Typeface vs font in licensing
A typeface is a set of letters, numbers and symbols that share a consistent design look, therefore having nothing to do with the actual piece of data that is licensed. A font, on the other hand, comes in the form of a computer file, software or a program that sends a signal to your computer to display each character in a certain way. In conclusion, typefaces are subject to copyright, whereas fonts are protected by software licenses depending on the use case.
How did font licensing become necessary?
Understanding font licensing requires a short travel back in time. Both physical fonts (used for more than 500 years) and 20th-century phototypesetting disks were limited to local use and one typesetter working with a font at any given time.
In the 1980s desktop publishing was invented and fonts became digital, which in turn made font licensing necessary, as every font was now a software product.
Picture a designer sitting behind a computer attached to output devices like printers and imagesetters. The first licenses were specifically arranged to be used on a computer attached to output devices (printers and imagesetters) allowing only a small number of CPUs (central processing unit — picture it as the brain of your computer) and output devices. However, over the years font licenses slowly shifted and incorporated additional metrics and pricing models.
This principle is key when exploring the basics of font licensing. Today, font licensing costs are based on quantitative parameters such as the number of users, the number of devices the font is going to be installed on, or the number of views a website gets.
Definition of font licensing
When fonts were still physical objects (movable-type used woodblock letters and metal ones later on) you couldn’t become the owner of the type design itself, but you could own the physical medium to which the design was tied to. Digital objects on the other hand can’t work like this, as they are a piece of data (that any user could duplicate and share at any given time) with no physical medium attached. Fonts are first and foremost a software product and as such are subjects of licensing.Legally there can be only one owner and that is the owner of the typeface itself. The owner can therefore make the content available to others through licensing. In a former sense, it means that:
Font licensing is the act of granting permission to use a digital font in a specific way.
So, when you buy a font you actually obtain permission to use it according to the conditions outlined in the specific font license. These need to be clearly defined in an official document that binds you and the owner of the digital font with a contract that is to be respected on both sides.
Who has control over font licenses?
When purchasing retail or downloading free fonts you become a licensee and are issued a license for a specific use. The people who have exclusive rights over a digital font are the sole creators of the software product. The ones who have control over the font licenses, on the other hand, could be the creators, but also the vendors of the fonts — such as type foundries like ourselves (or independent type designers) and resellers like MyFonts, FontSpring, FontShop, etc.
The majority of digital products users (ourselves included) have at one point or another skipped reading the terms and conditions when downloading or purchasing online. Keep in mind that when researching for a new font you should always be presented with a license agreement beforehand and read the document in detail before committing to your final decision. Once you’ve completed the transaction the license that was issued to you cannot be changed. It can either be revoked (if you’ve been in breach of the contract) or it can expire (if it’s issued for a set period of time).
What is an End-User License Agreement (EULA)?
The conditions you agree to when purchasing a paid font or downloading a free one are arranged in an End-User License Agreement (or EULA for short). This agreement states all types of licenses offered, along with any rules and limits you (and your client when working for hire) are bound to follow.
There are two types of user licenses:
– Standard End-User License
– Custom End-User License
– Standard End-User License
A Standard User License is issued with individual font purchases on platforms and is most commonly predefined. As it is issued for popular uses of fonts, the standard user license includes typical terms and conditions, fixed for individuals, small teams, and larger companies.
Custom End-User License
Catering specific inquiries mostly by companies, the custom end-user licenses might include a higher number of users (or an unlimited one), additional licenses for video, app creation, transferable rights, etc. Pricing is tailored to the scope of the company after a professional consultation and negotiations with the font’s owners. Now that we’ve covered the question of legality, let’s move on to the more practical steps to successfully choosing the right font.
Personal vs commercial projects
Naturally, it’s time to establish what your main goals for using a font would be. In a nutshell, there are two general types of usage — personal and commercial.
Examples of personal use:
Also known as private use, it would be something you develop independently and without direct commercial intent — your own website, a university project, or a DIY design of a poster for a birthday gift.
Typically, a desktop license covers just about anything you are willing to create on your computer. If you’re a student and on a tight budget as it is, it’s very likely that you already have a good amount of typefaces to choose from, that come with software on your computer, so make sure you’ve checked this guilt-free collection. It can carry most personal projects in a breeze.
Commercial font licensing
When it comes to commercial use, licensing includes all types of communication materials that you would use for business (both internal and external) and on behalf of your clients — logos, business cards, websites, banner ads, etc.
Working on behalf of clients means you’re responsible for navigating them through the whole process of choosing the right fonts. Always make sure that the fonts in mind come with proper licensing and that all the client’s needs are met in the EULA.
Font licensing examples available out there
What you plan to do with a font is the most relevant indicator of what licensing types you need to research. A single font can undergo many practical use cases, so we organised real-life font licensing examples that may concern you (as an End User) into two categories:
1. Popular licenses
– Web font
– Digital Ads
Probably the most common option out there, this license covers most commercial font usage. The desktop license enables you to create graphical designs (logos, print collateral, signs, etc.) and products (all offline merchandise included) for yourself and your clients. The final products may be sold for profit as long as the letters are not the main selling point of your product. Embedding fonts with a desktop license is limited in most cases with a few exceptions (such as a .pdf report).
