Font Licensing: When Many Worlds Collide

Fonts are a funny old game.  In a commercial career spanning from the 90’s (let’s not say 4 decades because that just hurts) I’ve never known an industry that has blurred commercial lines like fonts do.

In one day in the font industry you can legitimately make a business case to a designer, a lawyer, an IT person, an app developer, a web developer, and a marketing person and have entirely different reasons for speaking to all of them.

You see, at the front-end fonts are a creative asset.  A necessity in representing a brand in the same way as a colour or a logo would.  But the front-end choice is just the beginning.

Fonts are a creative asset, but they’re governed by software regulations and law, so it is necessary for companies that work with fonts, whether an agency or a brand, to ensure these fonts come from a reliable source and are correctly licensed.

I’ve always said, much to the disdain of my font industry peers, that font licensing is a journey not a destination.  It’s best practise, not a certain absolute you can always achieve. In most cases this is because creative agencies, the largest consumers of fonts, have freelancers that come in, “lend a font” to a colleague then leave, and as a result there’s a rogue piece of software in the business that nobody has paid for.

Some font foundries will be reading that saying, “Well, they shouldn’t have sent fonts to each other without proper licensing; that’s infringement”.  I’ve got news for you, pal; regular font users don’t read terms and conditions or EULAs.  Font users queue for cornflakes from a shop in Shoreditch.  I’ve seen it.

99% of the time it’s not malice, it’s a lack of industry education and that lack of education sits squarely on the shoulders of the font industry for making font licensing too difficult to understand with absolutely no foundry to foundry uniformity.  In the last 10 years the font industry has churned out web, app, eBook, and digital ads licensing to name but a few so it’s not surprising that its often overlooked.

The other side of the font licensing conversation is the IT person who is usually more closely aligned to finance.  They’re more informed about the IT procurement process but take absolutely no delight in the shape of an ampersand.  Not the anti-designer by any stretch of the imagination, but I.T and creatives aren’t exactly a Morecambe and Wise double act.

The I.T person will make enquiries like user numbers, bandwidth restrictions, geographic restrictions, and how much does this font cost? (“How much does this font cost”, said no designer ever)

So, businesses that use fonts can be doing the right thing and taking the right steps by involving the right people in the procurement process.  I’ve always advocated that creatives choose, and IT buys, but how you play it is up to you.  And yes, we know some agencies weave that certain magic that turns a 5 user license into 7 users, but think about this…. That font is somebody’s work.  It’s the work by which they earn royalties and pay their bills.  Be cool.

Font licensing is clunky.  It’s tricky.  There’s no uniformity to it and it can leave a company legally compromised which is costly in several ways.  The best thing to do is speak to the experts, like FontPeople.  Shameless plug.

If there’s a gap in your font licensing knowledge or you just want to see how best to procure fonts in the future, drop me a line via the contact us page.

Be nice.