Whose font is it anyway?

Or ... why the fonts you're using might not be doing you much good

Daniel Will-Harris

Visit Typofile

  It's clear by your presence here that you enjoy fonts—you might just find them fun, or you might realize the power they have to help enhance communication. Either way, you use type—and that's good.

But what you probably don't know could hurt you—and the very type designers who are creating so many wonderful new typefaces.

What you don't know (and don't feel alone, many people don't) is that typefaces (the design of an alphabet that's inside a font) are just like other computer programs: they're useful, valuable pieces of art and software combined.

Unfortunately, people who don't understand the work involved in creating a typeface are copying typefaces, putting them on their Websites, and giving them away for free. You might think that's good for you, but in reality, it's as bad for you as it is for the type designer.

Type designers are just like you—they have to work for a living (much to their chagrin). Their work is creating new fonts. When someone gives away a piece of their work, they get nothing. It's the same as if you'd worked for weeks on an important project, and once the project's done and everyone says you did a good job, they also tell you they aren't going to pay you because they already have the project in hand!

If type designers can't make a living, then they have to get a "real" job (which most of them have to have anyway, since no one in history has ever gotten rich by designing a typeface—even those used most often). This means less time to spend creating new typefaces, which means fewer great new fonts for you to use.

How to protect yourself, and type designers

  • Avoid fonts on shareware Websites. Yes, they're tempting, but many of these sites contain commercial fonts that have been stolen! It's difficult to tell, because often the names are changed to protect the guilty. Using these fonts can cause problems for you, and your company.

  • Download fonts only from legitimate type foundries and designers such as the sites listed in our insight section or on the Internet Type Foundry Index. These sites contain many wonderful typefaces that you know designers wanted you to have, for free (out of the goodness of their hearts—and also in hopes of enticing you to buy more fonts).

  • If you feel like a change of face, buy a font. They're not very expensive, they're useful, and they're fun. It's like buying art you can use. Good, high-quality fonts help you make the best impression, whether you use them for your personal or business documents, or print them one-letter-per-page to post your favorite sayings on the walls of a room.

  • Don't give fonts to your friends ... unless you delete the font from your own disk. Think of a book—you can lend it to a friend, but when they have it, you don't. It's the same with fonts: unless it was free in the first place (and the license doesn't say otherwise), it's illegal for you to give it away.

Remember: fonts may just seem like another file on your hard disk, but they're "intellectual property." Just as you wouldn't steal a real item from a store, you shouldn't steal a font—it really is the same thing. Maybe you didn't realize you were doing anything wrong in the past (many people don't, so you might want to tell your friends and colleagues), but now you know better. The type designers will thank you—and promise never to ask you to do a job, then not pay you for it!


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