Intellectual property protection of typefaces
|Intellectual property law|
|Sui generis rights|
Typefaces, fonts and characters raise intellectual property considerations in copyright, trademark and design patent law. The copyright status of typefaces varies between jurisdictions. In the United States, typefaces, the abstract designs embodied in fonts, are excluded from copyright protection, but are still subject to design patent and trademark. In the U.S. copyright still applies to scalable computer fonts themselves.
Under U.S. law, typefaces and the characters they contain are considered to be utilitarian objects whose utility outweighs any merit that may exist in protecting their creative elements. Typefaces are exempt from copyright protection in the United States (Code of Federal Regulations, Ch 37, Sec. 202.1(e); Eltra Corp. vs. Ringer). However, this finding was limited in Adobe Systems, Inc. v. Southern Software, Inc., wherein it was held that scalable computer fonts, i.e., the instructions necessary to render a typeface, constitute a "computer program" for the purposes of copyright law and hence are subject to protection. Hence the computer file(s) associated with a scalable font will generally be protected even though the specific design of the characters is not. Furthermore, a rasterized representation (e.g. bitmap) of the characters in a scalable font is not protected by copyright in the United States. According to section 503.02(a) of Compendium II: Copyright Office Practices, typography and calligraphy are not copyrightable in themselves in the U.S.
England recognized copyright in typeface at least as early as 1916. The current United Kingdom copyright statute, enacted in 1989, expressly refers to copyrights in typeface designs. English law does consider that fonts are subject to copyright. However this only covers typefaces for 25 years from first publication, and does not cover their usage by typographers.
Irish copyright law also covers typeface. Like its United Kingdom counterpart, it except using the typeface in the ordinary course of printing from infringement. The term of protection is 15 years from first publication.
In Switzerland, there is no specific law for the protection of typefaces. The jurisdiction so far has been very reluctant in admitting legal protection of any sort to typefaces. However, the denied protection is not imperative: in theory typefaces could be protected based on both copyright and design law. Additionally, the name of a typeface can be protected by a trademark.
In Japan, typeface has been held not to be covered by copyright, on the ground that it functions primarily as a means of communicating information, rather than to appeal to aesthetic appreciation.
Design patents 
Typefaces as such may be protected by a design patent in many countries (either automatically, or by registration, or by some combination thereof). A design patent is the strongest system of protection but the most uncommon. It is the only US legal precedent that protects the actual design (the design of the individual shapes of the letters) of the font. A prominent example is the European Union, where the automatic protection (without registration) expires after three years and can be extended (by registration) up to 25 years.
Germany (in 1981) passed a special extension (Schriftzeichengesetz) to the design patent law (Geschmacksmustergesetz) for protecting typeface designs. This permits typefaces being registered as designs in Germany, too.
The names of particular fonts may be protected by a trademark.This is the weakest form of protection because only the font name itself is being protected. For example, the letters that make up the trademarked font Palatino can be copied but the name must be changed.
The basic standard for copyrighted digital font use is that a license is required for each individual font or typeface used on a computer or in the case of businesses 1 per entity. Under the license, typically, fonts are licensed only for use on one computer. These End User License Agreements (EULAs) generally state that fonts may only be used on machines that have a valid license. These fonts cannot be shared by multiple computers or given to others. These licenses can be obtained in three ways: directly from the font authors (e.g., Adobe), as part of a larger software package (e.g., Microsoft Office), or through purchasing or downloading the font from an authorised outlet.
Note that this license only applies to the font file (which is a computer program), and not to the shape of the typeface.
In October 2009, a $2 million copyright infringement lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court by Font Bureau. They charged NBC, the television network, with neglecting to secure rights of fonts used on The Jay Leno Show and Saturday Night Live. According to the suit, NBC used three of Font Bureau's trademarked fonts in their marketing campaign. They purchased one software license and distributed copies of fonts called, Bureau Grotesque, interstate and Antenna.
From 1993 to 1995, Bitstream Inc. and four other type companies successfully sued SWFTE for copyright infringement. SWFTE was using special computer programs to take other typefounders' fonts, convert them and give them new names. The case focused on the fact that SWFTE had used Bitstream's software to create these new fonts.
A legal precedent was set in the case of Adobe vs. Southern Software Inc. (SSI). SSI had used the FontMonger program to copy and rename fonts from Adobe and others. They assumed safety from prosecution because, though they had directly copied the points that define the shapes from Adobe's fonts, they had made slight adjustments to all the points so they were not technically identical. Nevertheless, it was determined that the computer code had been copied.
See also 
- "Stephenson, Blake and Co. v. Grant, Legros & Co., 115 L.T.R. 666, 61 Sol. J. 55 (1916), reprinted in E.J. MacGillivray, Copyright Cases 1911-1916 326-329 (1969), aff'd 116 L.T.R. 268 (1917), noted in 13 Eng. and Empire Digest 68, 68-69. The court recognized that the typeface design was subject to copyright under the then-current Copyright Act of 1911, An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Law Relating to Copyright, 1911, 1 & 2 Geo. 5, ch. 46 (Eng.). However, the plaintiff's victory was hollow. The court held that the copyright protected only the design in its entirety, with all the letters in their particular order. The defendant's embodiment of them into a font of his own, as opposed to a reproduction of the design with the letters in the same order, was held not to infringe. MacGillivray , supra at 327-28." Terrence J. Carroll, Protection For Typeface Designs: A Copyright Proposal, 10 Santa Clara Computer & High Tech. L.J. 139, 169, n.181.
- Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48), § 54 (England)
- Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 (Ireland), §§ 84-85. Accessed January 31, 2013.
- Valentin Blank, Der Schutz typographischer Schriftzeichen und Schriften im Schweizer Recht, Bern 1999 (http://www.vblank.ch/articles/font-protection/index-g.html)
- Yagi v. Kashiwa Shobo K.K., II-1 Chosakuken Hanreishu 8 (9 Mar. 1979, Tokyo District Court) (the Typeface Design Case), cited in Karjala, Dennis S.; Sugiyama, Keiji (Autumn, 1988). "Fundamental Concepts in Japanese and American Copyright Law". The American Journal of Comparative Law 36 (4): 613, 625–26. JSTOR 840277.
- Gaultney, Victor (October 31, 2003). "Font Licensing and Protection Details". Sil International and UNESCO. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
- OAMI-ONLINE - The Community Design in Practice
- OAMI-ONLINE - The Community Design in Practice
- Haley, Allan. "Where Did You Get Your Fonts? A $2 million suit against NBC over three fonts is a reality check on managing licenses." 2009