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The facts about font licensing

Unlike digital products such as music or movie files which are an end unto themselves, digital fonts are software programs that lead to an end. They are tools that allow you to make information accessible and visually effective, and also generate revenue for you, your business partners and clients. Type families are the result of hundreds of hours of work over months – often over years – until thousands of glyphs in several weights and styles have been developed into a useful, creative tool. Due to their ubiquitousness, they are often taken for granted, and so users often lack sufficient licensing for the fonts they're using.

It's important to obtain proper licenses for fonts. Here are a couple of good reasons why:

1. Fundamental Fairness. You demand respect for your own hard work, it's only fair to show respect for the work of type designers. They spend hundreds of hours on each font, developing it, fine-tuning it, writing its code and honing it into a tool that facilitates your own work. Even if the font is represented by a large foundry or software company, it is almost always the work of a single designer, and in most cases, licenses and royalties are the only compensation that the designer receives for many hours of intensive labor.

2. Protect yourself and your business partners. Using fonts illegally can put you and your clients at risk of legal action. Font foundries and type designers are taking care to register their designs with national copyright and patent offices, and they are increasingly enforcing their right to receive compensation for their hard work and expertise. So it is wise to learn the permissions and restrictions in the license agreement for each font purchase that you make. It sure beats having to explain to an irate client why your work has brought them cease-and-desist orders and a law suit!

A word of caution about websites offering free fonts: although there are a lot of fonts in the market that were intended for free distribution, some "free font" websites include illegally-offered commercial fonts as if they were free. Some do this unknowingly, some do it knowingly. Any free font site that does this, knowingly or not, is engaging in software piracy, and makes its users liable accomplices. Therefore, it is always wise to check the availability of the font you wish to download (a search online is often sufficient to find out if the font requires a license).

Find out more

Check out our quick guide, Five basic rules for buying fonts.