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BoingBoing discussion on copyright

A recent post on BoingBoing caused a debate about US copyright protection of typefaces. Here are some quotes.

  • Jim Griffin says that there is no protection, based on volume 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations: "The following are examples of works not subject to copyright and applications for registration of such works cannot be entertained: (...) typeface as typeface" 37 CFR 202.1(e). (The) House of Representatives report accompanied the new copyright law when passed in 1976: "The Committee has considered, but chosen to defer, the possibility of protecting the design of typefaces. A 'typeface' can be defined as a set of letters, numbers, or other symbolic characters, whose forms are related by repeating design elements consistently applied in a notational system and are intended to be embodied in articles whose intrinsic utilitarian function is for use in composing text or other cognizable combinations of characters. The Committee does not regard the design of typeface, as thus defined, to be a copyrightable 'pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work' within the meaning of this bill and the application of the dividing line in section 101." 9H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, 94th Congress, 2d Session at 55 (1976), reprinted in1978 U.S. Cong. and Admin. News 5659, 5668.] It's also in accordance with a court case that has considered the matter: Eltra Corp. V. Ringer, 579 F.2d 294, 208 USPQ 1 (1978, C.A. 4, Va.). The U.S. Copyright Office holds that a bitmapped font is nothing more than a computerized representation of a typeface, and as such is not copyrightable: "The [September 29, 1988] Policy Decision [published at 53 FR 38110] based on the [October 10,] 1986 Notice of Inquiry [published at 51 FR 36410] reiterated a number of previous registration decisions made by the [Copyright] Office. First, under existing law, typeface as such is not registerable. The Policy Decision then went on to state the Office's position that 'data that merely represents an electronic depiction of a particular typeface or individual letterform' [that is, a bitmapped font] is also not registerable." [57 FR 6201.]"
  • John Todd, formerly of Emigre Inc., states: "In the late 90's I worked for Emigre Fonts in Sacramento. Emigre is the developer and publisher of some of the worlds best known typefaces. While I was there we became very agressive in protecting Emigre's type, on the internet and elsewhere. I refer you to this link, where you can see that in 1999, Emigre and Adobe sucessfully sued a software publisher, preventing him from selling fonts based on Emigre and Adobe Designs. The press release reads: "Defendants Paul King and Southern Software agreed to have judgment entered against them in each case for copyright infringement and intermediate copyright infringement of more than 1,100 Adobe font software programs and 35 Emigre font software programs, and agreed to have permanent injunctions entered against them barring them from distributing the font programs they created by copying Emigre's and Adobe's font software programs. The permanent injunctions also bar defendants from creating or distributing any font software which copies or extracts the points in an Emigre or Adobe font software program."
  • Rob Myers: "My understanding is that you cannot copyright the design of the font, but you CAN copyright the PostScript program or TrueType data that draws it. Copyright a font design: no. Copyright program, data or other "writing": yes, even if it draws a font. So you can make your own fonts that look the same as another font without infringing copyright, but you can't copy another program or dataset that draws the font. IANAL, but I've worked in design and repro."

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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