A client wanted to use a distinctive font for a company logo and asked whether the font was copyrightable and whether use of the font in the company logo was permissible. It sounds like a simple question but it quickly got complicated.
While fonts themselves are not copyrightable, the software that generates fonts and typefaces can be copyrightable. This is the rule of law for the United States only. Fonts may be copyrightable under the laws of other countries.
I quickly concluded that the relevant question for my client was one of “licensing.
What many companies
do – especially software companies – is license rather than sell their
products. Licensing allows companies to
tighten their control over their products. Hence, we don’t really own the computer software we purchase. We license
the right to use it and our use of the product is controlled by the licensing agreement.
Most fonts are licensed – and not sold. One restriction in many font licensing agreements is sharing the font with
anyone who does not also have a license to use the font.
This requires exercising caution when using copies of fonts obtained from a font exchange website. While I can not speak for all font exchange websites, the few that I have evaluated do not check the copyright or licensing status of fonts before accepting them for posting – although they do have a statement that they will remove a particular font if the owner comes along and makes an objection to inclusion of the font on the forum. I hazard a guess that many of the fonts appearing on forums are posted without the authorization of their creators.
I recommended to my client that it obtain a properly licensed copy of the font before incorporating it into a company logo to be disseminated widely. After making a few inquiries, it turned out that the font in question is included in a variety of commercial software applications. Fortunately, my client already had a license for one of the software programs with which the font was bundled. The basic program license agreement included the right to use the font to create documents and graphics – including a company logo. There was no need for my client to obtain an additional license for creation of the logo.
I love happy endings.