Font Licensing Rabbit Hole

I am working on defining a special license for usage of the font in animation.

This is because an animated font is a separate product, so I would like to prohibit users to animate the font (decompose glyph parts/animate them) and sell it as a derivative product (or at least this would require a special license). On the other side, I feel that common usage of the font in animation is completely OK (for example letters of the text appear from different directions and have a glitch effect etc.).

In other words, it's ok to use the font in animation but it's not ok to animate the font. In this sense, I differ two levels: "text level animation" (ok) and "glyph level" animation (not ok). 

But I found it tricky to articulate this idea through the license text, for two reasons:

- Not sure how to define a thin line between client work and derivative product (this applies to classic usage of the font as well). Here is an example: A user buys the font, and then on Fiverr offers the service to provide you rasterized text in that font. Technically it's client work and it doesn't violate the license, but practically it not a client work it's selling a derivative product (more practically redistribution). There is a term in licenses that requires that text must be a part of a bigger design in order to be considered as an element and not as a product itself. But again, this is a thin line, because you interfere with possible minimalism of creative work (take logo wordmarks for example). How this is usually regulated?

- The second reason is that applying animation effects over the text is an additional step that I don't know how to treat. Take the example from above and include applying animation effects on it (fade-in, glitch, color effects, blur whatever). Is it derivative work then? Let's say a user types the text "PARTY" and apply various effects on it. Is it ok that she/he can sell that as an animated SVG/GIF? And is it ok that someone offers the service to type the custom word and applies own animation effects over it? In my opinion—NOT—but how to say this?

I was hoping that this topic is interest of more type designers and that we can put it simply here and articulate the terms in this area which are generally acceptable :) Thanks.



  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 780
    edited December 2019
    I think i'd need to talk to you to understand the real nuances  here  but let me draw two parallels:

    webfonts and letterform  products

    Neither of  these  are  permitted under  my basic  license.  Don't go read on our website because the explanation of letterform product there is poorly written and we no longer permit webfont licensees to make their own.   

    A webfont is a derivative in a technical  sense because the font  is reformatted.  So, for some time we expressly permitted the reformatting in the addendum and  told them they  had to use fontsquirrel and had to retain the name of the font.  

    For letterform products,  the issue is that it's simply not a use of the font software so  much  as it  a use of  the typeface to  which we reserve our  rights. But  since the process of creating a letterform product doesn't feel different to the customer we need to explain  why.  We can get away with  this mostly because this is a fairly uncommon use case.  Here's the language  that will go  in the next update to  our EULA:

    You are permitted to use the fonts on products (either to sell or give away), so long as the glyphs are deployed for language-based communication, including in a name, logo or slogan. Non-language-based-communication uses (what we refer to as “letter-form products”) include, by way of example only and not as a limitation, a kit comprised of stickers of individual glyphs for scrapbookers that they may use in any order they choose. The right to make letter-form products is subject to a royalty, rather than a license fee, which must be negotiated with Darden Studio.

    Perhaps that's something here you can  apply to you situation?  I would think one of the things you could do  is add this use  case to the clause of your EULA that forbids reselling.
  • Maybe it is just me, but the difficulty of the no-animation clause suggests to me that this is a line you shouldn’t try to draw. It will confuse users, and require careful reading.

    This reflects my general biases, mind you. I prefer relatively simple EULAs which are both not burdened with a long list of restrictions, and not too complicated in general.
  • @JoyceKetterer

    Thanks for the detailed answer! Letterform products are similar to what I am concerned with.

    I have started with the idea of preventing animators to make and sell an animated font without purchasing a special license for that (
    one of my fonts is animated, and it is sold as a separate product. The animator and I have a special agreement about the license.)

    It is pretty much understood that it's not allowed even without any warning. But I got a specific question from one animator, so I thought it is a good moment to define what's ok and what's not. 

    That's when I fell into the rabbit hole, because I tried to translate common sense into the precise definition while trying to prevent workarounds (this is where it's close to a letterform product, for example, a case of providing letter by letter animated on the stock market).