This license is limited by the number of “users” and devices using the font. Practically, it enables you to install a font on your computer and use it for a whole range of offline purposes. Keep in mind that the number of users allowed to install the font under the issued license should not be exceeded. One thing that is strictly illicit is to give the desktop-licensed fonts to your clients. If this is the case, they will need to purchase their own desktop license.
A web font license enables you to embed font files into the CSS code of your website. You will be provided with instructions and special files that are built for the web, so when properly embedded the fonts will display on the end user’s screen correctly. When using a web font you may be asked to embed some code in your website so that the vendor or the foundry can track your traffic and make sure you’re not cutting corners with your licenses. When users access your website, their web browser will automatically download your embedded fonts temporarily for the session. Specifying fonts for web copy is different from using fonts for desktop publishing or word processing applications, where any way to select a block of text and apply a font or style counts. Keep in mind that if you plan to use a static image (also called rasterised image) that includes a font in a web environment, you won’t need a web font license, but a desktop one. Web fonts are limited by monthly “page views”, which measure the traffic of users to your web pages. On rare occasions, web font licenses will have no traffic restrictions and work on a limited time and/or domain basis instead.
If you or your clients plan to create an accompanying app in addition to the website, the web font license excludes the use of fonts in the application software. If you need to embed a font in an app’s code, you’ll need a separate app font license to do so. Most commonly, these come on a per-app basis and costs may ramp up as the user base grows.
The same goes for ePub formats – for example, digital books and digital magazines. Beware of the licensing conditions over here, as you may need to re-license a font if you update and release a new version of an ebook, or you may need to purchase a new license for each issue of the magazine you put out. There also may be requirements regarding readership numbers and timescale, so read the agreement thoroughly before buying.
If you’re pursuing an online business that sells customisable products, you might want to research the server font license. It is most commonly used in print on-demand platforms, which enable customers to personalise white-label products (like T-shirts, tote bags, etc.) with their own typesetting using the provided fonts. This type of license may have a time limit and you may need to purchase a license for each CPU in your server package.
A common scenario in the design industry is when you work at a marketing agency to design HTML banners and/or other digitally embedded dynamic ads for your clients. The fonts you usе are installed on third-party websites for the duration of the ad and therefore need proper licensing. A typical misconception is that you need a font license for digital ads when using static (rasterised) images for banner ads. Myth busted – in this case all you’ll need is a desktop license.
Easily the most popular font licensing option out there, but also the trickiest. Many of the free fonts offered on the market lack the quality you get with fonts designed by a reputable foundry. Always read the agreement before committing to a final choice and if such is not provided beforehand, better research other sources.
Often designers prefer to use the font catalogs provided by SIL, Apache, Google Fonts, etc. All fonts included come with an Open Font License (or OFL in short) – a free software license that permits the fonts to be used, modified, and distributed freely. This type of license is as liberal as it gets when it comes to deriving another font from an existing one and even naming it (as long as the resulting fonts remain under the OFL).
2. Additional licenses
These cater to the more specific needs individuals, companies, and corporations have, thus falling into the category of custom font licensing, where both the conditions, and the pricing are evaluated based on each use case, additional research, and the project’s scope after a discussion and consultation with the font’s owners.
– Analog Distribution & Product Creation
– App Creation
– Website templates
– OEM Embedding
Broadcast licensing refers to anything related to using font software for onscreen broadcasting via television, film, or video and specifically for dynamic text which is used for titling, credits, etc. Production companies, studios, and individual creatives (such as vloggers) need to contact us to use any of our fonts for broadcasting purposes.
When working on a new commercial game, game developers always include font research into their software development. Gaming licenses for fonts are very similar to app licenses and their pricing would depend on the scope of the game and the number of users it would potentially attract. High-quality fonts complement the compound effect on gameplay typography and user experience.
Analog Distribution & Product Creation
Falling into the same category, both cases imply that the font itself is the primary or one of the primary selling points of the products. As the users of these products can create their own typesetting, you’ll need to license the font in order to financially profit from such business without breaking the law. The analog distribution might include products such as stamps, house numbers, or label makers. As for product creation, the most popular example would be websites or applications which allow your customers to customize, proof, and purchase products such as mugs, magnets, business cards, etc. where the font is used in the design of the final physical product.
Digital platforms (such as Canva and PicsArt Photo Studio) allow their users to pick and choose from a set of fonts and generate their own designs and images, which are then used for both personal and commercial purposes. In order to offer this set of fonts to users who pay fees and subscription plans, such businesses need to purchase an app creation license from the fonts’ owners.
Another example from the digital world is that you might be the owner of a website publishing platform (such as Wix or Squarespace) that offers customers website templates with typography options which are then implemented in their personal websites hosted on your server. The fonts you embed in the templates need proper licensing and the customers must not have access to the fonts’ files in any way.
Imagine you develop and manufacture a device such as a television panel, phone, computer, etc. and you need to embed a font as the resident font in the device. In order to do that, you need to be issued a license for this particular font.
Unlimited licenses work best for large organisations, who need to use a font on as many computers as they wish and for any offline purposes they might need. Such license covers all environments – from apps to advertising campaigns – perpetually. Unlimited licenses are negotiated with the font owners (the type foundries in most cases) and are valued based on the scope of the company and additional research.
Most often exclusive font licenses are issued when a company or a design agency approaches a type foundry for a bespoke custom typeface. Under this license, the client would be the only organisation able to use the font and the type foundry cannot offer this digital product to other clients. The pricing here is flexible and depends on the scope of the project.If in doubt contact us
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