Everyone Else Has Rights

Jack Yan


Copyright law seeks to protect the effort put in by creators of works, whether they be designers, architects, artists, or musicians. The effort, or the "sweat of the brow" as one English court put it, is subject to protection in most western jurisdictions. With the development of computer software, the need to protect intellectual property has become even greater.

As TypeRight will inform you on other pages, American law is sadly lacking in recognizing the type designers' efforts. Type design has as much effort as a melody of a song. And yet, those who employ no effort aside from filtering others' fonts through Fontographer and selling them under new names can often put up strong defences.

This is ironic, as the United States professes to be the leader in the protection of intellectual property. Type designers, instead, have to go through the process of patent registration.

In most Commonwealth and European nations, copyright has a far more stronger position. In terms of fonts, the spirit of copyright is evident. Font designers can protect their designs, simply by printing it out and putting a copyright symbol and their name onto the sheet. It gives them protection not just against people who take the font program and put it out under a new name, but against people who take the design itself.

The analogy in music is this: the first example is like where the recording of the song is bootlegged and sold. The second example is similar to someone taking the basic tune, and despite a rearrangement, it is still recognizably the same song.

In both cases, the copyright infringer has invested virtually no effort: the original work has been ripped off. Even in America, copyright recognizes the musician's claims and makes sure that the original composer can receive royalties.

Further, copyright outside the US protects the font both morally and financially. This means a designer has a moral right not to see the font interpreted in a sub-standard way. If a manufacturer buys the design but releases with bad letterspacing, then the designer has a right to complain. The finance argument is simple: everyone has a right to receive payment for their efforts. This, too, is denied in the US for font designers.

It is also a recognized, fundamental part of copyright that there should be protection for a work for a period after the death of the author. This period is between 50 and 75 years. After that, the work is considered to be in the public domain. This, like real property (e.g. houses, land) ensures that the designer's heirs can get something from the work.

The United States of America is a signatory of the Berne Convention which recognizes other jurisdictions' copyright. This means that the US has to respect the copyright on fonts produced in other western jurisdictions, even if it doesn't recognize her own. This position, certainly, is a little hard to swallow. Denying the rights of type designers in the States, when their overseas counterparts have the benefits of the above, is a curious situation which has got to be changed.

Jack Yan

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