    Furthermore, I realized that situations which are hard to define are not related only to animation case, but for font licensing in general, like the situation where one can offer a service of providing rasterized text to the clients in particular font for $1 i.e., so the client doesn't have to purchase the font in order to use it for the logo. (which is a sci-fi probability—I hope)

    But as @Thomas Phinney suggested, maybe I shouldn't try to regulate everything. I will try to find a reasonable definition, like yours. Once again, thanks for the answer, it helped me to understand the matter and notions better :)

  • @Igor Petrovic  I mostly agree with @Thomas Phinney

    Your scenario of $1 for an  image isn't sci fi.  It's the graphic design business model.  They do charge for  their services where the deliverable is a design product that includes fonts.  Frankly, that's what fonts are for and the reason one would have a  graphic  designer do it is because they are (presumably) better able to  use the  tool than you.  It's quickly more expensive than licensing the  font directly.

    We allow any treatment to font that falls into a normal set of services offered by  graphic  designers.  I'd count animation  in  that category so long as it doesn't involve embedding of the fonts.  Further, I'd not count creating documents in the  category if you do  so  through proprietary software  that embeds  the fonts which is tantamount to web embedding on a new outlet website.  

    Perhaps  you're fixating on the wrong thing by worrying  about animation?
  • @JoyceKetterer

    Perhaps I wasn't clear enough :) What you are describing is perfectly fine, and I agree that's fonts are for.

    But imagine this scenario (not very probable): Website/service appears and says:
    "Hi, clients and designers. There is no need for you to spend $50 buying the font, just because you need it for the logo. We already bought them for you, just send the name and slogan for your brand and we will provide you vector outlines in all weights for $1"

    There is no any graphic design included, just plain redistribution, which still doesn't violate the license. 

  • As for the animation, here is my font Prota:

    And here is the font Prota Animated:

    The animator and I have an agreement about the terms under which this derivative product can be made. I would like to prevent animators to make derivative like this (through the workaround similar to the one I described in my last message above) without my permission.
  • @Igor Petrovic  not unlikely.  These exist. The only way they are viable is as multi or single page apps.  There's always embedding.  Just require extra licensing for embedding and distinguish between conventional sites and web apps.  You can also forbid web to print in your standard web licensing.  
  • @JoyceKetterer

    Thanks, that's interesting, I didn't know about that. Do you maybe remember some examples of such service/site?
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 780
    edited December 2019
    @Igor Petrovic There's one called slidebean
  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 248
    edited December 2019

    Thanks, but as I can tell this kind of usage requires "app license". This is very different from what I described (delivering outlined fonts to the customers and having that as the only service of the site).
  • @Igor Petrovic definitely not an app license.  A lot of foundries would call it a "server license". I license it using my web addendum with a different pricing table (since page vies doesn't work) and a modification to permit web to print. 

    I'm not sure how it's different - unless their business model charged since I last looked.  I think you're describing exactly what this site is.  You use templates to make documents you download as pdf.  
  • If the animation is in a video, you font cannot be copied or extracted, because it has already been rendered as images.And I honestly can't see a substantive difference between animating whole letters or parts of them.
  • @JoyceKetterer

    I understand. When I said it's different, I meant that this kind of usage is not allowed by the Desktop license at least. Thanks for your answers again, they helped me to shape my Desktop license addendum.


    Seems that I have a different point of view on this subject than most type designers here :) But that's ok I just wanted to hear other opinions as well. Thanks for your answer!

  • @Igor Petrovic

    Most foundries don't focus on animation because it's not a common enough  use case for us to care.  I can understand why, if it's part of  your  business model, you would care.  The  is similar to   how foundries  who  make a lot  of logo types tend to be the ones who don't permit logo use  under their basic license.  It's a shame,  from a pure clarity of message  perspective, that these factors  enter in to muddy things.  As a licensing wonk, my  only interest in that EULAs be clear and understandable.  



