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September 30, 2008 4:28 AM   Subscribe

Somewhat convoluted font licensing question - see inside.

Scenario: I'm writing a small publicly accessible web app. Part of what this web app does is to allow someone to enter some text, pick a font from a list, and download an image containing some text in that font.

Question: How should I proceed in terms of picking and licensing fonts for my web app?

Additional Details:

Ideally I'd like to make available the kinds of typefaces a designer might pick: Helvetica, Myriad, Gill Sans, Fruitger, Rockwell and so on. Even better would be to enable registered (i.e paying) users to upload and use their own fonts (i.e. they wouldn't be available to other users).

Now font licensing, from what I've read, can be rather complicated, and it's starting to look like what I want to do may require a budget I just don't have - my budget really just covers hosting and my own time. So can you think of clever ways I can navigate this potential minefield? And does anyone have the remotest idea what licensing issues there might be with allowing someone to upload a commercial font to my site, assuming they would be the sole user of that font.

Ideas I've had so far:
i) Use cheap (or free) 'clone' typefaces - how legal is this? - given that these would be used at relatively small sizes (up to, say, 20 pixels high), would these pass muster among 'real' designers?
ii) Attach restrictions to the font upload option - ask users to self-certify that they are not uploading anything for which they do not have copyright or appropriate permission.
iii) Just risk using my own bought copies of these fonts on my site - the reasoning being that it would be extremely difficult (maybe impossible) for anyone to determine the provenance of the fonts I'm using on the server. Yes, I know, very dubious, and this is specifically what I'm trying to avoid, so please keep the preaching to a minimum.
posted by le morte de bea arthur to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Certainly, free fonts would be the least problematic way to go. I definitely would stay away from using licensed fonts, especially given the somewhat sketchy description/purpose of your app.

I'm a bit confused as to what purpose your app would serve. Are you directing it toward actual designers?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on September 30, 2008

I don't know much about the licensing issue, but I recently came across the Liberation Fonts that have a GNU license and are metric compatible with Arial, Times New Roman and Courier fonts, There may be other fonts with the same generous license that you could use. You might consider creating your own library of open source / free fonts that people could use, rather than having people upload fonts.
posted by chocolate_butch at 7:44 AM on September 30, 2008

@chocolate_butch: I hadn't heard of Liberation fonts; they certainly sound like they might provide part of the answer. Thanks.

@Thorzdad: The app would indeed serve actual designers, although it would be aimed more to the novice end of the scale than at the kind of people I would call 'designers'. As for the description/purpose, I'm being intentionally sketchy. Functionally though, the part of the app that I'm talking about simply renders a given string of text, using a selected truetype/opentype font, as an image in a web page. Imagine if you like that it creates a banner ad or a greeting card...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2008

Ok. That's more-or-less what I imagined it to be. I'm fascinated that you find this to be a need among even novice designers since they would most certainly have tools at their disposal to view text in any font necessary already. But that's neither here nor there.

As for font usage, you may run into licensing issues even with free fonts, if you intend to charge a commercial fee for use with your app. Quite often "free" means "free as long as you don't try to make money with it" or "free as long as you don't distribute it with your commercial product."
posted by Thorzdad at 8:57 AM on September 30, 2008

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