Fonts and Copyright

Alec McAllister ECL6TAM at
Mon Jul 17 11:50:22 UTC 1995

>Date:          Sat, 15 Jul 1995 23:27:19 BST
>Reply-to:      indology at
>From:          giuseppe at (carlo della casa)
>To:            Members of the list <indology at>
>Subject:       Fonts and Copyright

>Alec McAllister may be quite right in his analysis of what might be considered
>a copyright violation - obviousy I will not be sending anyone anything through
>e-mail or post until the issue is perfectly cleared (which doesn't seem likely).
>Being quite ignorant of the intricate folds of UK law, I will limit myself to
>one question: does the license granted by a manufacturer on a font cease if I
>modify the font to make it better suit my needs (using a legally obtained pro-
>gram)? Conversely, can a manufacturer ever grant me a license on a product which
>it doesn't have, i.e. the modified font?
>I would appreciate comments on this matter - specifically, we are dealing with
>a personal, non-commercial use of a modified typeface which, in its basic form,
>is shipped with every Macintosh computer.
>Alex Passi

Dr Passi is right: "intricate" is the right word for this puzzling situation!

I am waiting for a response from this university's Faculty of Law 
(the person I contacted is on holiday just now), but I believe that 
it is entirely lawful to modify a font for one's own academic use, 
i.e. to produce private documents. (At least, that appears to be the 
situation in the UK.)
However, as soon as the use of the font passes beyond that, then it 
becomes a breach of copyright. IF I am right ( a big "if"  :-), this 
means that the use of the modified font is effectively limited to the 
person who modified it: he/she cannot use it for a publication or in 
teaching materials.

The situation is further complicated by the differences between 
national law codes and the complicated history of the litigation.

I believe (please correct me if I'm wrong), that in the USA there was 
a case in which the court decided that US law only copyrighted font
software, not the shape of the letters themselves, so that it would 
be perfectly legal to create (for example) a new version of the Times 
New Roman font, provided that each letter was "drawn" from scratch, 
without being copied from an existing piece of software. (This is 
like saying that I can create an exact replica of a Ferrari, without 
permission, and that I can call it a Ferrari, and sell it, provided 
that none of the metal that I make it from has ever been part of a 
real Ferrari!)

However, this extraordinary decision was reversed on appeal, when it 
was pointed out that it would have destroyed the entire 
font-producing industry, since no font-designer could ever claim 
copyright on the design of the letters.

During the interval between the two court cases, a great deal of 
misunderstanding arose, all over the world. I am sure that this has 
led to a number of entirely innocent breaches of the law by people 
who either had not heard of the restrictions or honestly believed 
that the restrictions do not apply to educational use.

The legal advice that I have received is that (for the present, at 
least), the only safe course is not to modify any font on which 
copyright exists.

Perhaps academics all over the world should lobby their governments 
to produce an international agreement, as part of the next GATT talks 
or something similar.

Alternatively, perhaps individual font-producing companies might be 
persuaded to give permission to modify specific fonts for educational 
use. Perhaps we should lobby them.

email: T.A.McAllister at Leeds.AC.UK

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list