Copyright in fonts, typefaces (was Re: [free-sklyarov] adobe DMCA letters)

Karsten M. Self kmself at
Sat Dec 22 17:31:24 PST 2001

on Sat, Dec 22, 2001 at 06:08:39PM -0600, Will Janoschka (wiljan at wrote:
>  On Sat, Dec 22, 2001 at 01:47:45PM -0800, Karsten M. Self wrote:
> > What's the nature of the works that Adobe is seeking infringement
> > claims on?  Are these infringed works of Adobe (e.g.:  software or
> > publications copyrighted by Adobe), or are there copies of, say, the
> > AEBR in the wild which Adobe's trying to take down WRT 512.
>  It's Adobe software, however, Adobe considers its fonts to be
>  'software', thus protected by copyright.  Fonts are not subject to
>  copyright in the US.  (Copyrightable 'prolly isn't a word)  Just
>  another nasty side of Adobe.

"Fonts" as designs, more properly "typefaces",  are not protected by
copyright.  The shape and form of letters isn't sufficiently expressive
or original to merit protection.

The programs which _generate_ fonts, including hinting, sizing,
anti-aliasing, etc., _are_ original works of authorship, and are covered
by copyright.  What's copyrighted, however, is the software, not its
output (the fonts).

From Terry Carrol's Copyright FAQ:

    A font may be the proper subject of copyright, but the generally
    accepted rule is that a typeface embodied in the font is not (see
    Eltra Corp. v.  Ringer, 579 F.2d 294, 208 U.S.P.Q. 1 (4th Cir.,
    1978), and the House of Representatives Report on the Copyright Law
    Revision, 94-1476, 94th Congress, 2d Session at 55 (1976), reprinted
    in 1978 U.S. Cong. and Admin. News 5659, 5668).

    The letterforms themselves are not copyrightable under U.S. law as a
    typeface.  37 CFR 202.1(e).  A font is copyrightable if it adds some
    level of protectable expression to the typeface, but that protection
    does not extend to the underlying uncopyrightable typeface itself
    (see 17 U.S.C. 102(b)).

    In essence, a font will be protectable only if it rises to the level
    of a computer program.  Truetype and other scalable fonts will
    therefore be protected as computer programs, a particular species of
    literary works.  Bitmapped fonts are not copyrightable, because in
    the opinion of the Copyright Office, the bitmap does not add the
    requisite level of originality to satisfy the requirement for

    So, to summarize this point, a typeface is not copyrightable.  While
    a scalable font might be copyrightable as a program, merely copied
    the uncopyrightable typeface, and creating your own font, either
    scalable or bitmapped, is probably not an infringement, assuming you
    did not copy any of the scalable font's code.


Karsten M. Self <kmself at>
 What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?              Home of the brave                    Land of the free
We freed Dmitry! Boycott Adobe! Repeal the DMCA!
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