Font licensing questions

New Here ,
Jun 20, 2013 Jun 20, 2013

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I have been searching around and trying to confirm a few things that I *think* I know but it's all very confusing to me:

- My client wants to publish an ebook, which will actually just be a PDF displayed online (rather than a Kindle ebook, etc.). It would likely be downloaded by others, though, for a fee. They would get access to the PDF both online and offline (if they purchase it). We haven't chosen a font, but will probably go with a standard system font (minion, myriad, etc.). Assuming we go with an Adobe font, are we covered legally to use the typeface in this way?

- Am I correct in telling the client that if we use a system font (say, minion), and they have it on their computer as well, they may also use it for their further commercial purposes without worrying about getting a license? I understand that a license would come into play only if they did NOT have the font on their computer.

- What about for web use? if we wanted to use a standard font like minion for their website, would we need a separate license? I'm not a web designer -- I focus on static graphics -- but if they hire a web designer later, I want to make sure they can still follow their style guide, which by that point will be suggesting specific fonts to use.

THANKS for any insight. 

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Community Expert ,
Jun 20, 2013 Jun 20, 2013

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kejtia,

A crucial aspect is whether the font itself needs to be transferred to the receiver/viewer.

A PDF has the font(s) embedded so you can use the system fonts for PDFs without any licence issues.

For web and similar uses, you may include style guides with prioritised use of fonts, and the visitors will see the best choice of font available on their computers.

There are uses where (special) licences are necessary.

I hope Dov will see this thread and give a fuller answer.

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community guidelines
Jun 21, 2013 Jun 21, 2013

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First of all, rules for any particular font depend on the EULA (End User License Agreement) associated with each particular font. The licences and rules for fonts sourced from Adobe are in many cases much more lenient than those of other font vendors.

In the case of any fonts sourced from Adobe Systems Incorporated directly (either bundled with Adobe applications or licensed from Adobe via its website, etc.), there is no issue whatsoever with regards to embedding such fonts in PDF or EPS files. Thus in your first case, a PDF-based ebook, you are OK. There are no additional license or royalty fees to use and embed fonts you licensed from Adobe in such publications.

Make no assumptions about so-called system fonts. And by the way, the Minion family from Adobe is absolutely not such a system font; if it is installed on your system, it is there either by virtue of it being bundled with Adobe applications or explicitly installed by you after licensing it from Adobe. The fonts installed on MacOS or Windows by the operating system itself or by Microsoft Office (for example) are not “free fonts.” They are subject to the licensing terms of Microsoft or Apple or possibly whoever provided those fonts to Microsoft or Apple. Again, make no assumptions.

Web use is more complicated. If you are rastering text into a .png or .jpg file for display on a web page using Adobe fonts, you have no further licensing issues. If you are trying to use “live type,” then a whole additional set of licensing issues come up. You should look at <http://www.adobe.com/products/type/font-licensing/licensing-faq.html> for an FAQ that explains web font usage. Adobe explicitly offers solutions for web use at <http://www.adobe.com/products/webfont.html> with additional information on how to license and use fonts on websites.

Hopefully this gives you the information you need.

          - Dov

- Dov Isaacs, former Adobe Principal Scientist (April 30, 1990 - May 30, 2021)

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New Here ,
Jun 21, 2013 Jun 21, 2013

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Very helpful, Jacob and Dov. Thank you so much. I was making assumptions about what a "system" font was, I guess. I was lumping in the fonts I see when I open up CS6 as such. Mainly, I wanted to distinguish those from the ones I've licensed separately through fontsquirrel, etc.

Sounds like it's very clear about the embedding of fonts in a PDF, so that's a great relief to know the basics. So many people, including clients especially, have no idea about the licensing considerations for fonts and that's why I want to make sure we get it right from the beginning.

Since I won't be designing their website, I will just recommend a few fonts from the listings I have, and we can then sort out their availability on my clients' machines. I have let them know that the primary issue is that no font software can be transferred between users, so if they happen to have Minion Pro now, but get a new computer that doesn't have it, they would have to purchase a license for it separately if they want to use it create things.

The web stuff seems pretty straightforward, but as I look at the scads and scads of websites out there using verdana, arial, tahoma, etc - so are they licensed for use on the website? Or anyway, is that the practice? Seems impossible to enforce. I'll have to re-read Jacob's reply above - sounds like there's a mechanism for displaying a variety of selected fonts based on the user-end.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 21, 2013 Jun 21, 2013

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For my part you are welcome, kejtia.

Just a bit more about fonts on website: this is one of the areas where you have least control over what the viewer/visitor sees.

You can create the website using any fonts that you have, but unless the visitors have them, they will substituted by more or less corresponding fonts that the visitors have on their machines.

Each visitor may have set a specific font to be used as default, or the OS default is used, if your chosen font is not on the machine.

But you can override the default and set a priority list of fonts to be used, your chosen font being first on the list, followed by the second best (closest match), third best, etc, and including at least one font likely to be on any machine; with such a list, the machine will pick the first available font on the list. It would be obvious to stay within the same kind, either serif or non serif.

In that way, you can get your website to look as much as possible like you have made it. It can be done with what is called CSS (whoever makes the website should know what that is, and know how to set font(s)).

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Enthusiast ,
Jun 22, 2013 Jun 22, 2013

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What Jacob describes is the only way web font selection used to work, prior to "real" web fonts emerging over the past four years or so. Given the uncertainties of font fallback, and that the former "web safe" fonts are generally not available on Android tablets and phones, using "real" web fonts seems like a much better idea these days. About 20% of the top 1000 web sites have migrated to this approach, and most sites being designed or redesigned today will go this way.

What are "real" web fonts? Nowadays people can put fonts on servers, refer to them in CSS, and have them used to render the text in pretty much every browser out there. There are some minor complications, but it isn't terribly hard for web-savvy types to handle. You can license and host fonts yourself, use free and open source fonts through a service such as Google Web Fonts, or use commercial/retail fonts through a subscription service such as Adobe Typekit, or my own firm’s WebINK.

It is sufficiently common-place that in a web font article I am writing for HOW right now, they asked me to leave out most of the basics and history of this stuff, because it has already been so widely covered.

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Community Expert ,
Jun 22, 2013 Jun 22, 2013

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Thank you for sharing, Thomas.

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