July 20th, 2012 by Jim Kidwell
This Wednesday, House Industries (Brand Design Co.) filed a $3.5 million claim against NBC Universal for alleged misuse of their font Chalet on the website www.nbcuni.com.
The key to this lawsuit is the licensing. A division of NBC Universal apparently purchased a number of copies for desktop use. Where the complaint lies is that allegedly NBC Universal converted the font for web use via an online tool, which is outside the scope of the font license.
Using fonts on websites is something that many creative groups want to do. It’s at the forefront of web design, and has many benefits for content management, SEO, readability and for overall design aesthetics. Unfortunately most fonts aren’t by default licensed for use on the web. This is because when fonts are used in web sites, they actually reside on the web server, and the font software is physically downloaded to each user when they view the page.
This means that the infringement isn’t just for converting the font to a different format. It’s also for the number of people who visited the offending site and received a copy of the font to display the page – estimated at 20,000 visitors. That’s where the $3.5 million dollar claim comes from – the original price of the font multiplied by the number of downloads.
So, how do you keep yourself safe from these types of lawsuits.
Firstly, read all of your font licenses when you purchase them. If you don’t understand something, clarify with the type foundry. Many of these shops are fairly small (sometimes even just one or two people) and they will very likely be happy to help you understand what you’re getting.
Second, for font use on the web, use a font service such as WebINK or be sure when purchasing fonts to explicitly include web licensing. If the font that you’re purchasing doesn’t support web usage, there’s likely an alternate from a reputable web font service that will meet the need. There are benefits to using a web font service beyond merely font selection, and you can read more on www.webink.com.
Finally, manage all of your fonts and licenses using a server-based font manager like Universal Type Server. If you’ve got a creative team, it’s important to understand which fonts you have licensed, and what those font licenses are for. With server-based font managers, you can store all of your fonts and licenses centrally so users can have access to your collection.
As always, if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer what I can in the comments below, or shoot me an email using the contact form.