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US Copyright Office: 1988 Policy Decision on the Copyrightability of Digitized Typefaces

Excerpts:

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 typeface 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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Luc Devroye ⦿ School of Computer Science ⦿ McGill University Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6 ⦿ lucdevroye@gmail.com ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org/fonts.html