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Why fonts cannot be copyrighted, according to the US Copyright Office (nyah nya


                A Victory for American Freedom of the Press.

BELOW  IS  THE   OFFICIAL  SUMMARY  of   the  US Copyright Office's  September
1988 determination  that  font  software  is  not  copyrightable (For 6  pages
of full  text,   see   the   Federal   Register   reference).    This decision
extended to font software  the  LONG-STANDING  Copyright  Office  policy   and
clear   intent     of  Congress   that   letterforms  in   general  are    not
copyrightable.   The implication is  that   font  software  in  the  form   of
bit  maps, metric files, parametric outline  descriptions, and  so on may   be
freely  copied;   and  that  ANY   COPYRIGHT  ASSERTED  BY  THE ORIGINATOR  IS
NONSENSE and in  fact may endanger the  copyright on associated software.  The
Copyright Office upholds the decision as   necessary to freedom of the  press,
since   if fonts  were protected  by copyright,   virtually nothing  could  be
copied since most documents use licensed fonts.

It appears  to me  that computer   users are  not widely  taking advantage  of
the benefits  of this   decision, probably  because   it has  not  gotten much

While   fonts   may   be   freely   copied,   some   restrictions do  apply to
ancillary items.   Computer  programs  to  generate  fonts  are  copyrightable
like   any ordinary  software, except to  the  extent that they  contain  data
for the  fonts.   Thus a  font  scaling  program is   copyrightable, but   the
font  outlines used by such a program would not  be, nor would the bit  map or
metrics output from  the program.

Another   restriction   arises   when   using   trademarks   like  "Helvetica"
without permission of  the owner.   For example,  you can  copy the  Helvetica
font  but you cannot  call it  Helvetica, because  that name  happens to  be a
trademark.  Perhaps  users  could  standardize  on  some  public-domain  "code
names" for the trademark names of popular  fonts.  I have  seen some  software
publishers  using their   own  names   for  "clone"   font  software   with  a
note  like,   "similar  to   Helvetica"    and    a    fine-print    trademark
acknowledgement.   That is, they hint that you  are getting  Helvetica,  while
skirting the  trademark issue   with the "similarity"  language.    Or,   they
use   a   synonymous   name   (like "Swiss"  for "Helvetica").   Whether these
tricks  would really protect you against  trademark infringement if you  tried
to peddle third-party fonts is an unsettled matter.

Still  other  restrictions  on  your  copying  font software apply if you have
signed a  license  or  other  contract  with  the  font publisher whereby  you
agreed to limit your copying of the fonts.   Such a license might  conceivably
prevent  you from   copying  or  selling   font  software  sold   to  you   by
given  publisher.  But anyone else   whe has not  signed such a   contract and
has   gotten possession  of a   font could   copy it   freely, even   if  that
publisher only distributes its fonts  to  licensees.   The  same  would  apply
to  attempts  at  trade  secret protection, although  it is  hard to  see  how
a font  could be  protected as  a trade secrect since to use it is to disclose

Bulletin board sysops probably  should check  the  truth of what I  am  saying
with  a  "competent  legal  advisor"  before  they  start  a  bonanza  of font

Standard disclaimer:   I am   not a   lawyer.    However, when   you read  the
summary below  and  look  up  the  full  text  in  the  Federal Register, I am
confident you  will agree  that   the decision  is clear   and direct  to  the
effect that fonts may be  freely copied.  I hope  that this will permit us  as
users to start sharing fonts through all convenient means.

    Richard Kinch
    Kinch Computer Company
    501 S Meadow St
    Ithaca, NY 14850
    Telephone (607) 273-0222
    FAX (607) 273-0484

From the Federal Register, Vol 53, No 189, Thursday, September 29, 1988.

Copyright Office (Docket No. 86-4)

Policy Decision on the Copyrightability of Digitized Typefaces.

Agency: Copyright Office, Library of Congress.

Action: Notice of policy decision.

SUMMARY:  The  purpose  of  this  notice   is  to  inform the public that  the
Copyright Office  has decided   that digitized  representations   of  typeface
designs  are not registrable under  the  Copyright  Act because  they do   not
constitute  original works of  authorship.   The digitized  representations of
typefaces are neither original computer programs (as defined  in 17 USC  101),
nor  original  databases, nor   any  other   original  work   of   authorship.
Registration will  be made  for original   computer   programs   written    to
control  the   generic    digitization process, but  registration will not  be
made for the data  that merely  represents  an  electronic   depiction  of   a
particular typeface or  individual letterforms.   If  this   master   computer
program  includes   data  that   fixes  or   depicts  a particular   typeface,
typefont,   or   letterform,   the   registration  application  must  disclaim
copyright in that uncopyrightable data.

EFFECTIVE DATE: September 28, 1988.

[Excerpts from the full text:]

...Variations  of   typographic  ornamentation   [or]  "mere   lettering"  are
not copyrightable.... "It is patent that  typeface is an industrial design  in
which the design cannot exist independently and  separately as a work of art."
[Eltra Corp v. Ringer, 579 F.2d 294 (4th Cir. 1978)].

The decision in  Eltra Corp. v.   Ringer clearly comports  with the  intention
of  the  Congress.     Whether  typeface   designs  should   be  protected  by
copyright was considered  and specifically   rejected by Congress   in passing
the  Copyright Act of 1978.

...Before  the   advent  of   digitized  typeface   technology, arguments were
made that, in  creating new typeface   designs, artists expended  thousands of
hours of effort   in  preparing   by  hand   the  drawings   of  letters   and
characters that ultimately would  lead to  the  creation of an   original type
face design.    After  several   years   of   consideration   and   a   public
hearing, the Copyright Office found that this effort did not result in a  work
of authorship.

...  There   are  fewer   authorship  choices   involved  in   transforming an
existing  analog  typeface   to  an   electronic  font   than  in   using  the
digitization process to  create  a  new  typeface  design.   Yet  clearly  the
typeface design and the process of  creating it  are uncopyrightable   whether
the  process is digital or analog.

...  Typeface  users  ...  in  accordance  with  a congressional decision  not
to protect typefaces,   are entitled  to  copy  this uncopyrightable   subject
matter.  ...  The   congressional  decision  ...   reflects  a  concern  about
inappropriate protection of the vehicles for reproducing the printed word.




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