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Is it legal to use Microsoft fonts commercially?
October 14, 2008 2:31 AM   Subscribe

Is it legal to use fonts that come with Windows/Microsoft Office in commercial and professional publications like magazines/books? What about redistributing them embedded into commercially sold PDF files?
posted by deeper red to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
[IANACL, IANYCL]

As far as I can imagine, as long as you can't extract said fonts from said PDF files, then yes, it's legal.
For example, a lot of audio composing software comes with sound samples included. You can make songs and distribute and/or sell them, and it's not a violation. However, if you were to bundle up all the samples and share or sell them to people who haven't bought said software, then yes, it's a violation.

It seems to me that it's more of a matter of whether or not you actually own a copy of Windows- and you'd have to be making said content on the machine Windows is installed on.

Still, why would you want to use any default Windows fonts? They're fugly.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:52 AM on October 14, 2008


Microsoft's answer is here.
posted by matthewr at 3:15 AM on October 14, 2008


In addition to the MS blurb, TrueType and OpenType fonts contain a bit that indicates that it may be embedded.
posted by plinth at 3:40 AM on October 14, 2008


Microsoft's answer is here.

Thanks Matthew. I knew about that page already but it's entirely ambiguous about whether the fonts can be used in commercial printing. It's just about whether the fonts can be copied/redistributed, or embedded (and it says "some fonts" can be embedded. Which ones? The FAQ it mentions doesn't appear to exist any longer).

I've had a little more luck with the font properties extension program they mention, which lets me see the licensing info for the fonts, but the licensing info is also pretty ambiguous, saying that the fonts are covered by the same EULA as the software they're redistributed with, and mentioning nothing about usage rights or otherwise. Often I get bounced to a web page supposedly containing the license info but that no longer exists.

All signs indicate that using the fonts for any printed commercial purpose is fine, but I don't want to publish and be damned. I'm really looking for concrete permissions.

why would you want to use any default Windows fonts? They're fugly.

All fonts have uses, especially when enlarged or shrunk down. I'm particularly interested in the new "C" fonts (Calibri, Cambria etc) that come with Vista/Office 2007. These are pretty nice and contemporary.
posted by deeper red at 3:56 AM on October 14, 2008


As far as I can imagine, as long as you can't extract said fonts from said PDF files, then yes, it's legal.

No. The correct answer is: It depends on the font vendor's license agreement. The embedding bit is a good indicator, but there have been fonts with that set incorrectly. Reading though the license is the only way to get a definitive answer.

In practice, though, you're correct. If it'll embed in a PDF, you're very unlikely to have any legal problems.

(Not a lawyer, but I work in print publishing.)
posted by D.C. at 4:21 AM on October 14, 2008


FYI, on windows to get the information about embedding, you need to look at the fsType field in the font file (see spec).
posted by plinth at 10:40 AM on October 14, 2008


This is not legal advice, since I have not read the license agreement.

But, it seems you have determined that copying of a font is permitted. Nevertheless, you are asking about whether commercial copying is permitted, as if it's a different issue.

The whole concept of copyright law is that it forbids unauthorized copying (look at the word). It's lay people who think that commercial copying is somehow more evil than unpaid copying, or that unpaid copying is somehow more innocent.

When you finally look at your license agreement, which you must do, with legal advice if necessary, it's most likely that you'll find that no distinction is made between copying you make money from and copying you do for fun. If they don't want it copied, they don't want it copied.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2008


But, it seems you have determined that copying of a font is permitted. Nevertheless, you are asking about whether commercial copying is permitted, as if it's a different issue.

No, I'm asking about usage rights. If you buy a font from a foundry, there are only certain uses you can put it to and these are stated in the license document. You sometimes can't use it in a logo, for example, because the font maker is worried the font will become associated with a particular brand.

The question is whether Microsoft's fonts are subject any any usage restrictions. This isn't, and has never been, a question about redistribution or copying. It's about use.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, it looks like they're OK to be used in any kind of printing project provided you've paid for the software they came with, and can also be embedded in non-editable PDFs. I determined this by reading the license agreement contained within the fonts themselves, although they're still ambiguous about usage (being effectively distribution agreements, as with any kind of software) and wildly open to interpretation.
posted by deeper red at 1:49 AM on October 15, 2008


I spoze this thread is dead, but I'll come back with a final comment. It's all about copyright law. "Using" a font is making a copy of it. Each character you produce is a copy of the character in the font MS sold you. If a license specifies "usage rights" it's specifying the situations in which you're allowed to copy the font into your own work. If you were sued, it would be under 17 USC, the Copyright section of the U.S. Code.

Now that you've read the actual license agreement, your knowledge is way better than mine, so I'll say no more.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:08 PM on October 16, 2008


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