TYPE DESIGN INFORMATION PAGE last updated on Wed Apr 25 00:11:30 EDT 2018

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LUC DEVROYE


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Shamus on US font copyright

"Shamus" offers this analysis of font copyright in the USA: The Copyright Office has decided that digitized representations of typeface designs are not registerable 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 U.S.C. 101), nor original databases, nor any other original work of authorship. [...] The Copyright Office finds that no work of authorship is created by the process that fixes or depicts a particular typeface in a digital electronic form. Both the Congress and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Eltra Corp. vs. Ringer decided that analog typeface designs are not now copyright subject matter. The Copyright Office concludes that typefaces created by a computerized-digital process are also uncopyrightable. Like analog typefaces, digitally created typefaces exhibit no creative authorship apart from the utilitarian shapes that are formed to compose letters or other font characters. In making this decision on registration for digitized versions of typefaces, the Copyright Office has been conscious of the need for caution to avoid a decision that would undermine the clear Congressional and judicial findings that typeface designs are not copyright subject matter. Moreover, a typefont is not copyrightable since it constitutes the useful article itself. Although most comments favored protection of the data/instructions actually depicting particular digital typefonts, our analysis of the copyright statute and relevant judicial precedent, as well as the arguments of the comments that opposed registration (and even the comments of some of those supporting registration of some elements), convinces us that any data that merely transforms an analog visual representation of a typeface or letterform into a digital electronic typefont or letterform is not protectible as a work of authorship. Before the advent of digitized typeface technology, arguments were made that, in creating new typeface designs, artists expended thousands or hours of effort in preparing by hand the drawings of letters and characters that ultimately would lead to the creation of an original typeface design. After several years of consideration and a public hearing, the Copyright Office found that this effort did not result in a work or authorship.

He goes on, after someone said "All commercial font software are sold with a license whose rules specifically govern the font software's use and term.": You are not selling "font software"... you are selling fonts. There is a difference. Adobe tried the same trick and lost... The big flaw in Adobe's logic comes with the Copyright Office's definition of an "outline font program"! Please note that "an outline font program" is NOT the outline itself, but merely the Postscript interpreter in the computer or printer that "fills in the outline of the character"! Adobe says their fonts are a "font program". But NOT SO under the official Copyright Office definition section. For greater certainty, in the ruling, the Copyright Office said: "Although the master computer program used to control the generic digitization process is protectible and may be registered, if original, this protection does not extend to the data fixing or depicting a particular typeface or typefont or to any algorithms created as an alternative means of fixing the data".

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Shamus on US font copyright
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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