-TTF/OTF: the idea was to buy time for foundries to get the licensing model sorted, and to have at least a minimal fence around the format distinction. [A metaphor I recall from the time was that of the difference between leaving your wallet on the ground next to your car and leaving it on the front seat with the window open: taking the wallet would be as easy in either case, but one feels more like stealing and is easier to prosecute.]

    Subsetting isn’t specific to WOFF, or to webfonts generally. It happens that it was one of the areas in which the desires of foundries, browser makers, and web developers happened to overlap perfectly, at least in the late 2000s, since subsetting benefited everyone. But like limiting webfont delivery to individual domains using CORS, it is something that has to be managed at the license level, i.e. the format enables it but does not require it.

    ____

    Perhaps in the context of discussion of unwrapping of webfonts and reuse as desktop fonts, it is worth noting that output from WOFF2 format is going to be easier to identify than that from WOFF format. WOFF is a simple wrapper around the original TTF/OTF. WOFF2 involves optimisations that reconfigure the input font data, so an unwrapped WOFF file is indistinguishable from the original input font, but a decompressed WOFF2 file will be different.
  • Miles NewlynMiles Newlyn Posts: 198
    edited January 11
    WOFF, OTF, TTF. They all get used on violating websites. The format is not important to the topic.

    I would also like to say that I'm very happy with being a part of Adobe Type, and the revenue we're missing out on would not exist if we were not with Adobe. 
  • I know it's super easy to get hold of font files on the web, I just didn't want to imply that they were coming from Adobe directly.

    OK, then I’ll imply it myself: most of them are coming from a server called use.typekit.net, which last I checked was Adobe. Adobe’s left hand isn’t doing its right hand any favors, but that’s nothing new.
  • I noticed this is 2019.  I don't think it's new, btw.  But it is a thing. If anyone wants advice on how to approach a company that's using your fonts in such a way to be sensitive to this issue let me know.  Back in 2019 the Adobe messaging was definitely confusing but they improved it by leaps and bounds.  Most people don't read, I'm not sure there's much Adobe can do that they aren't already doing.  
  • I wrote a lot of that licensing FAQ for Adobe and played a large part in the licensing policies with the service after the Typekit acquisition. (And like John H., I was part of the working group that worked out the spec for WOFF.)

    John B., I don’t see the point of blaming Adobe for the problem. Web fonts are now a basic part of font use and licensing, and they are all getting copied and misused. Adobe has a big service to deliver them that way, but I’d venture to say they offer above average protection for web fonts. Even the most perfect, thorough communication about the license permissions to end users will only work up to a point. People just don’t read that stuff.

    As for license enforcement, I’d encourage those who participate in Adobe Fonts to kindly press Adobe to help with it. The main problem is the team there is small and lacks the time to do it, but they all want to be helpful. Where Adobe Fonts users are misunderstanding the terms of use, or willfully violating them, that is really Adobe’s problem to deal with. I understand that, in reality, foundries will have to do a lot of it, but I don’t think Adobe — the Type team, at least — thinks it’s not their problem.
  • John B., I don’t see the point of blaming Adobe for the problem.
    I am not at the point of “blaming” Adobe, because I can’t imagine how they should do it differently, apart possibly from more rigorous subsetting, as Type Network seems to do. I don’t examine WOFFs closely enough to see if there’s any serialization data traceable back to the original licensee, but if it’s there, it can make chasing violators easier.
  • By the way, part of Typekit’s pre-Adobe terms of use allowed a Typekit subscriber to create and host kits for client websites. IIRC we scrubbed that from the terms around the time the service changed from “Typekit” to “Adobe Fonts”, so it’s been a while. But possibly there are some long-term users who never got the memo, in which case it’s more understandable that they think it’s allowed. (Obviously I think they should have read the new TOU, but, y’know.)
  • k.l.k.l. Posts: 77
    edited January 12
    The main problem is the team there is small and lacks the time to do it, ...
    Since switching to subscription, Adobe is being showered with money, hiring some more people should be an easy thing to do.
  • This is perhaps a more important topic than classic piracy because it involves much more potential buyers.
  • @Christopher Slye. You'll remember that, back in the day when you were the head of Adobe fonts, I asked for an edit to the Adobe terms of use?  That edit would have expressly empowered foundries to enforce this exact kind of violative use, rather than Adobe being the only party with standing to do so.  I still think that would be a good idea. 

