TrueType fonts w/ Sanskrit & Japanese diacritics

Mon Dec 18 15:27:16 UTC 1995

Hello all. Some time ago Indology hosted a small thread of discussion 
about copyrights and fonts; having announced TrueType font availablity, 
some concern has again arisen about this subject. I didn't reply at the 
time of the original discussion but below is a text describing the US 
Copyright offical policy; I got it from a font source and from I can 
tell by monitoring the font news groups it is legit-- in any case, it has 
guided my approach (well, "information wants to be free" and "Steal This 
Book" have also influenced me a bit).

Jamie Hubbard, Smith College


                A Victory for American Freedom of the Press.

BELOW IS THE OFFICIAL SUMMARY of the US Copyright Office's September 1988
determination that font software is not copyrightable (For 6 pages of full
text, see the Federal Register reference).  This decision extended to font
software the long-standing Copyright Office policy and clear intent of
Congress that letterforms in general are not copyrightable.  The implication
is that font software in the form of bit maps, metric files, parametric
outline descriptions, and so on may be freely copied; and that any copyright
asserted by the originator is nonsense and in fact may endanger the copyright
on associated software.  The Copyright Office upholds the decision as necessary
to freedom of the press, since if fonts were protected by copyright, virtually
nothing could be copied since most documents use licensed fonts.

It appears to me that computer users are not widely taking advantage of the
benefits of this decision, probably because it has not gotten much publicity.
Of course the font publishers charging as much as hundreds of dollars for a
single font do not want you to know about the state of affairs.

While fonts may be freely copied, some restrictions do apply to ancillary
items.  Computer programs to generate fonts ARE copyrightable like any
ordinary software, except to the extent that they contain data for the fonts.
Thus a font scaling program is copyrightable, but the font outlines used by
such a program would not be, nor would the bit map or metrics output from the

Another restriction arises when using trademarks like "Helvetica" without
permission of the owner.  For example, you can copy the Helvetica font but
you cannot call it Helvetica, because that name happens to be a trademark.
Perhaps users could standardize on some public-domain "code names" for the
trademark names of popular fonts.  I have seen some software publishers using
their own names for "clone" font software with a note like, "similar to
Helvetica" and a fine-print trademark acknowledgement.  That is, they hint
that you are getting Helvetica, while skirting the trademark issue with the
"similarity" language.  Or, they use a synonymous name (like "Swiss" for
"Helvetica").  Whether these tricks would really protect you against trademark
infringement if you tried to peddle third-party fonts is an unsettled matter.

Still other restrictions on your copying font software apply if you have signed
a license or other contract with the font publisher whereby you agreed to
limit your copying of the fonts.  Such a license might conceivably prevent you
from copying or selling font software sold to you by given publisher.
But anyone else whe has not signed such a contract and has gotten possession
of a font could copy it freely, even if that publisher only distributes its
fonts to licensees.  The same would apply to attempts at trade secret
protection, although it is hard to see how a font could be protected as a
trade secrect since to use it is to disclose it.

Bulletin board sysops probably should check the truth of what I am saying with
a "competent legal advisor" before they start a bonanza of font uploading.

Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  However, when you read the summary
below and look up the full text in the Federal Register, I am confident
you will agree that the decision is clear and direct to the effect that fonts
may be freely copied.  I hope that this will permit us as users to start sharing
fonts through all convenient means.

    Richard Kinch
    Kinch Computer Company
    501 S Meadow St
    Ithaca, NY 14850
    Telephone (607) 273-0222
    FAX (607) 273-0484

>From the Federal Register, Vol 53, No 189, Thursday, September 29, 1988.

Copyright Office (Docket No. 86-4)

Policy Decision on the Copyrightability of Digitized Typefaces.

Agency: Copyright Office, Library of Congress.

Action: Notice of policy decision.

SUMMARY: The purpose of this notice is to inform the public that the Copyright
Office has decided that digitized representations of typeface designs are not
registrable under the Copyright Act because they do not constitute original
works of authorship.  The digitized representations of typefaces are neither
original computer programs (as defined in 17 USC 101), nor original databases,
nor any other original work of authorship.  Registration will be made for
original computer programs written to control the generic digitization
process, but registration will not be made for the data that merely represents
an electronic depiction of a particular typeface or individual letterforms.
If this master computer program includes data that fixes or depicts a
particular typeface, typefont, or letterform, the registration application
must disclaim copyright in that uncopyrightable data.

EFFECTIVE DATE: September 28, 1988.

[Excerpts from the full text:]

...Variations of typographic ornamentation [or] "mere lettering" are not
copyrightable.... "It is patent that typeface is an industrial design in which
the design cannot exist independently and separately as a work of art." [Eltra
Corp v. Ringer, 579 F.2d 294 (4th Cir. 1978)].

The decision in Eltra Corp. v. Ringer clearly comports with the intention of
the Congress.  Whether typeface designs should be protected by copyright was
considered and specifically rejected by Congress in passing the Copyright Act
of 1978.

...Before the advent of digitized typeface technology, arguments were made
that, in creating new typeface designs, artists expended thousands of hours of
effort in preparing by hand the drawings of letters and characters that
ultimately would lead to the creation of an original type face design.  After
several years of consideration and a public hearing, the Copyright Office
found that this effort did not result in a work of authorship.

... There are fewer authorship choices involved in transforming an existing
analog typeface to an electronic font than in using the digitization process
to create a new typeface design.  Yet clearly the typeface design and the
process of creating it are uncopyrightable whether the process is digital or

... Typeface users ... in accordance with a congressional decision not to
protect typefaces, are entitled to copy this uncopyrightable subject matter.
... The congressional decision ... reflects a concern about inappropriate
protection of the vehicles for reproducing the printed word.

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