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LUC DEVROYE


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Public domain pros and cons

A useful discussion on public domain style font licenses by typophiles on the Typedrawers blog, dated April 2017. A summary of the options:

  • WTFPL (for do what the fuck you want to public license). The text reads: Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim or modified copies of this license document, and changing it is allowed as long as the name is changed. [This is unsatisfactory as it forbids the same name and assumes that licenses are passed along with the font.]
  • MIT license: Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions: The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software. [OK, fonts are not software, but assume that they were. This is too restrictive as once again the license itself must be passed along, unaltered.]
  • SIL Open Font License, or SIL OFL: The Open Font License is a free software license, and as such permits the fonts to be used, modified, and distributed freely (so long as the resulting fonts remain under the Open Font License). However, the copyright holder may declare the font's name as being a "Reserved Font Name", which modified versions then cannot bear. The License permits covered fonts to be freely embedded in documents under any terms, but it requires that fonts be packaged with software if they are sold. Adam Twardoch comments on OFL licenses in general: If I base my work on a work that has been published under a copyleft license, I must publish my work under the same license. Since OFL is a copyleft license, and it prohibits selling derivative fonts, if I publish my font under OFL, I publish my font for free but I also force anybody who wouldd want to reuse even a few glyphs from my font in their font to also publish their font for free. In other words, other people are prohibited from selling things based on my thing, if I publish it under OFL. That may or may not be want you want as an author. An OFL license is very restrictive in the sense that only the original copyright holder is allowed to sell the fonts, but those who add to the fonts or change something are not. If the original designer passes away or goes AWOL, that monopoly to make money through sales (and possibly find financing for further improvement) may freeze for some 70 or 90 years.
  • Creative Commons licenses such as CC0. While many typophiles equate CC0 with "public domain", Dave Crossland disagrees: None of the cc licenses, including cc zero, are good for fonts. All except cc zero have attribution terms which may require eg a business card to have attribution text about the typeface. Cc zero says you can't assert any other rights in the work, even if you later want to on some situation. If you want to allow unrestricted use, the spirit of public domain, use the sil ofl.
  • Samuil Simonov's suggestion: A good "public domain" license would allow the licensee to use, study, copy, merge, embed, modify, redistribute, and sell your font without any compensation or obligation to mention your name or obligation to release the derivative work under any specific license. That is, in fact, the option I use for my own fonts. Just let go: users are allowed to use the fonts without restriction, rename them, take credit for them, not give credit to the original source (me), alter them, sell them and keep the profits.

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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