    That said, every customer I've ever had who thought their use was covered by Adobe has told me that when they contacted Adobe support they were told it wasn't and that they needed to talk to me.  That's some fantastic customer support!  How many of us have gotten wrong and contradicting information from our cell phone provider, or even our doctor's office?
  • c.g.c.g. Posts: 43
    This is perhaps a more important topic than classic piracy because it involves much more potential buyers.
    I don't see anything than classic piracy here. Adobe doesn't provide webfonts for self hosting like font.com did, but only the code to embed. If there are unlicensed woff files on a server, it means that someone downloaded them somewhere, not necessairly from Adobe.

    Also, Adobe doesn't provide download links for desktop fonts. They must be synced with the CC app. If they are freely distributed throughout the businesses, it means that someone deliberately copied them from the CC folder and distributed them. Or downloaded elsewhere.

    Adobe license looks  unequivocal to me:

    Does my client need their own font license to use the designs?

    No, not if you are creating graphics or documents that have rasterized or properly embedded font data, such as a PDF, JPEG, or PNG.

    However, if your client needs to have the font installed to edit your design, they will need their own license, either through a Creative Cloud subscription or as a desktop license purchase.

    Can I use web fonts for my client websites?

    The Terms of Use do not permit reselling beyond December 31, 2019. After that time, the client's website must load Adobe Fonts from their own Creative Cloud subscription to ensure that there isn't any interruption to the font licensing or web font hosting.

  • c.g.c.g. Posts: 43
    I interpret that to mean a person who sets out to steel and knows they are doing it.
    This is exactly what I meant. Someone has deliberately stolen the fonts and uploaded them to a server and distributed the desktop fonts. As a (casual) Adobe fonts user, I know that I have no available downloads, only CSS/JS code to embed the webfonts and the opportunity to sync desktop fonts via the app.

    Maybe an agency can pass the code to embed to a client, and this *could* be a violation in good faith, but since Miles found unlicensed woff *files*, this is not the case.

    I totally agree on the second part, maybe the business owners don't even know what the agencies did and they are totally in good faith.
  • @c.g.  This is where I wish the disagree button on this site didn't act like disagreement is taboo.  Most people are overworked and past deadline at the point they are implementing the fonts.  They aren't really thinking at all.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 730
    edited January 12
    Regarding agencies giving the css link to their clients, why should we as foundries care?  Yes, it's not permitted by the Adobe license and I always tell people that.  But it's not my job to police it.  Adobe knows about this and is choosing to mostly not police it either, a totally reasonable pragmatic business decision.  We're still being paid the same royalty amount for the traffic.  Usually it's either a really small end client with almost no traffic or a client who does have their own Adobe account and just didn't bother to do the hand off.  I see very little harm here and I let it go most of the time.
  • c.g.c.g. Posts: 43
    @JoyceKetterer I do not get offended if you disagree. I've read later your edit and I totally agree on considering clients as partners instead of pirates. Mine is just a technical note.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 730
    edited January 12
    @c.g.  I'm not a lawyer but I know that sometimes in law an act is not theft without "actual malice".  That is to say if I rob a bank for the exact amount they have charged me in fees over the years, because I think their fees were wrong, I've still committed a crime (because I know that it is against the law to do it, no matter how much I rationalise it).  But, if I receive a payment from the bank that wasn't intended for me and I don't return it, because I have no idea it wasn't intended for me, I didn't commit a crime.  

