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As initially reported by TMZ, recording artist Cher has landed into some legal troubles for the type design used on the cover of her 2013 album Closer to the Truth.

Type designer Moshik Nadev created his work Paris Logo back in 2011 and claims that the design used on her album cover is a rip-off of his. They do seem to be quite similar, it’s pretty plain to see.

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Now, does this warrant a $5 million dollar lawsuit? That’s an interesting question.

While I’m not a lawyer, from what I understand, typefaces themselves can’t be copyrighted, but the software used to deliver then can.

So, did the person who drew Cher’s logo draw everything for themselves? Or did they take the “shortcut” and digitally copy Nadev’s work?

Most of us know that you can’t copy, share or rename a font file and sell it as your own. Maybe this type of use falls into a gray area. It depends upon how the final artwork was created.

Designers are apt to be inspired by each other, and have even been told to “stealat times.

Of course, I would not recommend that you pirate, steal or illegally download any creative work that you don’t have rights to use. As creative professionals, we do ourselves a disservice if we choose to ignore the right that others have to fair compensation for their creative work.

If you need help keeping your team on the legal straight and narrow when it comes to fonts, take a moment to check out Universal Type Server. It’s built from the ground up to help you manage font distribution and keep your team’s legal worries at bay.

Note: This story was also reported by The Daily Mail and International Business Times.


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Font Management

Learn font distribution best practices so you don’t get caught in a font licensing conundrum

Think of font distribution as a process. Not only does it keep your fonts organized and efficiently distributed, it also helps you maintain the appropriate number of font licenses by helping track which fonts are authorized, purchased, shared (with appropriate team members), and reviewed.

A proper font distribution process helps in many areas:

  • Time and money spent. Incorrect font usage can cause unnecessary misprints from text reflows and require reprints that waste time and money.
  • Tracking issues. Without a proper font distribution process, your team has little (if any) insight into which fonts are being used. Some fonts may be underutilized which can result in purchasing more font licenses than needed. Proper tracking and reporting give you a meaningful way to make future font purchase decisions.
  • Unhappy employees. Confusion and frustration reign when your design team can’t find the fonts they need when they need them. Life is easier when a process is in place that allows them to find what they are looking for.
  • Legal concerns regarding font licensing. Without a controlled distribution and system of font access, unlicensed fonts can gain easy access into your organization or even worse, custom fonts could be released into the wild. All of which could potentially lead to a lawsuit.

Download our free Server Based Font Management Guide. You’ll learn more about font distribution and creating effective font management strategies for your team’s needs.

Read on to learn font distribution basics and best practices to help alleviate these potential problems.

Five Font Distribution Best Practices

1. Decide how you want to organize your font collection
We recommend organizing your teams by workgroups. Workgroups are groups of fonts and users. Basically, you give a specific number of users access to specific fonts. Below are three common methods to choose from.

User Type: user types may vary, but we commonly hear about editorial, design, and production user types. These different groups have different needs and will use fonts for different reasons so it makes sense for some organizations to divide their font teams by user type.

Client: Every client is unique and so are the fonts they are using. For example, Times New Roman was built specifically for the Times of London. Companies want a specific brand identity and they can do this by creating and commissioning their own typeface, or selecting groups of fonts that most effectively represent their brand.

Project: Just like each client is unique, so is each project. However, since projects don’t have to be client specific, sometimes grouping by project makes more sense.

2. Set up compliance using permissions
One of the easiest ways to be compliant and avoid piracy issues is to set up user permissions. Instead of a whole department or company having access to certain fonts, only people who need rights to particular fonts have permission to use them. Permissions ensure your company is following branding guidelines and avoiding even inadvertent piracy because users can only use approved and/or purchased fonts that they have access to.

3. Choose roles
Who is going to be choosing, purchasing, and uploading fonts into your system? Is it your Lead Graphic Designer? Is it someone in your IT department? Having a key person who is in charge of this process helps you avoid a guessing game that can lead to problems.

4. Keep record of your font licenses and track usage
When you’re managing the distribution of your fonts, you can gain a level of control over font compliance. You have direct access into who has access to your fonts, and how many users are activating them. This helps ensure you have the right number of licenses for your actual usage and lets you make improved future font purchasing decisions – remember when we discussed saving time and money? This is your ticket to doing just that. Keeping track of all this can be a huge challenge, but font management software can help you.

5. Pick the right enterprise font management software:
Having reliable, robust font management software to save time, money, and maintain license compliance is key to making font distribution possible and successful. Look for a solution that has a dashboard allowing you to easily compare fonts side by side. Check for the ability to search for a font by specific type and set up user permissions by workgroups. Make sure reports are available so you are able to see if more font licenses need to be purchased or scaled back for future use.

What does your font distribution process look like? Let us know in the comments section.


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Misfits_-_Misfits_(Collection_I)_coverTechDirt recently uncovered a story that, while amusing, does point directly to how typography directly relates any entity’s branding – band, company, non-profit, etc.

