Commercial font licence advice needed
November 27, 2009 2:24 AM   Subscribe

Is it ok to use free-for-commercial-use fonts in a pdf-generating webapp?

Firstly, You Are Not (My|A) Lawyer. I'm just hoping that someone can give me a clue on whether or not my proposed use of free fonts is ok. Short version: is it ok for me to generate and (effectively) sell PDF files which use a free font?

Background: I am writing a webapp that will (among other things) generate gift certificates. The user picks a template and enters some details (name, ammount, etc). The app then generates a PDF file which the user can download and print.

Question: is it ok to use fonts with a free-for-commercial-use licence for this? I've taken a quick look at a few free font licences, and they seem to disallow distributing the font. Since my app would have to embed the fonts in the PDF, does that count as distribution?

I've also seen some references to "Derivative work" but the wording seems to say that this only covers binary data from which the original font could be recovered... is this right?

I'm hoping that some of the creative types on mefi might be able to give me an insight into all this, since reading the various EULAs and licences is of no help whatsoever, and I want to do the Right Thing by respecting other people's work.
posted by primer_dimer to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're worried, you could simply render the text as a bitmap or set of vectors. The shape of the letters in a typeface are not protected by copyright in the U.S, it doesn't matter what the license says. The binary data that makes up an actual .ttf file can be protected, and the name can be trademarked, but the letterforms themselves are not protected by copyright law.

Here's some more info on font and copyright
posted by delmoi at 2:48 AM on November 27, 2009

This site has pretty much everything you need to know about font embedding and copyright.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:07 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

le morte: If by "everything" you mean "everything font creators wish you to know" while ignoring the fact that the typefaces themselves are not protected by intellectual property laws.
posted by delmoi at 4:35 AM on November 27, 2009

Delmoi, that's a nice idea... I was originally going to generate the certificates as .pngs but then I got to thinking about it and since my users are going to have to print them out I thought PDFs would be easier. I wonder if there is a bit of software that will take a pdf, convert the text to vectors and strip out the embedded fonts. I know that you can do text->vector conversion on PDF export with Inkscape, which I think uses the Cairo library.
posted by primer_dimer at 4:57 AM on November 27, 2009

To partially answer my own question above, this command line seems to do the job on ubuntu.
posted by primer_dimer at 5:03 AM on November 27, 2009

Most commercial typefaces allow you to embed the font in PDFs for distribution. I have never worried about this issue as long as the embed and edit flags are set to allow.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:07 AM on November 27, 2009

Delmoi, I read the question as being about the legalities of embedding fonts. Agreed, the shapes of typefaces themselves are not protected in the same way as font files often are, but isn't that a side issue? Don't people generally just embed fonts in PDFs? If probably isn't necessary to go to the extra effort of converting the characters if, as Optimus Chyme says, the licensing of the font permits it anyway.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:35 AM on November 27, 2009

Thanks for all the comments. My question was not really intended to be about embedding fonts. It was more the case that I couldn't work out whether what I propose is OK under a licence like e.g. this one. My interpretation:

Selling a CD of fonts that includes this font: not OK
Using the font to make a book and then selling it: OK
Using the font to make a flyer for my business and printing 100,000 copies: OK
Using the font to generate flyers for other people, and making money from it: ????

I could be being super-sensitive here - it's just that I have absolutely no experience in this area and the last thing I want to do is inadvertently do something that is construed as ripping off someone else's work.
posted by primer_dimer at 8:09 AM on November 27, 2009

In Windows, go to the fonts folder, and open the font. The copyright info or contact info is usually in there, and you can check with the designer.
posted by theora55 at 8:27 AM on November 27, 2009

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