Just what does that font license mean to you? – part three – Fonts and the web, internet, and beyond
Using fonts on the web has been a constant challenge for web designers. You may want to use a snazzy typeface on your site, but with most standard HTML sites you need to rely upon whatever fonts the user has installed on their system. This is of course for good reason – it protects the intellectual property of typeface designers, and makes sure that the “per user” font licensing model is respected.
Typically if a web designer wants to use a fancy typeface that can’t be guaranteed to be on a user’s system, the designer can typeset the appropriate text and save it in a GIF or JPG for use on the site (like I’ve done in this post). This displays the text on the site, and protects the typeface designer, since the end user cannot easily recreate and use the typeface.
With Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and other web technologies, it has become a bit easier to embed fonts within tiny web applications. This can allow the end user of the application to see the appropriate font, and it can be typically displayed as live text that can be quickly reformatted, rather than being stuck in an image. Of course, when you deliver and use fonts in this way, you are coming up against a new form of font usage that may be outside of the typically licensed use. At this point you could be considered and Independent Software Vendor and depending how your web application is used, it is likely that you will need a separate deal with your typeface vendor. I’ll have more on Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) font license deals in the coming weeks.
Of course, there even more areas where you may run into embedded typeface trouble on the web. For example, if you’re a printer who has a web interface that allows users to create custom rubber stamps using a wide variety of typefaces, you had better work with your type vendor to strike up a deal. This situation could come into problems on two fronts. The web user can be considered a user of the typeface, and when a rubber stamp is created, it is effectively creating a re-usable copy of a unique typeface. Before you run into legal trouble here, it’s best to talk to your type vendor as well as your own lawyer.
The bleeding edge
So, you say, there’s got to be an easier way of dealing with typefaces, fonts and the web. There’s a new approach that attempts to attack the problem, and it all started off in the open-source world. It basically allows the a web designer to link to a font that is on any web server, and have the end-user’s web browser display the page using that remote font. This method of font use has typeface designers very concerned, and rightly so. If this font use model continues, it could effectively pull the run out from under the entire current per-user font licensing model. Linking to fonts on a web server that were purchased under the current licensing model could very easily be construed as font piracy. Since the current licenses typically are on a per-user model, and by placing the font up on a website, many, many users could potentially be using the same font – all without paying for it.
As far as I know, this functionality is only built into Apple’s Safari browser and the Opera browser. The fact that Apple is including this “feature” in Safari is a bit ironic in my book. Apple has always been a friend to the creative folk who have fairly consistently supported them through the ups and downs of their technological swing. This Safari move takes aim at making a gaping financial hole in what currently is a fairly small, but creative typeface design community. Now that Apple is in a huge upswing, it’s the time for us to watch and make sure that they don’t start behaving like a monopoly and pushing the little guys around.
What’s good to hear in this area is that Bill Hill, Lead Researcher at Microsoft recently commented at the Business of Type conference at Microsoft that including this feature isn’t in the plan at all for Internet Explorer. I seem to remember him describing his opinion in his typically colorful way, “We’ll go there kicking and screaming, if we go there at all.” Typeface designers should know that they have a friend in Microsoft, and I surely hope that this sentiment continues with their leadership.
Time will only tell what will happen in this area. Since only a few browsers support this remote font use technology, I don’t think that it will be very widely used. And heck, web designers do use the technology open themselves up to all sorts of potential legal problems. It’s probably best to just stay away from using this technology until everything shakes out.
Stay tuned for a post on ISV/EOM font licensing in the coming weeks. Over and out.