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Font-specific License Issues
Last updated at 4:18 pm UTC on 17 October 2003
This page attempts to answer the central questions regarding Fonts and licensing issues. It is based on the discussions of this topic on the Squeak list. (One is found here.While we can make no guarantees, to the best of our knowledge these are valid conclusions. At the end of this page a posting by Andrew Greenberg is quoted verbatim. This is the most firm basis for these conclusions that we currently have. The things said here are based on those (however, see the caveat that he includes).Henrik Gedenryd

Background: The parts about Apple fonts are a major complication in the Squeak license (Squeak-L), which is why people have wanted to replace these fonts with others that may be included in e.g. images that are sold commercially.

However, it has turned out that Apple's claims about fonts in the Squeak license are not legally valid. That is, the Apple fonts in the image cannot be protected in the way Apple has done in the license. The legal cases that led to this conclusion have been decided in the time after the Squeak license was written.

Copyright on bitmap fonts

So there should in principle not be any problems with distributing bitmaps even if they are generated from e.g. commercial outline fonts. Nor even with distributing bitmaps of fonts which a company claims are copyrighted.

The FreeType TrueType patents issue.

Problem: FreeType contains a TrueType hinting module that has problems with some Apple TrueType patents. This makes in particular commercial Squeakers nervous about using FreeType. However,

PostScript Type 1 outline fonts available with X11, FreeBSD, and from URW

These are fonts that can be freely downloaded and used. The outline versions are PostScript Type 1 fonts, which means there will be no patent-problematic code involved if FreeType is used. And bitmap fonts generated from these and distributed in an image or project are not copyrightable and should therefore be problem-free (see above).

URW: http://www.gimp.org/urw-fonts.tar.gz
This is a full set of Type 1 fonts for the base PostScript set (Times, Helvetica, etc.) These are first-rate, quality outline (i.e. scalable) fonts.

These are under the GNU License (although in some downloads the files state otherwise), see here. This shouldn't be a problem as long as they are not put into the Squeak image.

X11: ftp://ftp.x.org//pub/R6.4/xc/fonts/
Under ./scaled/Type1 there are Bitstream Courier and Charter (cf. Adobe's Utopia) Type 1 fonts. These come with express licenses granting you to even sell them. Charter/Utopia is a first-rate, quality serif font.

Under ./bdf there are also a number of bitmap fonts, for the above two, the base PostScript set (Times, Helvetica, etc.), and more. As per above, these can't be copyrighted, so you should be free to do what you will with these.

FreeBSD: e.g. ftp://ftp.sunet.se//pub/FreeBSD/FreeBSD-stable/packages/x11-fonts
There are a number of packages in this directory, including many good-quality international character sets, for European as well as Asian languages. In particular, ./intlfonts-1.2.tgz is worth a look.

Andrew Greenberg wrote on May 24, 2001:

Just between us mice:

1. Fonts (in the sense of letterforms) cannot be protected by Copyright. Period. Well-settled law. If you want to protect a font, try design patents, but that's about it.

2. Bitmap fonts (in the sense of files of bitmap fonts) under current case law are treated as unprotectible fonts. There are several cases stating so expressly.

3. Outline fonts (because of the programmed "hinting") under current case law are treated as protectible computer programs. There are two cases supporting this proposition.

So, contract provisions attempting to protect the unprotectible bitmap fonts may well find themselves preempted under the Copyright Act (but see the ProCD case in the 7th Circuit). Likewise, restrictions on the lovingly hand-crafted, but unprotectible, Accufonts are probably inappropriate, regardless of the intentions.

These are merely legal musings, not legal advice – I've read a few cases and checked the validity of these legal propositions, but haven't really done a fully lawyerly job determining the issue. In short, the font issue is very likely a tempest in a teapot. Its just that changing fonts is so much easier than leaving baggage behind that might get overly cautious ultra-conservative lawyers a bit nervous.

(BTW, at the time Squeak-L was drafted, there was good reason to believe font files were protectible; most of the relevant case law came down in the past few years).

...and in a follow-up he said:

I just want to make sure the point doesn't get lost:

According to these cases, Bitmap (but not outline) fonts are not protected by copyright. You don't need any authorization or license to copy, distribute or make derivative works therefrom. To the extent you are fearful of a trademark claim, don't use the trademark.

see alse 12 Dec 1999: True Type Fonts