The punk band Misfits recently sent a cease and desist order to the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market demanding that they stop using a font that the band considered too close to the typeface used in their logo.

A somewhat humorous exchange of letters between lawyers ensued, that was more than a bit akin to name calling.

In the end, it seems that the Misfits have declined to pursue their claim.

Yet, this does underscore the power that a typeface can have. It’s understandable that many organizations work with type foundries to build their own custom typefaces.

Most people know Times New Roman as it’s pre-installed on most computers. Yet, originally it was created for the British newspaper, The Times as the distinctive typeface for the newspaper.

Some brands choose a typeface and own it for their branding. For example, it’s hard to separate Myriad Pro from the recent decade or more of Apple marketing.

If you’re interested in building your own custom typeface, while it doesn’t come cheap, it can definitely be worth it.

What typeface have you adopted as your own?


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Are you or your company at risk because of your font usage?

We recently surveyed creative professionals to see how they were using fonts, and found that many could be putting themselves and their company at risk.

In a recent webcast, I went over the survey results in detail. If you’ve got a few minutes, sit down to with a cup of coffee and learn more about how you can make your team’s workflow a safer place.

Watch the webcast.

During the actual webcast I did an additional survey asking if people thought that their font use could be putting their company at risk. At the start of the webcast 55% said that they didn’t think that the were at risk from their font use (with 45% saying that they were are risk).

After the webcast, that number flipped on it’s head with 62% feeling that they were at risk and 35% feeling OK and not at risk.

See how you feel at the end and let me know in the comments.


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GoHomeCampaignA recent anti-illegal immigration campaign that many have called racist, is now under fire for the misuse of a font. The “Go Home or Face Arrest” campaign apparently uses the Plane Crash font.

While it is widely downloadable online as a “free for personal use” font, it’s EULA listed on Fabien Delange’s website wmkart.com expressly prohibits the commercial use of the font without payment.

As Mr. Delange tells BBC News, “My fonts are free for personal use only, if you want to use them for work you have to purchase the licence on my website. I create typefaces and that’s how I earn my living. I have absolutely no way to control who’s using my fonts except for freelance artists that play the game, buy the licence online and get a licence agreement from me.”

Mr. Delange is now looking to resolve the issue with the office, but hasn’t taken litigation off the table just yet.

This is an area where graphic designers and agencies can easily get themselves into trouble. If designers surf the web downloading random fonts that they think are “free” and then use them in projects, they are inevitably opening themselves up to this type of trouble.

To keep yourself safe, maintain a collection of fonts where you understand the licensing terms, and keep your collection clean. Universal Type Server and Suitcase Fusion can help. Download a trial, or give us a call to chat more about how we can help.

More info:

 

 


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Recently in the District Court of Lod, Israel, a lawsuit for NIS 5 Million ($1.4 US Dollar) was filed against Microsoft Corporation for intellectual property infringement of copyright for the font “Hadassah.”

The suit alleges that Microsoft copied the font when it was creating Hadassah monotype, and Hadassah Guttmann, which are included with the Microsoft Windows operating system and Microsoft Office.

A hefty sum, this case highlights the fact that copyright laws vary from country to country. Fonts are protected like computer software in the United States, with the software itself being the copyrighted material. In other countries, Israel included, the graphic forms themselves can be copyrighted, and thus this lawsuit.

As a creative professional, keeping yourself safe from lawsuits over creative material is important to understand how and where your work will be created and used. Understanding the copyright laws of the country where you work is critical. What you can do with a specific font is most often covered by your end user license agreement, yet cases like this extend beyond any license. Be wary of copying existing creative work when developing new creative works, as even though the physical shapes can’t be copyrighted in the US, that isn’t always the case in other countries.


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The latest unlicensed-font-usage lawsuit was filed yesterday in New York City. Wisconsin-based Font Diner is suing Mixpanel, a mobile-app-analytics company in San Francisco, for font copyright infringement. The company alleges that Mixpanel used their typeface Coffee Service, designed by Stuart Sandler, embedding it in a Tumblr theme which they made available to all and sundry, which was not permitted by their license. The lawsuit asks for $1-million-plus for copyright infringement, and another $1-million-plus for breach of contract.

Coffee Service

Yes, sticking a font you don’t own into an app or theme so that it can generate custom titles and headings on demand requires it be properly licensed. Then proceeding to give everyone and their dog access to the font makes it an even bigger problem, because you are giving away somebody else’s font software.

You can see the current version of the offending “Showroom” theme on Tumblr, using a similar but clearly different typeface. (The lawsuit acknowledges that Mixpanel has changed the theme to no longer use Coffee Service.)

Showroom theme

Showroom theme

However, in the court filing, once can find a screen grab of the earlier version using Coffee Service. (Sorry for degradation due to multiple translations here.)

From reading the lawsuit, the Tumblr theme uses the font converted into Cufón format, which is not allowed by the font license—even Font Diner’s web font license specifically disallows use of Cufón. Plus, even if that use was allowed, that would not make it okay to give away the converted font or allow any number of interested others to use it.