    I think this situation is like that.  If I am certain I have a license for a font and I use a pirate copy just because it's easier, having no idea that I am not licensed for it, I don't think that's piracy.  I don't know if that argument would win in court (again, not a lawyer) but from a purely moral perspective I find it persuasive.  
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,552
    edited January 12
    If I am certain I have a license for a font and I use a pirate copy just because it's easier, having no idea that I am not licensed for it, I don't think that's piracy.

    I’m going to disagree with that and suggest, contra, that even if you were clearly licensed to use a given font, obtaining a pirated copy of it (i.e. a copy of the file being distributed from an unlicensed source) is engaging in piracy.

    Piracy is a term that I avoid using in reference to the various situations of unlicensed use that users get themselves into, for the reasons you cite. It is more legally precise and less combatitive to call it, simply, unlicensed use.

    But when it comes to unlicensed distribution, I am perfectly happy to call that piracy, because people other than the makers and licensed distributors of the fonts are profiting from that activity, these days most often through web advertising. If a user opts to download a copy of a font from an unlicensed distribution site, even for a font for which they have obtained a valid license, they are supporting that activity, contributing to illicit profit, and hence engaging in piracy.

    To use a metaphor similar to your bank example: let’s say I order something from an Amazon seller, but it never arrives. The next week, I find the same product being sold by a guy in the toilet of my local pool hall* and get it from him super cheap. The fact that I have legitimately purchased that product elsewhere doesn’t change the fact that I am in receipt of stolen goods.


    * This is a 1990s Vancouver reference. RIP Seymour Billiards.

  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 730
    edited January 12
    @John Hudson, this is the point where you and I annoy everyone with pedantry.  I agree with you because you changed the construct.  I was saying "is this act piracy?", by which I meant "is the end user a pirate?" to which I answered no.  You said, "the end user is engaging in piracy" because the person distributing the font is a pirate.  Can't disagree there, but you turned the conversation 180 degrees to get it.  That's not what I was talking about.  
  • As mentioned in my original post, we find that 50% of the time the fonts that have been dowloaded from pirate websites have then been renamed, sometimes anonymised, sometimes with the name of the license violator.
    There are some people who misunderstand the Adobe license, and there are a lot of people flagrantly lying and attempting to obscure their actions or imply their ownership.
  • Nadine ChahineNadine Chahine Posts: 13
    edited January 12
    @Miles Newlyn The best results we got out of Adobe was via the Adobe Type UI public petition that I started with Yves back at ATypI in 2014. You've described the problem quite well, and there are a few solutions that easily come to mind if the foundries come together and petition:

    - A reporting tool that foundries can use that alerts Adobe to license violations
    - A follow up email from Adobe that is sent to the user, with a link to the foundry website where they can get licenses. The email will be taken more seriously as it comes from Adobe itself, and is not phishing and carries the risk of losing one's subscription.

    This should resolve accidental piracy. Adobe might be reluctant to do this as it'll be a big annoyance to its users, in which case you guys need to team up and apply pressure. 


  • People often pay for DRM'ed ebooks then use unlawfully distributed, DRM-free copies because they are much easier to manage. I think a similar line if thinking might be at action here, at least for some cases.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,552
    edited January 12
    Joyce, I was responding directly to your statement
    If I am certain I have a license for a font and I use a pirate copy just because it's easier, having no idea that I am not licensed for it, I don't think that's piracy.
    I do think that is piracy. I might agree it doesn’t make you the ‘pirate’, but the activity is part of piracy; indeed, without such activity, piracy has no function: unlicensed distribution feeds and is fed by receipt of the pirated goods. It is because piracy profits from this activity that I disagree that it is morally persuasive that someone who believes themselves to have a legitimate license—or, even, unarguably has a legitimate license—is doing nothing wrong.