  • @JoyceKetterer

    I totally agree (because I know how I like to see a simple—a few line—license when I buy). I tried my best to put it in two sentences/one line :)
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 780
    edited December 2019
    @Igor Petrovic  You should ask an attorney if a license that short could possibly be enforceable.  Ours is three pages and it's one of the more clear in the industry.  Going by logic alone (i'm not a lawyer), there's just far too much ground to cover for me to think it could be done in an enforceable way in less than a page.
  • Heh. I assumed he meant just that particular clause of the license.  :)
  • OFL fits in a page ;) 

    But even mit license is not just a few lines. 
  • Christopher SlyeChristopher Slye Posts: 138
    edited December 2019
    My preferred term for Joyce's "letter-form product" is "typesetting system." The way I use it, it's meant to describe some use of the font that allows a third party to use individual letters for their own typesetting. This could apply to some alternate font format, a set of SVG outlines, or physical letters (e.g. stickers, wood blocks).
    I agree with Thomas and Joyce that trying to carve out an exception for certain kinds of animation sounds problematic. Better to fit it into something that is more familiar, understandable and enforceable, IMO.
    It seems like part of your concern could also be covered by a separate license for commercial use. (You referred to a licensee selling stuff which would otherwise require a third party to buy the font.) Maybe that doesn't quite cover everything you're concerned about, though.
    Where I work, we generally want people to use a font in the creation of their own work. That obviously excludes typesetting systems, but can include document embedding (when the font is used to render the document content) and form fields -- which might receive and display user text, but only when the primary purpose is the collection of text information, not the creation of new work by a third party. (For example, "Submit your name and address" is okay; "Enter text for your own greeting card" is not.)
    Joyce, you referred to a webfont being "derivative in a technical sense because the font is reformatted." I'm intrigued by this because I'm not certain what your definition of "webfont" is here. If you're referring to a WOFF, then I could nitpick the word "reformatted," because WOFF was developed explicitly to be a wrapper, not a conversion per se. Admittedly it's a semantic point, but for me, WOFF is very much like ZIP -- in that it's meant to act as a secure container to facilitate transmission of a file. When a WOFF gets to a browser, it's unwrapped and the browser just sees the original font, for all intents and purposes.
  • @Christopher Slye  You hit immediate on why I use the term I do... I want to be highly specific and narrow.  Also, the word "product" is really important.  If a brand design called for making blocks and then putting them in a specific order (say for signage) I'd not consider that to require additional licensing. 

    The point is to reserve for ourselves the right to exploit the visual aesthetics of the glyphs.  That's why we make the distinction that whenever the point is the communication of language it's fine.  Think sets of letters but also single letter keychains and pillows and such where the point is to enjoy the glyph.

    We want to be very clear that we are licensing the FONT as a tool and not the glyphs as shapes.  This is why we go out of our way to say that if you are to make an arrangement to make letterform products it will be a royalty agreement and not an addendum to the basic license.

    With regards to a commercial license... my opinion based on interactions with customers  is that they never understand it.  I lean towards making the basic level the commercial level and pricing accordingly.  
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,863
    Admittedly it's a semantic point, but for me, WOFF is very much like ZIP
    WOFF is a wrapper and very much like zip; WOFF2 is a reformatting.

  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 780
    edited December 2019
    @John Hudson and @Christopher Slye -

    I'm sure you are right in some abstract way but for the sake of simplicity and for lay people (in this case myself included) I'd rather have a somewhat over simplified definition that if the file type changes it's a derivative.  Zip doesn't literally change the suffix for the file.  
  • Christopher SlyeChristopher Slye Posts: 138
    edited December 2019
    Admittedly it's a semantic point, but for me, WOFF is very much like ZIP
    WOFF is a wrapper and very much like zip; WOFF2 is a reformatting.

    Thanks for pointing that out. When you say "reformatting" here, you're referring generally to the lossy transformations that take place during WOFF2 encoding? (And the current spec in its use of the word "may" implies that the process isn't necessarily lossy, but perhaps is likely to be so.)

    Or are you referring to something else?

    It's interesting that the spec describes WOFF2 as a "font packaging format."
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,863
    When you say "reformatting" here, you're referring generally to the lossy transformations that take place during WOFF2 encoding?
    Yes. The pre-processing of the font data as part of the WOFF2 compression is something other than simply zipping the data. I think the characterisation of WOFF2 as a 'font packaging format' is apt: it isn't just a wrapper, it's more like a disassembled flat pack.

Sign In or Register to comment.