The lawyer in the Font Diner v Mixpanel case is the ubiquitous Frank Martinez, who does legal work for many type foundries, including litigation. You may know him from everybody suing NBC (there have been three distinct lawsuits against various branches of NBC since 2009), the Rick Santorum website lawsuit, and so forth.

As I happen to have been in New York this past week, I actually had dinner with Mr Martinez this past Tuesday, to get his perspective on many aspects of font lawsuits. Although we didn’t discuss this case in particular, it is interesting to see how it fits into the bigger picture.

The Mixpanel lawsuit claims that Mixpanel refuses to license the font for the use already made, or otherwise compensate Font Diner for the usage.

This is an important point. When talking font lawsuits, a lot of people seem to have the idea that individuals and companies making fonts troll the world looking for end user infringement and sue whenever they find it. But from my discussions over the years, both with those litigating parties and Mr Martinez, the overwhelming majority of cases involve the company or type designer approaching the offending company and asking them if they would please just pay for the legit license for the use they were already making. It is usually only complete refusal to make things legit that causes a lawsuit. I remember one high profile case of recent years in which the foundry told me that the lawsuit really just represented the latest in an ongoing series of infringements by the defendant over a decade, with constant and repeated overtures by the foundry for them to get legal, to no avail.

I am not, of course, claiming that every single font legal action undertaken has merit. I have seen a type foundry’s lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter to a company, in which they alleged unlicensed use of two fonts. Of the two fonts in question, one was in a bitmapped logo designed by an outside designer who was legitimately licensed, and the other font was not even being used—it was a similar typeface. They told the foundry’s lawyer as much, and never heard from him again.

Of course, if you are a company with more than a very small handful of designers, it might be hard for you to even know whether you do or do not have a font on one or more of your computers somewhere. That’s the kind of thing that our Universal Type Server software can be an immense help with. It can track which fonts are in use across a team or organization, control who has access to which of those fonts, and help track license information as well. Check it out.


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The Hollywood Reporter is breaking the news today that NBCUniversal has settled the $3.5 Million lawsuit brought by Brand Design Co (House Industries) for the alleged use of the font Chalet outside its license restrictions.

While the terms of the settlement weren’t released today, the amount in the initial suit is enough to make any organization stand up and take notice.

This case, as well as previous font licensing cases, brings to light the need for effective monitoring and distribution of fonts in creative environments.

Fonts are licensed just like software, and controlled by an End User License Agreement (EULA). When you purchase fonts for use in your organization, it’s very important that you understand your rights and restrictions outlined in that EULA.

Most type foundries create very reasonable terms in their license agreements, and are more than happy to help you understand what’s considered an appropriate use. If you’re unsure, always ask before using.

An area that many people get themselves into hot water around is the appropriate licensing of fonts for use as web fonts. Many foundries don’t allow direct use of their fonts on the web, unless it’s done through a web font service, such as WebINK and the like.

To track licensing issues, while enabling creative teams to be productive, most teams have moved to an environment that includes a font server. This type of setup can distribute fonts to the appropriate people, track font licensing, and help you determine wether you are in compliance.


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The Romney/Ryan presidential campaign is the most recent group to get caught up in the mires of font licensing.

Last week, James T. Edmonson, creator of Wisdom Script found his typeface used on a Romney campaign t-shirt. The unfortunate rub? He has no record of anyone from the Romney campaign purchasing a commercial use license of the font.

When contacted, the Romney campaign responded appropriately, and took down the t-shirt in question. Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded, “We take licensing matters seriously. We are looking into the matter.” An encouraging response.

Design work can be an exhilarating experience, especially if you’re creating political work that could be seen by thousands, even millions of people. You want to have the best tools to get the job done, and this includes a wide variety of fonts.

With projects like this, it is essential that you ensure that you’ve purchased the proper licensing of the fonts used in the project.

You can get yourself in trouble by:

  1. Using a non-commercial free font in a commercial project without purchasing the commercial license.
  2. Using standard desktop fonts as web fonts without purchasing a web license.
  3. Not reading and understanding the licensing of fonts in your collection.

Previous presidential campaigns have also gotten themselves into trouble as well. Republican candidate Rick Santorum was also caught up when his design agency, Raise Digital, converted a desktop font for use on the web, resulting in a lawsuit for $2 million.

Best thing that you can do for you and your team is:

  1. Get your fonts organized using a font manager. For teams, a server-based font management solution is critical.
  2. Purchase enough licenses for your entire team
  3. Fully understand the terms of your font licenses
  4. If you’re not sure if your font is licensed, remove it from your workflow until licensed copies are obtained.

Learn more about font management on the Extensis website. If you have a few minutes why not check out our previous post on finding fonts online. We detail some great resources on finding the best fonts for a variety of applications.


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NBC Universal is no stranger to font compliance lawsuits, and this week brings yet another.

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.


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