When you’re spinning creative gold with unexpected style, cutting edge copy, and bold imagery (all under a pretty tight turnaround, we’d wager), font risks are probably the last thing on your mind. That’s because in an environment of big ideas, meticulous design execution, punishing deadlines, rigorous production, and demanding stakeholders, the less exciting stuff—like identifying font risks (yawn)—gets put on the back burner or even forgotten entirely.
Have a seat. It’s time to talk about the font risk elephant in the room. Yeah, font risks aren’t glamorous. No one’s won a CLIO award because of their prowess in identifying font risks. Account managers don’t throw down thousands of dollars on artisanal cocktails with teeny tiny ironic umbrellas for clients until midnight to talk about identifying font risks. But you’re not in this for the glamour—you’re in this to save your organization a lot of cash money, and yourself a lot of heartache.
When you use a font, it’s important to purchase the appropriate license for it. A font’s End User License Agreement (EULA) dictates how a font can be used, and EULAs vary wildly. One foundry might have a desktop license and commercial license (pro tip: don’t think twice, get the commercial license if it’s that simple) offered for the same font, while another foundry may offer tiered license options based on website traffic, social media use, and many other factors.
Here's where risk occurs: discrepancy between how a font is used in a project, and the specific terms of the font license as purchased by the brand or production entity. The fonts themselves typically contain no inherent risk. It’s how they’re used. This is especially important for teams with large font collections. Once a font is licensed and stored on the shelf so to speak, licensing info often gets misplaced.
If you use a font without the proper license for a super-secret art zine that you print in your buddy’s basement, and distribute for free at stacks in trendy coffee shops around town, the font police probably won’t be breaking down your door.
However, when it comes to commercial work, font foundries—as well as copyright owners and entities—DO care. Enforcement is a priority for font foundries. After all, fonts are their intellectual property and their software-esque license agreements make enforcement straightforward. Most foundries will use a variety of different tactics to identify and verify their fonts in use, including license enforcement software.
Check out these real-life examples of font risks that affected major brands:
Even well-organized teams who have all their font licensing info in a handy dandy spreadsheet are still subject to error. To error is human. To forget checking the spreadsheet is human. To accidentally clicky-click in the wrong cell of a spreadsheet and delete something is also, sadly, very, very human. (Owning up to it, on the other hand, is superhuman!)
Here are instances where it’s a really good idea to hit pause and examine font use ASAP.
|"We already own this font, let's use it."
|Remember, fonts aren’t owned outright. Be sure to double check the EULA terms to ensure you’re using a previously licensed font exactly as the EULA says you can.
|"They love what you did for that ad design. Great font, great eye! Use that font across all the campaign materials."
|Additional licenses may need to be purchased to support other aspects of a campaign, from social media to packaging.
|"I wanted something more classic, but didn't have time to shop. Franco said he had a perfect font for this, he popped it on a thumb drive for me."
|Oh, really, and did Franco share the EULA info with you too? Did Franco share the font with you with a collaborative font tool that supports compliance, or did y’all just technically pirate software with that Baby Yoda thumb drive?
|"I'm using a free font."
|Just don’t do it. Commercially, avoid free fonts at all costs.
At a minimum, pay attention to those red flags, follow whatever font risk mitigation practices your organization has in use, and encourage others to do the same.
If you’re eager to do more and protect your team, we can help. This handy checklist makes it easy to gauge potential font risks in your process and environment, and get yourself on the path to better EULA compliance and clarity.
But if you’re looking to do more than identify and manage the number of countable variables that contribute to font risk, consider adopting a technological ratchet that accelerates risk resilience. We’ve created just that: Connect + Insight’s Project Risk Scanner identifies font usage risks within project files before production, then suggests steps for fixing any offending fonts before they become expensive re-dos or noncompliant nightmares.
Hey! Give yourself a pat on the back! Just by reading this article, you’re being thoughtful and proactive. When we’re all more conscious of licensing details, we’re more prepared for whatever EULA surprises may pop up. And good preparation is the best way to manage risk, so you can keep spinning all that creative gold.
Your reward for scrolling all the way to the end is this precious cat. Yes! (Fist bump.)