    If we wanted to frame this in terms of licensing—to give it a clear legal basis rather than a matter of ethical debate—, I would say that licenses should specify the chain of delivery between licensor and licensee. Many licenses—ours included—do this implicitly, by linking the use license to a purchase order associated with delivery of font files. Should we be doing it explicitly, i.e. making clear that obtaining font files from any source other than the licensing foundry or its licensed distributors is a contravention of the license?
  • Marc OxborrowMarc Oxborrow Posts: 215
    edited January 12
    If I understand Joyce's earlier post correctly, foundries receive streaming revenue regardless of which Creative Cloud licensee (e.g., design firm vs. end client) provides the code that enables Adobe Fonts to be used on a website.

    How do foundries lose revenue that instance?

    (Note that I'm not talking about self-hosted fonts, licensed or otherwise.)
  • c.g.c.g. Posts: 43
    edited January 12
    @c.g.  I'm not a lawyer but I know that sometimes in law an act is not theft without "actual malice".  That is to say if I rob a bank for the exact amount they have charged me in fees over the years, because I think their fees were wrong, I've still committed a crime (because I know that it is against the law to do it, no matter how much I rationalise it).  But, if I receive a payment from the bank that wasn't intended for me and I don't return it, because I have no idea it wasn't intended for me, I didn't commit a crime.  

    I think this situation is like that.  If I am certain I have a license for a font and I use a pirate copy just because it's easier, having no idea that I am not licensed for it, I don't think that's piracy.  I don't know if that argument would win in court (again, not a lawyer) but from a purely moral perspective I find it persuasive.  
    I'm not a lawyer too, and my post wasn't about ethical or legal implications. Just to be more clear:

    1) I generate a kit (<link rel="stylesheet" href="https://use.typekit.net/xxxxxxx.css">) and use it on a client's website? Ok, maybe I'm in good faith and didn't read the license agreement. Happens.

    2) I download a woff file from whatever and place it on a client's website? Call it as you prefer, but this is technically an act of piracy. Maybe "Mr. Adidas" doesn't even even know or care about the fonts used on adidad.com, but someone at a certain point committed an act of piracy.

    3) I copy the files from my PC and distribute them? Well, this is an act of piracy.

    Except no. 1, it's impossible to violate Adobe license without knowing what you are doing.
  • If I understand Joyce's earlier post correctly, foundries receive streaming revenue regardless of which Creative Cloud licensee (e.g., design firm vs. end client) provides the code that enables Adobe Fonts to be used on a website.

    How do foundries lose revenue that instance?
    Thats why the original Typekit license was not terribly controversial. Whether it’s a customer’s website or a client of the customer, all the web traffic (pageviews) for that customer’s account will still be counted — and generate the same royalties for the foundry.

    I can’t remember the details now, but I think there was a desire to simplify the later Adobe license. And there was a “reseller” angle in that early model that wasn’t so compatible with the Creative Cloud subscription model. Generally, Adobe doesn’t want CC subscribers reselling or sharing their subscription entitlements.
  • k.l. said:
    The main problem is the team there is small and lacks the time to do it, ...
    Since switching to subscription, Adobe is being showered with money, hiring some more people should be an easy thing to do.
    I agree in spirit — but you can say that about any large, successful company and still find that for some reason they have chosen to cap the number of employees at some amount. There is always a need for more people to do more things. The Type team was always understaffed, at least from the perspective of those on the team. Not enough people to do the things the team considered worthwhile. (In my time, there was a moment following the Typekit acquisition where it sorta felt like we did have enough people to do all the things.)

    Many of the things my team (the licensing/sales/business team) had to do relied on other Adobe teams — particularly Adobe’s legal team. Then it becomes a matter of convincing a totally different org to allocate resources to assist Type efforts (for license compliance or whatever). It was always extremely frustrating, and probably still is.

    So yes, I assure you that a large part of the people working at Adobe very often tell their managers “It should be easy to hire more people to help with this.”
  • k.l.k.l. Posts: 77
    edited January 13
    The edit that @JoyceKetterer said she once had suggested to you would have cost the company nothing.
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