Web Fonts and the Law

Font software in the TrueType™, OpenType™ and legacy PostScript™ Type 1 format is protected by various Intellectual Property laws, including trademarks, copyrights and design patents.

When you purchase a commercial font, you are purchasing a license to use the font software. The End User License Agreement (EULA) describes the rights you are granted by the font vendor. Each font makers EULA will be different, and you need to carefully review the terms to understand what you can and cannot do with the licensed font.

Typically most font software EULAs define the number of computers you can install the font files onto, and what you can do with the font software (for example view, create, and print documents or files). You cannot make additional copies or distribute the font software beyond the number of licensed users or workstations. Further, most EULAs will describe whether fonts can be installed onto internal network servers, or internet servers, provided to service bureaus, modified or converted to other formats, or embedded into documents or redistributed in other ways.

Applications, authoring tools and operating systems provide various, often very powerful, ways to manipulate, package, embed and modify fonts. But just because your software makes it easy to do does not mean you have the legal rights to do so. That is why it is very important to understand the license agreement which covers various commercial fonts.

For embedding fonts into documents and web pages, we have compiled a summary of various EULAs from different type designers and font foundries, representing the diversity of rights font makers provide.

Legal Protections for Type Designers

The following is a brief description of the options available to type designers and font owners to protect their intellectual property:

  • TRADEMARK - The font names can be trademarked. The type designer/font owner can apply for a trademark with the United States Patent & Trademark Office, the European Union and other government agencies around the world.
  • COPYRIGHT - A font software program can be registered with a copyright. In the United States a copyright registration can now be made through the Copyright Office online system with a $35 filing fee. In Europe and all countries that are party to the Berne Convention, font software is automatically protected as a literary work.
  • DESIGN PROTECTION - In some cases and in some countries a typeface design may be protected by various laws. In the United States a font that is new, original and ornamental can seek a design patent with the USPTO. In the European Community a Registered Graphic Design registration covers graphic symbols and typographic typefaces.

It is up to the type designer and/or font owner to determine what level of legal protection is most appropriate for their font. There can be significant costs and time involved in applying for a trademark, copyright and/or design protection.

Please Contact Webtype if you have any questions on font licensing or to discuss your particular font needs.